How supermarket own labels are becoming iconic, ownable and powerful brands


Author: Zoe Phillipson, Creative Director, StormBrands

As the cost-of-living crisis bears down on shoppers, own label grocery sales are booming, accounting for over half of grocery sales in mid-April [Kantar]. But we’ve come a long way since own labels were looked down on as poor relations to top-tier branded products, with basic or copycat design. Budget grocery shopping has changed beyond recognition in recent years. It’s cool to be a savvy shopper, making informed choices to manage spending and lifestyle. There’s less shame in going for the budget product, which liberates design to be louder and prouder.

Last year Asda replaced its Smart Price value products with the Just Essentials range. The bold yellow packaging was criticised in the press, with some saying it’s attention-grabbing design would embarrass poorer families at the till. But it later sold out so fast they had to put limits on purchases. The new pride in savvy shopping also saw Waitrose run a major ad campaign for its Essentials range in Piccadilly Circus last year. 

Shoppers may be trading down, but they still want to enjoy their shopping experience, and feel excited about their choices and purchases. In order to reflect the needs of the consumer and the economic pressures they face, we’ve found retailers are now looking to create private labels that are confident enough to stand up against the brand leaders, discreetly ‘signed off’  by the supermarket instead of leading with the retailer’s name. 

For example, Target’s Ever Spring range of sustainable household essentials offers a confident stylish alternative to the brand leader, Method, that would look good in any home. Target’s own brand sign-off is on the back of the pack. On Asda’s OMV deliciously vegan range, the Asda logo is super discreet. And in Stormbrands’ pet food range for Pets at Home, Wainwrights, there is no mention of the retailer on pack. This allowed us freedom to hero the special relationship between owner and dog, creating a powerfully emotional and cohesive identity.

The current climate of savvy shopping and online research has also pushed a trend in decluttering, and simplifying what the customer has to decipher. This means long copy and lengthy claims can be reduced, making way for bolder graphics, personality and quality to shine through. For brand consultancies like us at StormBrands, this shift in direction is music to our ears, as finally, own label design can be truly iconic, ownable and powerful. It can speak directly to consumers lifestyle needs and choices, driving destination shopping and repeat purchase. 

In our work for Morrisons, we created robust, ownable brands designed to perform over the long term. With Free From, we broke free from the functional constraints of the brand and unleashed a full-on flavour extravaganza with expressive typography and a mouth-watering ingredient story. And for the Morrisons Organic range, we dug back into the roots of what organic food means. Brands have to work super hard in the fresh produce category to gain salience and purchase, so we re-invigorated a range of products into a brand that – through decluttered simplified comms and bolder graphics – helps to educate the consumer on why it’s worth paying more for. 

A perfect storm of factors has led to this new mood in own label shopping. The destigmatisation of thriftiness; the confident, savvy shopper who seeks character, colour and a positive buying experience; and a new willingness by retailers to move away from the received codes of the past. All this makes it an exciting time to be working in the sector, building private-label brands that punch about their weight to stand up to the market leaders.

BY Zoe Phillipson, Creative Director, StormBrands

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