09 February, 2007

THIS WEEK: alLan cheesman finds own-label uninspiring

Wine's 'holy grail' has lost its allure

I share the collective concern of all who are passionate about our industry over the sets of numbers that are coming out of ACNielsen - no volume growth, minimal value growth, brand stagnation and all the other headlines that we read .

I suppose I become even more dismayed when the current "movers and shakers" (I am long banished as a muppet to the balcony, by the way) go on about the role of own-label on their shelves - lots of puff but often not a lot of substance.

I know I shouldn't say it, but in my day own-label/BOB or whatever you cared to call it was the real pride and joy of the trading team - it was the point of difference that you could offer and generated the pioneer spirit that I believe moved the UK trade, and supermarkets in particular, to world beaters.

It didn't do too badly for the bottom line either, in those days.

What I see today as I patrol the aisles of our high street is a rather mediocre offering of dull generics purchased by internet auction or tender, offered at the now entrenched price points that some mythical price-point fixer in the sky has decreed and offering to that retailer a nice fat gross but little else . You won't win Wine Challenge medals with that lot.

I hear from suppliers who listened to the mantra of partnership and collaboration that the buyers today renege on deals, re negotiate in mid-deal and frankly have no other vision than next week's sales and profit numbers. Maybe I am being cynical, but I believe and always have that the way to a genuine own-label business is to work closely with the supplier, not to be in business to put them out of business.

Retailers should genuinely share ideas , innovations and the whole business proposition. Otherwise, Mr/Mrs Buyer, you will not get any investment in projects from your suppliers.

I am scathing, I confess, as there are some brighter lights. Some Tesco Finest and Sainsbury's Taste the Difference products are good and well-sourced, but again I hear that the 15 or 25-year-old relationship in which that supplier has worked diligently can be thrown aside on the whim of a young buyer who has only learned where Bordeaux was from his/her school atlas.

Anyhow enough of the rantings and a plea: own-label is a unique UK proposition. It can and does win loyalty from suppliers and customers - do not squander that holy grail. It makes that genuine point of difference and gives a sense of achievement to the team when well done, gains column inches and makes you all feel proud!

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