For years the long-term trend in supermarkets was for own-label to increase share as shoppers came to realise that the quality had improved and it was an easy way to save money versus a branded equivalent. 

When the first lockdown hit in March 2020, the pendulum swung back the other way. This can be attributed to people wanting comforting and familiar things in times of crisis. Brands can deliver this in a way that own-label can’t due to their distinct identity and the memories connected to them. 

In 2023 we found ourselves in a different kind of crisis. As shoppers’ budgets were being squeezed from all angles, could they afford to stick with their favourite brands and would BWS show the same trends as the rest of the grocery market? The simple answer is that it varied wildly by category. 

Over Christmas 2023, table wine saw the greatest growth, driven predominantly by own-label. Beer also grew, but this was led by the performance of lager and stout brands, with own-label having very little impact on the category. This illustrates that there is no hard and fast rule that can be applied across BWS regarding the success of own-label versus brands. 

The picture is even more complex when looking at how brands and own-label contributed to the performance of spirits. Baileys was the brand with the greatest value sales growth at Christmas, attributable to a promotional offer of £10 for a 1-litre bottle, which was run by three of the big four retailers during the period. This was a massive saving on an rrp of £22 and was clearly attractive to shoppers. 

Own-label vodka achieved the second highest growth in sales value within spirits, but this wasn’t achieved through promotions. Both blended Scotch and brandy also saw strong growth in own-label sales over Christmas. The indication is that shoppers view these categories more as commodities and are less likely to choose a brand – a cause for concern for brand owners operating in the affordable tier of these categories. 

However, own-label didn’t grow across the board in spirits. Own-label cream liqueurs saw the third-biggest sales decline over Christmas, likely as a result of being more expensive than Baileys during that period. When the brand has both a price advantage and better mental recall than own-label there is only ever going to be one winner. 

It is notable how well many affordable brands performed at Christmas, which can be attributed to providing the perception of value for money, especially when bought on promotion. In the current climate, it is critical for any brand to deliver this to prevent losing sales to own-label. Promotions will remain a vital tool for driving brand growth.