Supermarket private-label groceries are encroaching on pantry real estate. Mine included. It may not be politically correct to admit that in food-loving circles. But i’ve decided to let the rat out of the rice bag.
Private labels have always had a place in my kitchen. Tinned sardines, which i feed to the chooks for a once a week tea-time treat, spring to mind. I’ve never bought anything other than private label raw sugar. And flour, which i use so irregularly (i’m a dud baker) that it usually goes out-of-date, is another likely private-brand candidate.
That used to be pretty much the extent of my private label habit. But a cursory glance in my pantry today uncovered a bag of Woolworths homebrand shredded coconut, a tin of homebrand corn kernels, and a bag of Woolworths Macro brand polenta. On the Coles front, there’s a tin each of diced tomatoes, 4 bean mix, and sardines. In the fridge is Coles beef stock.
Am i embarrassed to admit this? Slightly. I know that Australia’s supermarket duopoly, cost cutting, and under-cutting of branded products isn’t a good thing for smaller local producers. And in my defense my pantry, which actually spills across three cupboards (there’s a ‘hoarding for a global meltdown’ feel to it), is far more plentifully stocked with branded products.
But a private label shelf creep is certainly under way. And not just in my kitchen. Shoppers have doubled their spending on private-label groceries from $9.96 billion in 2008 to $19.7 billion in 2012, according to a new IBISWorld report. Private-label products will account for more than a third of grocery sales within the next five years, up from 24 per cent currently.
So what’s behind the trend? IBISWorld general manager Karen Dobie says the growth in private labels has been driven by increasingly frugal consumers seeking better value for their grocery dollars and the rapid expansion of private-label ranges by the major retailers, according to an article in The Australian Financial Review.
“Households have been reining in spending. This, coupled with an increase in the range of private-label products, has led many consumers to make the shift to home brands,” she said.
I can identify with both of those points. Supermarket private brands used to few and far between. Now they’re smack bang in your face, literally, in most aisles. They’re always at eye level, the best selling point in the store, or conveniently placed just where you need them. If you go into a supermarket for a quick “grab and bag” — and if you’re like me you’ll like to get to out as quickly as i can — private brands are convenient.
While we can avoid the convenience factor if we try — just a little — the cost issue is more difficult to ignore.
In recent years food prices have risen exponentially, and we keep being told to expect further hikes. My own food bill rise has largely been self-inflicted as i’ve opted to buy fruit and vegetables from small grocers or markets, meat from my local butcher or growers market, and artisanal bread freshly baked from small producers.
A weekly trip to the local grower’s market can empty a wallet in five minutes flat, and the bag of produce you leave with doesn’t necessarily go very far. I don’t make any apology for subsidising this more conscientious consumerism with some homebrand pantry staples.
The onus is on me, though, not to let either spending habit get out of hand.
At a time of huge global economic uncertainty and being employed in an industry that is in demise (newspaper publishing) it’s irresponsible — silly even — of me to spend frivolously on food. Plus, we’ve just moved house and will be on a tighter budget for some time. But it’s also irresponsible to turn one’s back on smaller producers.
The challenge then is to find a balance that i’m morally, and financially, comfortable with.
Do you face the same challenge? And what’s your stance on private-label brands?