Our Thinking

There is no question the global economy will emerge from the pandemic profoundly changed, and consumer shopping patterns will be dramatically altered. In order to ensure a future where businesses not only survive, but thrive, it is critical to anticipate what a post-pandemic world will look like, and work to adjust to this new reality.


One key change becoming evident is that brand and product promiscuity is prevailing over brand loyalty. According to March 2020 sales data, 30-40% of consumers have experimented with new brands and products during self-isolation. The reason for this is three-fold. Either customers’ preferred brand or product is not available, they’re in search of better value for their dollar, or they’re simply more willing to experiment during this time of lockdown to indulge or relieve the boredom. We expect this to continue well into the early stages of recovery. As this behaviour extends over time, there are risks that these brand shifts become permanent. Of the consumers who have switched brands, 12% already indicate that they expect to continue to purchase the new brands post pandemic.


Furthermore, maintaining customer loyalty will likely remain a challenge for retailers as some shopping behaviours that have shifted online will prevail in a post-pandemic world. Much of the past loyalty was built around the ritual of the shopper visiting the store and engaging in a positive and rewarding experience. If the new reality means fewer customers physically coming to the store to shop, retailers will need to rethink how to build loyalty into their banner.


The convenience of online shopping will make comparison shopping and cross-shopping easier, putting further strain on a retailer’s ability to entrench loyalty. Beyond reward incentives, retailers can take advantage of this renewed openness in brand consideration by elevating and promoting their own private brand product line-up. Private brands become more pivotal differentiators offering a competitive edge to counter any potential loss of customers to competitors as they move more heavily into the e-commerce space. As concerns about financial security continue to rise exponentially, the promise of better value intrinsic in any private brand offering will resonate strongly.


According to Nielsen, sales of private brand jumped by double digits in the first quarter 2020 as U.S. consumers stocked up on groceries and daily essentials during the initial phase of the pandemic. Mass retailers turned in the largest gains, with private brands rising 16.6% in dollar sales versus national brand gains of 10.1%. Private label market share in the mass channel advanced 1.2 points year over year to 21.7% in dollar sales. These early indicators build upon a well-established trend around private brand even though the concept itself has been part of retailer’s strategy for decades.


We’ve seen a similar success with the private brand program – PICS – we developed for Price Chopper/Market 32 supermarkets in upstate New York. This flagship private brand represents a food brand that is committed to bringing great quality products, curated to meet shopper needs, and to delivering exceptional value. PICS has proven to be a solid contender during the pandemic with sales over the March-April period increasing 16% compared to national brands. Guaranteed to inspire trust and build confidence, PICS has become known as a smart choice for families on a budget, a proposition that resonates now more than ever.


A strong, well-conceived private brand portfolio can be effectively leveraged to play into at least two out of the three factors driving brand and product promiscuity and impacting customer loyalty. Delivering on the promise of quality at better value, and a product line-up that even offers shoppers the opportunity to experiment and indulge with bespoke or premium offers in categories they desire, make private brand a worthwhile strategy to include in any retailer’s recovery plan.