Launching your own range of products is a great way to boost footfall, sales and to stand out from the crowd. C-Store considers all the elements needed to create a successful own brand, picking up top tips from independent retailers who have pioneered the way.
An independent retailer’s unique offer in terms of aesthetics, service and range is everything: the point of difference that helps you stand out from the supermarket and discounter crowd.
For a number of years, independents have been turning to the local food category to set themselves apart. After all, no matter how hard it tries, the Tesco Express around the corner will never be able to stock honey produced by local garden flowers and bees.
And while local foods continue to pull in the punters and sweeten sales, a growing number of retailers are now actively investing in going one better than local. How? By launching their very own branded products.
“One of the biggest benefits of launching your own brand is that it can add value to your position as a locally-owned, independent retailer,” says brand and marketing expert Stephanie Rice of Rice Retail Marketing.
Independent retailers who have already done so also attest that launching their own brand can provide significant boosts to footfall and sales. And the even better news is that doing so can be as simple and straightforward, or as complex and accomplished, as your own ambitions.
When it comes to picking a producer, retailers have a range of options. Large national suppliers such as Bonds Confectionery and Bramble Foods have whole departments dedicated to helping retailers stamp their mark on products, making the branding process quick, easy and cost effective. Working with a small scale or local producer will of course require a far greater investment in time, while the decision to go all out and actually manufacture, design and package the products yourself is clearly a significant undertaking.
Whichever option you pick, the key to a successful own brand launch is to ensure that you trust your producers fully and can rely on them to provide you with consistent quality and supply.
“Choosing your suppliers wisely is vital,” adds Rice. “This is certainly not a partnership to be rushed into. The product obviously has to be great quality, but crucially there also has to be reliability and continuity of supply. Gaps on shelves will not sit well with customers in this category.”
Dane and Hilary Vanstone, owners of Holywell Stores in Bigbury, Devon, sell a tempting range of own brand cakes and cookies in partnership with national supplier Bramble Foods. The fine food distributor, which offers a wide range of sweet treats and gifting products, has its own in-house labelling and packing team who worked with Dane and Hilary to come up with a personalised label design. Cookie boxes feature clear windows which allow shoppers to appraise the crispy contents, while the labels themselves state the place and store name, along with a smart black and white illustration of the nearby coastline.
Labels are applied to the boxes by Bramble Foods staff, while correct technical and ingredient information is placed discreetly on the back. The cakes are then delivered fresh each week to Holywell stores, where they sell like, well, hot cakes.
Jonathan James, owner of James Convenience Retail (JCR) recently lent his surname to launch a successful ‘Mr James’-branded range of sweets after partnering up with another national supplier, Bonds Confectionery.
Jonathan explains: “We approached Bonds with the view to designing traditional ‘sweetshop style’ packaging and we are delighted with the result.”
The ‘Mr James’ name and pink and white labels combine to convey individuality with a traditional feel, and the results, Jonathan says, are proving positive.
“Bonds were able to quickly turn our concept into a marketable product in a matter of weeks and we now have over 40 different sweets in the range and all packs retail at £1,” he says. “The Mr James range gives us a unique selling point whilst maintaining a very traditional feel to the offer. It is bringing an element of loyalty to the stores as customers regularly return for the range.”
Jonathan, Dane and Hilary have all opted to brand their products with either their store name or surname, a tactic which branding expert Stephanie Rice praises.
“For most retailers I would recommend simply using the name above your door, or your own name. At the end of the day, your identity and individuality is what makes you stand out from the crowd, it’s your unique selling point and using your name will reinforce that in people’s minds,” she says.
“However, if your store is located in a highly touristic area or near to a well-known monument or place of interest you could also use that as your hook.”
Avtar ‘Sid’ Sidhu, who owns Sukhi’s Simply Fresh near Kenilworth, Warwickshire, opted for this path when he created his own ‘Kenilworth, With Love’ range of premium quality slab chocolates earlier this year.
Sid explains: “We chose to use the well-known Kenilworth place name and added the phrase ‘With Love’ to make it appeal to the gifting audience, although we are getting lots of repeat purchases from local people who buy it to indulge themselves as the quality and taste is so good. Chocolate is indulgent but it’s also highly impulsive so if you can get the look right, the sales opportunities are excellent.”
Keen to produce a superior chocolate product that really stood out from the branded crowd, Sid spent many months searching for the perfect partner with whom to launch the brand. “It had to be a premium, skilled, high-end chocolate producer, an independent company, but one with enough scale to fulfil our requirements,” he says. “In my opinion, if you’re putting your own stamp on something it’s got to be great quality. There’s no room for half measures,” he says.
“In the end we went with a fantastic company called James Chocolates who already supply a number of speciality stores and farm shops with their range of bespoke handmade chocolates.”
Chocolate and name sorted, it was now time for Sid to turn his attention to label design. “I’m fortunate that one of my staff members does a lot of designing in his free-time so he helped us bring the packaging to life.” The label also features a smart yet simple blank and white illustration of the iconic Kenilworth castle which is situated just a few miles away.
Rice says retailers have two main options when it comes to good label design: “You can opt for a clean and simple label option which lets the product speak for itself, or you can really go to town on the product’s provenance. The simplest and most effective way of doing this, given that labelling space isn’t often that large, is with nice photography or an illustration,” she says.
Independent grocery chain and Nisa member Jempsons went for option one when selecting the design for its own brand range, which is proving so successful that its Peasmarsh store in East Sussex is now taking orders for pre-made luxury hampers. The simple design is based on the company’s original logo used 80 years ago while the smart lozenge-shaped labels state a brief line about the company’s history: ‘G T Jempson, a family business since 1935’.
If you need a bit more help with the design there are now a wide range of labelling suppliers out there who are experienced at printing them for smaller businesses and can even offer advice. Willowbridge Labels, Limpet Labels and Handy Tags are but a few of the several companies there are to choose from.
Labelling is not without its challenges though. Recent years have seen the introduction of a number of new laws regarding allergy and ingredients labelling which retailers simply can’t afford to get wrong.
Setting the price
Setting a price point is another key consideration when launching your own brand, as Rice explains. “You’ve got to also be really clear on your price positioning, where the products will sit on the pricing scale and how they stand up to branded goods and even other local products within that category. Traditionally most retailer own brand products tend to sit at the premium end of the pricing scale,” she says.
Sid’s chocolate slabs are priced at the “pricier” end of the market at £2.99 for a 100g bar but “they are premium so they are worth it”.
“Pricing is very important when selling premium own label products like this. You almost have to aim for a higher rrp as if you under-price it you can do more harm than good, by devaluing the product,” he adds.
“You also need to set your wholesale prices in advance if you can. Following on from the success of our chocolate range we have also launched an own label honey with the help of local bee keepers and we have agreed a three-year fixed price for it. Each jar will cost me £3 to buy and I will sell it for £4.99. It’s good to know that I can rely on that price staying the same for a set amount of time as it helps with forward planning.”
This reinforces the point made earlier about availability and only working with reliable suppliers who you have a good relationship with.
“Demand for both our chocolate and the local honey has been really high from the offset with sales coming from locals and tourists alike,” Sid explains. “That’s why consistency of supply is so important. You cannot afford to run out. Tourists may buy on impulse but for locals these are destination products and you can’t let them down.”
Of course one sure-fire way to guarantee consistency of both quality and availability is to produce, pack and supply all of your own brand products yourself - which is exactly what the team behind award-winning convenience chain Eat 17 are now doing with their new “high end” ready meals.
The fresh single portion meals, priced at £5 each, are cooked and packed by chefs in the kitchens of Eat 17’s Hackney store, and shoppers can currently pick from five freshly-prepared options.
“The Eat 17 culture is built around creativity and product quality,” says co-owner James Brundle. “As the meals are made from scratch in our Hackney kitchen in small batches using the best seasonal produce, we can guarantee that every one is as delicious as those we serve in our restaurant. The range has remained consistent since launch and the benefit is that customers can expect reliability with us and know what to expect.”
Packaging for the range was designed in partnership between the family and branding company Together Design and features a “zoomed in” section from Eat 17’s main ‘house’ illustration.
“The meals have been very well received so far,” adds James. “It’s such a great opportunity for brand exposure.”
As well as being sold in Eat 17 stores, the range is now also available in a small number of other specialist food retailers and convenience stores. “People who may have never heard of us before, do now, because they have seen our product on the shelves in stores other than ours,” James adds.
Now that’s what we call brand reach.
Shout about your brand
The successful launch of an own brand product doesn’t end when it hits the shelves. Promotion and marketing is vital to really help get it off the ground, says Stephanie Rice of Rice Retail Marketing. “Whatever labelling option you choose it is important to support your brand with point of sale material and sampling if you can. The biggest mistake that retailers who launch their own brand ranges make is to think that it stops with the product, and that you don’t need to market it,” she explains.
Retailer Avtar ‘Sid’ Sidhu agrees: “Promotion is key. Both our honey and chocolate are heavily signposted in store. Own brand products are also perfect for special offers. At the moment we have our chocolate slabs on a deal with a bottle of Prosecco for £10 which is proving really popular.”
At Eat 17 James Brundle has ensured the launch of his fresh ready meals are well promoted both in-store and on social media.
The following information must be included on the front of packaged food:
The name of the food
Use by date
Quantity information in grams, kilograms, millilitres or litres. Solid foods packed in a liquid must show the drained net weight
For alcohol, the alcoholic strength
You must also show the following information on either the front, side or back of the packaging:
A list of ingredients (if there are more than two)
The name and address of the manufacturer, packer or seller
Any special storage conditions
Instructions for use or cooking, if necessary
A warning for drinks with an alcohol content above 1.2%
There are also special rules about what you have to show on labels of the following:
Bread and flour
Cocoa and chocolate products
Fruit juices and nectars
Jams and preserves
Meat and meat products
These can be found at www.gov.uk/guidance/food-standards-labelling-durability-and-composition.
Specific laws on food allergen labelling also came into force in 2014. For more information on these visit www.food.gov.uk/science/allergy-intolerance/label