Whatever happened to generic product labelling

If you were around in the US during the 1970’s and 1980’s chances are you recall seeing products on grocery store shelves without brand labels. The packaging was typically white and featured the name of the product printed in black.

I haven’t seen this type of packaging in years - is it still done perhaps in other countries? Why does the practice seem to have come to an end here in the states?

Brands convey information to the customer regarding things like quality and customer service. What exactly is conveyed to the customer by a generic label?

It’s morphed into ‘store brand’. Kirkland, Up & Up, Roundys etc. Even my little store has our name on tons of products and sometimes it’s even a regular brand with my name instead of the one you’re used to seeing.

Around here, (southern Ontario,) one of the popular store brands for several grocery chains is “No name”, which has simple product descriptions in bold black letters on yellow backgrounds. I was looking for pictures and actually found this buzzfeed mocking some of the descriptions.

This. Stores found that having recognizable packaging and a logo sold better than the plain generics. Now you see things like Walgreens’ Nice! brand or Safeway’s O Organics.

Perhaps the better question is why it took decades for them to figure out that it was worth it to spend a little money on branding the store brand.

Did something change so that the cost-benefit of branding changed (either on the cost or benefit side)? Or is this just an example of the market being slow and inefficient?

The rise of ‘store brands’ or ‘private brands’ did seem to coincide directly with the decline of generic branding. Clearly this is an issue related to marketing perceptions, but what perceived value is conferred by labeling a can of green beans “Kroger green beans” and maybe has a picture of green beans on the label that a white label with the words “green beans” does not? I mean both products, after all, probably originate from the very same source.

Many stores used to stock entire aisles with various products having the signature black & white generic labels. Was there some wisdom in segregating the generic green beans from the Del Monte variety? This always puzzled me.

  • Clearly this is an issue related to marketing perceptions, but what perceived value is conferred by labeling a can of green beans “Kroger green beans” and maybe has a picture of green beans on the label that a white label with the words “green beans” does not? I mean both products, after all, probably originate from the very same source.*

The “Kroger Geen Beans” with a nice label sits on the shelf next to the Del Monte Green Beans, also with a nice label. Buy hey, the Kroger beans cost less and 'look" just as good. That’s what I want!

People do judge a can by its label. It might not make sense, but there it is anyway.

“Generic” prices were sold purely on price, which naturally precipitated a run to the bottom in quality. They were so awful that customers couldn’t justify the lower price. The entire concept was quickly poisoned by the worst examples. If one generic item was terrible, why take a chance on any other?

Store brands have an identity, a name that has to live up to decent quality. They can still be cheaper because they don’t have advertising and marketing costs to recuperate but have quality close to if not equal the brand names. Most are of course made by brand names in brand name factories. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are identical, as some people say - there are lots of ways to reserve the A product for the brand and the B+ product for the stores - but the quality should be on average higher than the generics were without any of the real stinkers that crept in. Stores want quality so that customers feel safe buying anything with that label on it. That stopped being true for generics.

The generic brand was sort of a brand unto itself. It came about in an era when people were just starting to get cynical about marketing and so it was a sort of form of “anti-marketing” that was supposed to imply simplicity and frugality. The gimmick eventually wore off, and generics changed to the “at least making an effort at marketing” generics we know today.

I forgot all about the “No Name” brand in the late 70’s - early 80’s. White label, black lettering. It was a big thing for a few years, at least here in New England. There was a whole aisle in the supermarket devoted to the products. Your right GreasyJack, it became sort of a hip thing to buy No Name brand products. They eventually came out with non grocery items, such as a white T shirt that said T-shirt in black lettering. Died out pretty quickly if I’m remembering it correctly. I wonder if it was connected with the Canadian No Name brand (yellow label with black lettering?) or if someone was just copying the idea?

The were originally designed to be unattractive as a form of price discrimination, but stores figured out they could actually make more money off their private label products.

I still have in my collection a generic BEERcan. Unlike the other generic products, this one actually had the brewery in fine print (Falstaff in my case). Wonder if that was a requirement because of the alcohol or something?

All of a sudden I have this craving to rewatch Repo Man.

One cost saving is digital printing tech and more advanced PLC systems. Labels can literally switch midstream from product A in tank A to product B in tank B without reloading label stock.

Even generic products needed labels. Labeling is a side issue to generics.

At least with Kroger green beans you get someone standing behind the product.

As referenced in xkcd. The comic doesn’t seem to realize that the edgy ironic thing it proposes was exactly No Name brand’s schtick.

Stores already had private label stuff; “Food Club” is the brand I recall at our local grocery store.

But the generic stuff was something else entirely. The ones I remember (1981 or so), would have had a stark white can that said “GREEN BEANS” on it. I also recall a six-pack of beer with white cans that literally just said “BEER”.

I suspect that it was the precursor to today’s multi-tiered house-brand system; at my local Kroger, you might find Barilla pasta, “Private Selection” pasta, Kroger pasta, and “Psst” brand, in that order of price, with the “Private Selection” brand intended to compete with the name-brand stuff, the Kroger-branded stuff being the normal house-brand stuff, and the “Psst” brand being the value brand stuff.

Otherwise, I thnk it was a marketing gimmick- they were memorable for sure.

One of my favorites at Jewel, just for the utter absurdity, was a translucent bottle containing a green liquid. The stark label read “GREEN SHAMPOO”

As Data might have said: It is green.

Speaking of Jewel, here’s a commercial of theirs from 1981 promoting their generics.

I remember a National Lampoon photo of an aisle of generic boxes of FOOD and bottles of DRINK.