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Wednesday 17th April 2024

The rise of phantom brands: What has happened to supermarket value products?

Shoestring Jane explores the disappearance of value brands and the emergence of ‘phantom labels’ in supermarkets.

supermarket value brands


It used to be so easy for us money savers.

If we needed to shave some pennies and pounds from our grocery budgets, we headed straight for the bottom shelves in the supermarkets, where the cheapest baked beans, spaghetti hoops and pasta were to be found with easily identifiable budget branding.

But what has happened to supermarket value brands, most of which seem to have disappeared? The picture seems somewhat unclear at a time when many families are struggling the most.

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First, we had the distinctive blue and white stripes of Tesco’s Value range, the orange Sainsbury’s Basics brand and Asda’s plain Smart Price offerings.

The supermarket price wars being waged when these were introduced in the 1990s meant that you could at one time pick up a can of beans for 3p and a loaf of bread for just 7p.

These brands may have been no frills, but they were excellent value for money. Although occasionally renamed and redesigned over the years, the ranges were still recognisably the best value. However, the picture is not so simple for the bargain hunters amongst us now.

Brand snobbery

Back in 2012 that Tesco revamped its Value range to spare the embarrassment of its customers. Renamed Everyday Value, the updated range boasted of being better quality and having fewer additives, as well as looking less obviously the cheapest of products on offer. However, it was still easily recognisable as a budget brand.

There was always a certain amount of shame among less well-off shoppers about resorting to the budget ranges. Lower prices tend to be associated with poorer quality, even when it isn’t necessarily true.

Personally, I had a family to feed on a limited budget, so had no compunction about buying such products. I would try them once, and if I didn’t like them move up to the next level own brands.

However, as Aldi and Lidl arrived and began to offer real competition to the larger supermarkets, the no-frills ranges became less popular. Customers could purchase items just as cheaply but with none of the stigma that might have come with buying a Value, Basics or Smart Price offering.

The budget brands weren’t offering the solution the big three supermarkets had hoped for in their battle against newcomers Aldi and Lidl, and they began to change their approach.

The arrival of phantom brands

So-called ‘phantom brands’ have now started to take the place of the original value ranges. These are own brands (also known as private labels) in a different format.

They have no reference to the supermarket and don’t carry their logos, so it isn’t obvious that they are private labels. They are given wholesome names such as Mary’s Dairy and Willow Farms and have eschewed the stark and basic packaging of the value brands for a softer, more general look.

As a result, customers perceive them as superior to the very basic ranges, although still very good value. 

In this respect, the big supermarket chains are simply playing catchup with Aldi and Lidl, who have carried dupes of everything from cornflakes to candles since their arrival.

Aldi’s popular private labels include Choceur, Cucina, Specially Selected and Bramwells, whilst at Lidl you can find Batts, Gellatelli and Deluxe.

How to identify the budget labels

So, how to identify the private labels? Phantom brands seem to muddy the water somewhat for the frugal shopper, although a simple price comparison will quickly identify the best-value products. 

At Tesco’s, private labels include Creamfields, Butcher’s Choice, Rosedene Farms and Eastman’s.

In Sainsbury’s you will find Hubbard’s Food Store, The Greengrocer and Stamford Street Food Company.

Asda’s approach

Asda has taken a different route from the other supermarkets, retaining an easily identifiable no-frills private label in the form of its Just Essentials range, launched in Just Essentials has been a big success for Asda: 

“Excluding fuel, like-for-like sales jumped 9.6% in the three months ended June 30, while revenue reached £5.4 billion (€6.2 billion).”

With the cost-of-living crisis ongoing and many families struggling, choosing budget private label ranges over their much more expensive branded rivals is a no-brainer.

Although it is more confusing, once you become aware of their existence, the cheaper brands will jump out at you, and you will know what to look for.

Do you regret the passing of many of the no-frills budget grocery brands, or have you embraced the new private labels? If you find it confusing, let me know in the comments below!

Photo Credits: Pexels

Shoestring Jane

Mouthy Blogger

Shoestring Jane is a full-time self-employed mum of three daughters. Her frugal partner in crime is handyman extraordinaire, Mr Shoestring. They are constantly on the look out for ways to save and make extra money. Read more on her blog, Shoestring Cottage.

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