On private labels and in-house brands

I have been fascinated about private label products for a very long time. They are usually pitched as lower cost alternatives to larger, well-advertised brands, but they seem so ubiquitous inside the store (which owns the brand) that you’re mighty tempted to pick them up.

The other part is that they mimic well-known brands to an unusually and uncomfortably large degree.

Globally, many such examples of similar-looking brands exist (both in name and packaging). Dr.Pepper vs. Dr.Thunder or Mountain Dew vs. Mountain Lighting (Dr.Thunder and Mountain Lighting being Walmart’s private labels).

In India, I have been aghast at how Apollo Pharmacy’s private labels mimic established brands like Savlon and Himalaya! The packaging seems disingenuously similar and misleading.

Ditto with a lot of products in Big Bazaar, like ketchups, instant noodles, juice etc. The interesting thing is these are never advertised (only the overall store name is advertised), but they still survive against nationally advertised brands because of where they are made available.

At Tata’s Star Market, there are a lot of private labels that mimic well-known brands. They have a Tata Skye (sounds like Tata Sky, huh?) soap that mimics Pears, with glycerin and see-through form. But the green tea variant is astoundingly good. This is the other extreme – a private label brand that can be mistaken for a cheaper knock-off, is never advertised (you won’t find it in a Google search; only if you search in Starquick website!), but is actually a very well thought-out and well-made product!

The topic gets progressively more interesting if you include in-house brands. Almost every large retailer in India, like Westside, Lifestyle, Flipkart, Amazon etc. have in-house brands. Some have the same aim as private labels – offer a generic, low cost alternative to established brands. But many other in-house brands have become full-fledged brands by themselves, like Myntra’s Roadster.

My favorite example of in-house brands that are never advertised but can be seen so very ubiquitously in India are the brands under Decathlon! Backpacks from Quechua are so common in metros where Decathlon is present. Ditto for their Rs.99 water bottles that dot almost ever office cubicle. Any apartment complex you go to in the metros – B-twin cycles would be easily in the majority in the parking lot. Or, take the morning jogging scene of any metro – a majority of jogging shoes may be from Kalenji, another Decathlon brand. That’s the case even with a school, if you look at the shoes left behind by a group of children – most of them may be Kalenji!

And Decathlon’s products are never cheap knock-offs – they are well designed, durable products, but are never advertised individually, like equivalent brands from Hero Cycles, for example. Or larger shoe brands like Nike, Reebok, Skechers etc. that advertise their individual brands so much, but still, you see a Kalenji giving them a tough fight without the same kind of recall value for the actual brand name!