On the face of it - and judging by most retailers’ marketing campaigns - pricing activity has been focused firmly on brands in recent months.
But for all the (not unfounded) declarations of sweeping price reductions on leading branded goods, the deepest cuts are currently being made on own-label products.
IRI data (which does not include the discounters or M&S) shows that, while the price war has been pushing down branded prices since the middle of 2013, average own-label prices kept climbing until March 2014. But, since then, own-label prices have been playing catch-up and are now falling twice as fast as brands.
Looking at retail prices in January - when most supermarkets unleashed new salvoes in the price war - the average unit price of own-label food products fell 3.3% - or 4p - to £1.11 compared with January 2014. Branded food, meanwhile, dropped 1.4% - or 2p - to £1.28 a unit. And steep declines have been seen in the price of staple products including milk and bread (see table), with Sainsbury’s, for example, this year slashing its own-label 800g loaves from 75p to 55p. (It also slashed the price of Hovis loaves to 75p.)
Non-food shows a similar trend, with own-label household goods down 1.9% year on year in January to £1.61, while branded household goods rose 3.2% to £2.56. And own-label personal care products are down 3.9% versus a 0.9% hike in branded products.
“Although brands have been reducing prices for longer, own-label prices are now falling more quickly,” says IRI strategic insight director Tim Eales. “In both cases we are seeing reduced base prices being pushed down further as brands and own label both offer more promotions than this time last year, and slightly deeper deals.”
This is particularly apparent in the case of the most popular products, with the average price of the 50 top-selling branded and own-label SKUs falling 7% year on year versus an average drop of 2.3% across total food and drink.
A few own-label categories have bucked the trend, however, with OTC and health product prices up 2.9% year on year in January, and own-label confectionery up 4.1%.
Last week, The Grocer Price Index revealed year-on-year food price deflation across the big four supermarkets had steepened to 2.5% in the month to 1 March, from 1.7% over the previous month. The fall was the ninth consecutive month the GPI, collated for The Grocer by BrandView, has recorded year-on-year deflation.