Own-label lines may be flying off the shelves as cash-strapped consumers trade down to value. But Britain's 100 Biggest Grocery Brands are flying even faster, a new report published by The Grocer reveals.

The ranking, published in association with Nielsen, showed sales of the UK's leading brands rose 5.8% to £16bn, significantly outperforming not only the market as a whole (up 3.9%) but also own-label sales, which grew by 5.6% in the year to 27 December 2008.

"It shows brands still have a vital role to play in the shopping experience," said Nielsen marketing and communications director Jake Shepherd. "As well as excitement through promotions and innovation to drive value growth, they also play an important role in signposting categories."

Own-label gains were marginal even in categories such as household and bread. Household own-label sales were up from 31.9% to 32.4%, though the strongest performance came from value brand Surf, up 24.2% to £73.3m. Similarly, in bread, own-label gains were up a mere four basis points to 39.4%, while leading brands Warburtons and Kingsmill recorded double-digit growth.

The fastest-growing brand was Danone Activia, the yoghurt and pot desserts range, with sales up 42% to £176m. Its success, said Danone UK general manager Marnix Eikenboom, was thanks to a winning combination of NPD, strong promotion and above-the-line campaigns that "have really engaged the consumer".

Neck and neck for the tea folk
Circle or pyramid? It sounds like a clue in a Saturday sudoku puzzle, but it's the choice faced by consumers when they decide between Britain's top tea brands. And in 2008 the nation was divided right down the middle. A mere £0.1m separates the sales value of PG Tips (£134.3m) from rival Tetley (£134.2m), according to Britain's 100 Biggest Brands.
"Of course, some consumers are feeling the pinch and we're constantly reviewing our promotional strategy to reflect this. But Activia's phenomenal growth rate proves the power of strong premium brands, even in a downturn, [when they] deliver on the brand promise."

However, the report notes a move by brand owners to reduce clutter and proliferation.

The success of Kit Kat (up 19%) followed a rationalisation in the number of SKUs. And Unilever revealed to The Grocer plans to reduce the number of SKUs by 40% from its current 2,500.

This trend had already been adopted by the biggest brand of all, with Coca-Cola delisting Diet Coke Plus. Coca-Cola Enterprises VP of sales and customer development Ian Deste, said 2008 had been "fantastic", with red Coke in double-digit growth.

By contrast, the hardest-hit brand was Innocent, with sales falling almost 23% to £110m. With bottled water declining by 9% to £417m, Danone's Volvic (down 14%) and Evian (down 7%) were also hit. And sales of Bernard Matthews cooked meat fell 20.7% to £88m.