Britain's own label market has hit a six-year low as retailers and brands continue to slug it out in the aisles, according to new findings from ACNielsen.
The researcher's annual review found that retailer brands accounted for 38.5% of the £53bn grocery market last year, down from 39% in 2001 and representing a more than £250m dip in sales. Volume share was also down, by 0.2% to 40.8%.
Commentators expressed surprise as the findings follow a flurry of activity from the multiples in expanding their own label ranges in the last year.
One manufacturer, which supplies both branded and own label ranges to the multiples, told The Grocer: "We believe Nielsen's research shows that consumers are only prepared to be pushed so far down the own label route. People are still very emotionally attached to brands."
Jonathan Grant-Nicholas, director of corporate affairs at own label specialist Hazlewood Foods, added: "We have not seen a downturn but the market is now definitely moving towards premiumisation, which suits us."
ACNielsen said there was no simple explanation for the decline but that competition between brands and own label had become noticeably fierce.
One example is the £650m toilet tissue arena which saw branded suppliers claw back a 1.1% share of sales from own label rivals, although the latter still accounted for 40.5% of the market.
Jean-Jacques Vandenheede, vice president of global marketing at ACNielsen, presented the findings at this week's PLMA World of Private Label show in Amsterdam. He said it had become a "game of cat and mouse" between brands and own label in many sectors.
"Brand manufacturers are definitely trying harder to get market share back," he added.
Retailer-branded milk, eggs, breakfast cereals and chilled desserts all lost market share, while own label success stories included juices, Scotch whisky, confectionery and pet food.
ACNielsen's seven-country study using its EPoS network also found that Britain was still Europe's biggest own label market, accounting for 40%, or E36.8bn of the total E92bn sales generated by the nations surveyed.
The Netherlands was the only other country to experience a decline in its own label market, albeit a modest one of 0.1%. Own label market share in Germany grew by 1.4% to 25.4% while Spain enjoyed the biggest rise, up by 1.7% to 19.4%.