Private brands in the United States, and globally, have seen a massive growth and increases in sales over the past 10 years. Be it online or in stores, it’s hard to miss the increasing presence of private brands on store shelves and in e-commerce sites. 

The private brand market is fast becoming a market that more retailers are entering across all channels. This spreads far beyond food and beverage, with private brands moving into clothing, home and garden, electronics, and many more categories. The use of private brands for retailers can only be a positive though, allowing retailers to enable brand penetration and drive sales. 

Gone are the days when consumers trying to save money were the only ones purchasing private brands. Conversely, it’s now seen as a smart, positive move across all demographics. As shoppers have become savvier with their spending, retailers have had to adapt their strategy to attract and retain customers.

Retailers with a private brand offering now have to say goodbye to the plain, cheap and, dare we say, boring packaging used in the past. They now look toward the design of their packaging as being a key difference between them and national brands. They must think of the consumer experience within a store or online and leverage the design of its product. The design of a package must act as a storyteller for the customer and turn shoppers from a browser into a buyer, answering any questions that might be considered by a customer during dwell time in the aisles or as the cursor hovers over a product in the online marketplace. 

At Equator Design, we are often asked what private brands want in the packaging design. The answer is simple: A package to give a product shelf life, appeal and the ability to compete with the familiar national brands their customers know so well while maintaining the brand’s message.


Creating Brand Loyalty

The overarching brand of the retailer also plays an important role when designing a package for a product line. It can give a stamp of approval. After all, customers must trust the brand if they are choosing it over competitors. However, with many customers turning their backs on well-known brands and with brand loyalty becoming almost non-existent in some markets, branding can no longer be relied upon solely. Retailers need to harness other cues to make a product desirable and credible to customers. 

The packaging design must link each product to the brand family, but a design also must hero the product first! After all, the packaging is the first impression a customer has of a product. Having a design that stands out from similar products validates the product and can determine whether a customer purchases or disregards the item. 

Images and photography also play a very important role when it comes to the packaging design for a product. The first bite is always with the customer’s eyes—before they have even purchased the product—so the image and photography must be perfect. The image must not be generic or fake but needs to be realistic and generally more premium than the private brand itself. 

Design agencies should offer a total solution, providing each step of the process from design, photography, artwork and repro to print management. For instance, Equator has a studio on site, along with professional food stylists, to control the quality and production of the images, and ensure the images perfectly capture the brief. It is important to manage the entire project from concept through to delivery, ensuring that customer receives what was imagined and pitched to them in the design brief. 


Involving Retailers and Consumers

Designing for private brands is no different from national brands: Approach everything equally and with the same holistic and organic approach. By looking through the eyes of both the retailer and consumer, you can create a design that stands out on a shelf and entice customers to try something new rather than what they may have been purchasing for years out of habit. 

Customers are now more in control of what retailers put on their shelves than ever before. To provide a brand design team with the most insight into what will work for the customer, brands must listen to their customers and observe their buying habits. There is a great deal to be gained from taking these steps. 

For example, if a retailer offers only one fruit tea, and customers’ shopping history reveals they purchase a variety different flavors of national-branded teas, then there is proof that if the retailer develops a larger range of teas it may drive sales and volume. This can be the same for any product: Whatever a national brand is doing, private brand can emulate.

This brings us to the tools of success in private brands. Even a great package design can only get a product so far—as far as a one-time purchase. If a brand’s range is large and crosses borders, if the quality is the same or better than the national competitors’ offer, and if the design of privately branded product stands out from the rest, then a retailer is on to a winner. These three components guarantee a brand’s success, and it ensures that products continue to be purchased and can be converted into significant sales growth. If  customers can get everything they need in one place, then they are likely to purchase more in that location. This brings us back to the customer journey: A large private brand offering results in a better customer experience, will, in turn, increase sales and drives traffic. 


Using Walmart as Example

Walmart, which has seen growth across the board, is a prime example. Walmart looked at its customers’ purchasing behavior to give them exactly what they wanted and needed. The growth has been vast for the retailer and is continuing to increase. Its private brands are now one of its five focus points. By concentrating on and improving the range of its private brands, there has been a vast increase in sales. Walmart’s private brands now amount to 25 percent of its total sales. In the food and beverage area, private brand sales now account for up to 40 percent of total sales. Walmart’s cross-tier approach has ensured the continued sales increase and growth of its private brands.

Ultimately, retailers have the final say on private brands’ design and approach. Nevertheless, brands must choose the correct design team and form a strong partnership, whether with an in-house or external agency. Working together is essential, or failure of the product and range will be inevitable. Consistency throughout the range of packaging designs. Without a strong partnership in place, this may not be achievable.

The definitive key for retailers to succeed in the market is to ensure that product, merchandising and the customer journey are the best they can be. Retailers must continue to build brands but also look forward in the market. At Equator we are always looking ahead at trends across the entire sector and how we can build on these for a client. Creating packaging designs that align with a top-quality product allows retailers and agencies to ensure private brand designs compete with and exceed the standards of those offered by national brands.” NP

Editor’s Note: This article originally published in Brand Packaging magazine, a sister publication in the BNP Media portfolio. For more insights, visit