Growing up in the suburban Midwest in the 1990s, I was familiar with private label or “generic” brands at the grocery store. No place in the grocery store was the difference between “name brands” and private label or “store brands” more apparent than the cereal aisle. This is where the name brand cereal boxes lined the middle shelves, but the bottom shelves were stacked with plastic bags of cheaper imitations of the name brand cereal. I don’t remember buying any of these private label cereal products, because I always preferred to pay more for store brand cereals with the familiar logos and packaging. And apparently, according to Forbes, no one else really bought these generic cereals either. According to them, consumers have a hard time trusting the quality of products that aren’t name brand.
But consumers recently have developed different buying habits than they had twenty to thirty years ago. The rise of grocery stores like Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s that don’t necessarily carry the name brands consumers might be used to and the focus on organic food has made off brands more appealing and trustworthy. So much so that some consumers are opting for start-ups that offer products with no branding at all. These brand-less companies are all part of the “Small Player Mindset” trend, one of the Top Trends of 2019.
Brandless is an online-only brand that offers household items, cosmetics, and organic food products like maple syrup and dried pastas for a very low price. Most items are priced at just $3. The company claims that the minimal packaging and direct to consumer shipping keeps the prices low. The packaging is very design-forward while also being very simple. The product is labeled with the name of the item and a short list of what the product does, what certifications it has, or how the product lives up to its organic label.
Public Goods is another brand embracing the minimal branding approach but this brand is trying to target a more elite consumer. The company requires a $59 annual fee to buy their products but the company is aiming to fill the gap in the market where consumers might want a high-quality organic product, but doesn’t have the access to them. Public Goods’ packaging goes the more natural and less colorful route from Brandless. The paper packaging is untreated and natural looking with line drawings of what is inside. The pricing of the food products also isn’t as flat as Brandless, but is sometimes even cheaper than Brandless. Public Goods says that their savings comes from the annual fee which excludes branding, distribution, and retail from their supply chain.
While there are many ways for consumers to play with minimal branding on their packaging or in their product sales, food manufacturers should not worry that not being name-brand will make consumers question the quality of what is in their packaging. Consumers are used to different packaging and brands than the normal ones they are used to, particularly if they are looking for organic products. These consumers are showing that they care more about substance over style.