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Private Label Failure Protection

Retailers have a lot riding on their store brands, and many are requiring professional consumer product testing to avoid failures that would harm shopper perception of their programs.

That was the message from Paul McOsker, president, North Cliff Consultants, Cincinnati, an independent testing organization that works with manufacturers and retailers. McOsker delivered a presentation Tuesday morning at PLMA called: “Putting the Product to the Test: Finding What Consumers Want.”

“A product failure can negatively impact a store brand program as a whole,” he said. “So testing is a valuable tool to make sure impressions of your label remain positive.”

North Cliff runs controlled studies with consumer panels, and many of its clients are private label suppliers seeking to determine if their product meets or exceeds the national brand. Retailers often require suppliers to conduct this testing before they accept new products, McOsker said.

Outlining a typical example, he said a client brought “product XYZ,” a chocolate pudding, for testing against the national brand. A panel of 75 consumers was convened, and a questionnaire constructed to determine panelist reactions overall and on attributes such as flavor, sweetness and consistency. The result was that the product failed to measure up the national brand on any criteria except appearance.

“From our client’s standpoint, this was a disaster,” he said. “If they took this product to a retailer, it wouldn’t go anywhere.”

However, North Cliff included other panelist questions and analysis that that helped the supplier reformulate by, for example, adjusting flavor and other attributes. The result was that the product achieved statistical parity with the national brand in follow-up testing.

In other scenarios, suppliers seeking premium status for products will aim to beat the national brand in testing, McOsker said.

Retailers with their own manufacturing capabilities are direct clients of North Cliff, he added.