Dollar sales of private label products grew 1% in 2021 to hit a record $199 billion in all U.S. retail channels, according to the just-released 2022 Private Label Report from the Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA), based on IRI data.
Private brand dollar share last year was 17.7%, while unit share came in at 19.6%. Both represent increases over a three-year period.
As the industry headed into 2022, sales of private label products picked up right where they left off at the end of last year, growing 4.2% in dollar volume across all U.S. retailing channels in January, compared to the same period in 2021. The increase was about equal to the 4.4% growth of national brands, according to IRI data provided to PLMA.
“We are gratified, but not surprised, with the final tally of store brand dollar sales in 2021,” said PLMA President Peggy Davies. “We monitored the monthly numbers closely, thanks to IRI, and noted that store brands were holding their own most of the year and even increased to the 5-6% range in the latter months of 2021.”
She continued, “It’s affirmation that retailer brands are an important piece of the U.S. grocery business especially in these challenging times. We believe store brands will be a key consumer ally during this current inflationary period and going forward by providing high-quality, high-value products in every category.”
In the eight largest departments covered by IRI, private label grew in six. In the largest category — refrigerated foods — store brands increased by 0.7%, followed by general merchandise (+1.7%), health care products (+0.2%), frozen (+0.8%), produce (+11.4%) and beverages (+2.7%).
According to PLMA, the figures reveal that the U.S. private label market in 2021 was able to retain the unprecedented, pandemic-fueled, double-digit sales gains from 2020. Retail brands jumped 12% in dollar sales in 2020 amid the shutdown of foodservice, a greater emphasis on cooking at home and the boom in online grocery shopping. That exceeded national brands’ gain, which were up 10%.
Moving into 2021, as the country and the foodservice sector began to reopen for in-person business, private label sales were projected by some experts to decline, giving back all or most of 2020’s huge increase. But the industry instead reported a 1% sales gain.
“The main takeaway is that retailer brands are a vibrant industry and an important piece of the U.S. grocery business, especially in difficult economic times,” said Davies, noting that the 2021 performance represents a return to the consistent, single-digit growth that existed in pre-pandemic years.
Looking at IRI figures from individual months, store brands experienced three distinct phases of sales movement in 2021. Sales were up solidly in the early months, continuing the powerful 2020 trend; then a three- month dip, followed by a strong rebound over the last few months, ending 2021 ahead vs the prior year.
During the first two months, a tailwind from the 2020 boom year pushed sales up 10% and 7.7%. Then, as the nation gradually emerged from lockdown and in-person restaurants and foodservice began to come back, private brand sales experienced a three-month long dip, declining 18.7%, 5.1% and 6.5% in March through May.
Over the remaining eight months, however, store brand sales turned sharply positive again, with particularly strong performances in September, November and December, each up at least 6%. National brands’ monthly sales results in 2021 mirrored the store brand numbers in all but one month, April, which was positive for brands, negative for store brands.
The year 2020 was a clear outlier, said PLMA: Private brands jumped 12.3% in dollar sales amid the shutdown of foodservice, a greater emphasis on cooking at home, and the boom in online grocery ordering. The results from two specific months were particularly striking: In March 2020, store brands skyrocketed 37% in dollars, in May, sales moved up 21.2%. IRI’s full year figure for store brands even exceeded national brands’ FY growth, which was 10.2%.
PLMA, in collaboration with IRI, provides market data of both store brands and national brands in 317 categories and 967 sub-categories. The data are refreshed monthly on the Unify data portal on plma.com.