Private label brands enjoy rising popularity in Europe

Private label coffee and tea products are quite well established in Western European retailers, but now their presence is growing in Eastern European retailers as well and moving beyond the ‘lowest price’ option with which they were once primarily known. By Vladislav Vorotnikov

Changing consumer habits and the development of grocery retailers are shaping up the private label segment of the tea and coffee market across Europe. The growth potential in this segment is yet to be exhausted, especially in the eastern part of the continent, where market players are now catching up with Western trends.

Over the past few years, private label coffee has been increasing its presence in the European market. Numerous European supermarket chains put their own brands on the shelves, such as Perla from Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn, E.Leclerc’s L’origine du goût in France, and Tesco Finest and Marks & Spencer in the United Kingdom.

Private label tea at Netherlands-based grocery store, Albert Heijn. Image: World Brand Design Society Website

Nowadays, it is believed that the share of the private label tea and coffee products is the highest among discounters, and they could drive growth in sales in Europe even further.

“Private label genesis and evolution are impossible without developed modern grocery retailers. Further penetration of discounters, especially in Eastern Europe, brings more space for private label moves and initiatives,” commented Julija Poliscuk, senior analyst of London-based market research company, Euromonitor International. “This is the main factor for healthy dynamics of retailers’ own brands across hot drinks. Channel shift transforms private label to comprehensive and trusted brands,” she added.

The entire European market is currently under an influence of the rising production costs, which affect all links in the production chain, and change consumer attitudes, Khansaa Ruiz, export manager of the Alicante-based coffee factory Burdet Coffee said. “There is a major crisis. Roasting factories are suffering at the moment because of the increase in coffee prices. We have been struggling to keep business going. The coffee prices have escalated tremendously due to the Covid-19, then due to the transport problems, and now due to the war. So, it’s a bit chaotic.”

“As for the private label coffee the trend is towards higher quality coffee, or at least this is our business, and we do see an increase here,” Ruiz said. She explained that there is a relatively high demand for new brands on the market. In general, many small businesses and people are looking for small business opportunities, and the market witnesses a very important increase in small businesses, including those wanting to create online websites to sell coffee.

“As for the quality of the coffee, we see that more and more a single-original coffee is being sold better. [This concerns] pure coffee, such as Colombian, Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Costa Rican, etc. People are starting to appreciate the meaning of good quality coffee,” she added.

Alberto Lusini, head of Northern Europe at Massimo Zanetti Beverage cited New York-based consultancy, Nielsen, estimating that private label share in the European coffee market is between 10 per cent and 25 per cent. “This data has had a relatively constant growth in past years. Private labels in the mass market and food service are no longer synonymous with entry-level pricing,” he explained.

The private label segment developed an important evolution in terms of innovation and improvement in quality, typical of the branded business, Lusini said, explaining that trade labels are answering the needs of consumers for additional transparency, and traceability, in case of single origins, and sustainability. “The increased sales of coffee beans is proof of a trend to bring the barista experience at home,” he added.

Poliscuk said that another reason why private label coffees are so popular is that there is more variety. “Most supermarkets offer several quality options and coffee from different origins. Many supermarkets have entered the premium segment and are expanding their range of certified coffee products. Retail sales of organic-certified private label brands are increasing. Examples of organic private label brands in Europe include REWE Bio in Germany, Carrefour Bio in France, and Waitrose Duchy Organic in the UK.

Covid-19 as a game-changer?

The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the European grocery-retail landscape tremendously. With restaurants, cafés, and bars remaining largely closed in most countries during at least the first wave of the pandemic, consumers rushed to stock up on groceries.

The out-of-home coffee market was greatly affected during the Covid-19 crisis, said Utrecht, Netherlands-based consultancy ProFound-Advisers, in a post shared by the Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries. Many coffee shops closed, and people worked and drank coffee at home instead. Coffee sales at supermarkets went up, which benefitted private label brands, and created a trend.

“Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers around the world rushed to supermarkets to stock up on products. Retail sales went up a lot. Retailers also developed online sales and delivery solutions for consumers. This made supermarkets the main source of food and beverages during the pandemic,” the Dutch analysts added.

MZB says the demand for private label coffee is growing across Europe. Image: Massimo Zanetti Beverage

Lusini agreed, adding, “The Covid-19 pandemic and, even further the strong inflation on raw materials from Q4 2021, has pushed consumers towards private labels. In particular, the inflation driven by the strong price increases in green coffee has polarised the consumers towards entry-level prices on one side, and premium products on the other. Private labels could possibly take advantage of this.”

However, it is yet to be said that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a game-changer for the hot drinks market in Europe. Poliscuk explained that financial hardship caused by the pandemic forced consumers to re-think their spending, so value for money embodied in private label quickly became a priority, but that trend is primarily related to soft drinks. “Branded products remain important within hot drinks, due to their indulgence and rituality essence, in addition to the request for quality differentiation. Neither tea nor coffee of retailers’ owned brands did not gain share in 2020,” she added.

The European market is uneven

Private label hot drinks’ presence in Europe is not homogeneous and differs regionally and from country to country.

In 2021, almost 16 per cent of value sales of coffee and 14 per cent of tea in Western Europe were under retailers’ house labels. Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe this indicator does not reach 5 per cent for coffee and is 7 per cent for tea, Poliscuk said.

“The significantly stronger presence of private label in the Western part of Europe is explained with strongly developed chains of modern grocery retailers and already earned trust to own brands. Eastern Europe is only catching up with Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia pursuing a Western model, with the strongest share of retailers’ brand overall and in hot drinks too,” Poliscuk noted, adding that these countries successfully adopted international – or developed their own – discount chains.

Single origin coffee is making its way into the private label segment. Image: Burdet Coffee

Different levels of development of store-owned brands define the way companies raise these products’ awareness. Thus, Eastern Europe usually puts the focus on low cost. More advanced chains enter the mode of portfolio expansion and product range broadening. Eastern Europe has already witnessed the evolution of basic needs’ satisfaction to catching up with expertise from brands they mimic, Poliscuk said.

Rising beyond the low-cost segment

As the popularity of private label products in Europe promises to gain traction in the coming years, this segment starts playing an increasingly important role for market players.

“We have a long-standing experience in private labels, both in mass market and food service. The management of private labels is part of our ongoing relationship with the trade at the global level and it represents one-fourth of our total turnover. We leverage our strong expertise in green coffee and the roasting capabilities of 18 plants located all over the world to support our PL clients,” Lusini said.

Poliscuk said that further projected penetration of modern grocery retailers and especially discounters will support the development of private labels across Europe with the highest dynamics in its Eastern part. “Private label in Western Europe is entering a new era where penetration of modern grocery and a developed omnichannel allow them to evolve towards something new and unique. Retailers’ own brands are ready to rise beyond low-cost, wide assortment and segmentation,” she said.

Currently, these brands target specific consumers’ needs and higher expectations with little or no sacrifice in terms of product quality. Poliscuk is confident that this will result in more private label coffee pods and fresh coffee beans with the underlined origin and technology of roasting, and private label tea will be able to offer more varieties and added value via functionality.

“As modern consumers are eager to buy sophisticated, premium organic or sustainable products, even price-sensitive private label [will be able to] enter the niches,” Poliscuk shared, adding, “It’s worth mentioning, that ever-continuing expansion of e-commerce with forms of dark stores and delivery services will draw new horizons for coffee and tea private label across Europe.”

  • Vladislav Vorotnikov is a Moscow-based multimedia B2B freelance journalist writing about the tea and coffee industry since 2012

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