Advertising Shapes Consumers' Views of Grocery Products

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: July 19, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Store-brand grocery products are judged by consumers to be of lower quality than grocery products with national-brand names, even when actual ingredients are comparable, marketing researchers at the University at Buffalo have found. They attribute this widespread attitude -- that national brands are of better quality than private-label brands -- to the ways in which both types of products are advertised.

A study of 1,564 shoppers and five products indicates that consumers will give two different ratings to the same product if they think that one sample is a national brand and another sample is a store brand.

The study, conducted by Alan S. Dick, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing at UB; Arun K. Jain, Ph.D., chair of marketing and Samuel P. Capen professor of marketing at UB, and Paul S. Richardson, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing at Loyola University in Chicago, is to be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Marketing.

The researchers surveyed consumers at a large northeastern shopping mall. Packages of three different brands -- one national and two store -- of one of five different products were shown to subjects. Some were shown the packages that corresponded with the products they were sampling; others unknowingly had the packages switched. The researchers found that subjects consistently rated the quality of products they believed to be national brands higher than the quality of store brands, even when the national brand was secretly substituted with the store brands.

When both national and private brands were presented as national brands, they were rated as being of comparable quality.

However, even with these favorable results, private-label product sales account for only 14 percent of total retail sales. The researchers attribute this to the tendency of retailers to market private-label products based on low price, rather than quality.

"Consumers don't necessarily associate store brands with high quality," Dick said.

Consumers are driven by quality, not price, according to the study results.

"Ingredient differences don't account for the difference in sales of national and private brands. It's in the marketing where retailers are making a colossal mistake," said Jain. "Retailers should advertise the quality of their product -- not the low price."