Sunday, March 6, 2011

For Better Or For Worse - When A Store Brand Isn't Really A Bargain

I have to admit that I generally love a bargain.  In years past I was a total "name brand snob". I didn't want to stray from the security & reliability of the name brands products I knew I could trust.  That's why when I found a substitute at Target I could live with, I stuck with it. In this particular case, there was virtually no difference between the 1st generation of the new brand product & the old brand product initially. Judging by the photo below, are we really talking about bath tissue here? Yes, I am - toilet paper indeed.

 Photo found on - Bath tissue, before and after. 

But just a few months after the initial brand introduction, 
something had changed.

These are photos I took of rolls I had at home...
Notice the differences? 

The first change in quality under the up&up brand transition was the considerable change in size, which they now call "cozy".  I went as far as e-mailing Target as soon as I noticed this change.  I searched & searched to see if I still had the e-mail as well as the response I received from Target HQ customer service, but it's long gone.  I was genuinely upset that they tried to disguise the changes in this new packaging after they lured us in with the earlier version of product.

But as you can see below which are samples of Northern Bath Tissue, which Target openly compares their product to there is a big difference between the two.

View of the back of the plush & very soft Northern sheet.

Northern branded product is 3-plies & you can not see the object below it in this photo

Where as with the up&up, you can see it easily with only 2 thinly quilted plies & the front & back are nearly identical. 

Phase two of changes came & it is now far from soft to the touch.  The last package I bought I noticed an immediate difference in that it felt like a second cousin to sandpaper against my skin. Not the most comforting feeling in the world unless I was out camping in the wilderness & my only other option was a piece of bark from a nearby tree.

This isn't to say all the up&up products are sub-par quality.  I will still buy the paper plates, plastic silverware, flex trash bags, and even the kid's toothbrushes.

I will not buy the up&up bandages again, which literally fell off within 5 minutes of putting them on & the paper bowls seem to soak through really fast - you almost need to double them up - defeating the purpose of buying the store brand. The facial tissue is an on-the-fence item.  I've tried it & it's not horrible, but I still prefer the name brands.

Just for kicks & giggles I included a press release from when Target first updated their store brand's look & feel - the birth of up&up. A focus on comparable quality seemed to be a priority for them less than two short years ago. You have to wonder if that has changed in the face of ongoing cost savings initiatives.


Target up & up Brand Offers Great Quality at Low Prices

Completely Updated Store-owned Product Line Features New Look, Expanded Selection of Over 800 Everyday Essentials
— Target announces the re-launch of Target brand – the company’s core commodities owned brand – as up & up™, delivering low prices and great quality with an expanded product selection and a unique new design.

up & up products have been phasing into Target stores since March, and by the end of September, guests will find over 800 everyday essential products from across the store – spanning more than 40 categories – including household, healthcare, beauty, baby, and personal care. Nearly 100 of the items are brand new for 2009, including a few new categories such as cotton balls and swabs, laundry detergent and baby food. The up & up brand is equal in quality to national brands, but at a lower price, offering a savings of 30 percent on average.

"Our guests are savvy and know they don’t have to spend a lot to get high-quality products," said Mark Schindele, Senior Vice President of Merchandising, Target. "By re-launching Target brand as up & up, we’re able to create a unique identity for this powerful owned brand. The new packaging incorporates an element of design, giving us the opportunity to deliver on both the ‘expect more’ and ‘pay less’ sides of our brand promise."

Target consistently reevaluates its owned brands to ensure they meet guest expectations. Before introducing up & up, Target reviewed more than 4,000 guest comments on the quality and performance of its store-brand products. This resulted in the reformulation or enhancement of more than 130 products in the line.

Additionally, a third-party testing facility examined a majority of the Target brand products for characteristics such as flavor, aroma, ease of opening packaging and appearance. These tests helped to guarantee that up & up products are equal in quality to national brands.

up & up products are available at Target stores nationwide, with some bulk packs of products available for sale online at


Like any other purchase decision, you have to try, try again. Figure out what works for your family and what doesn't. Place priorities where it makes sense for you & your budget.  Compare prices too. I always shop with a calculator & compare the unit cost of the store brand vs the name brands. Don't always assume the store brand will be less expensive or a better value because sometimes it really isn't.

If there is one thing I'd like retailers to understand, it's that people are watching these small merchandising & manufacturing changes. Consumers are taking them into consideration when making future buying decisions.  Don't think your regular customers don't notice when you make a change that you believe to be insignificant or subtle.  It may be the exact opposite, so when you hear chatter, take the feedback to heart, rather than dismissing it.

Happy shopping!

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Wordless Wednesday: Caribou Coffee...What's New? 
or Converting those who say: Foursquare's NOT for Me!


Mandelion said...

Great post. I sometimes wonder if companies really think we won't notice those kinds of changes. I'm a big fan of store brands (my dad directed private labels for two East coast supermarket chains) but toilet paper is one item I am willing to buy at full price!

Anonymous said...

I love that you are monitoring these things. It's much harder to do with clothing but it is clear, these same changes are being made there. The quality has gotten so poor with retailers I would like to be able to rely on.

To Mandelion's point, companies are ridiculous if they think we're NOT paying attention.

I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the day when brands differentiate themselves with quality instead of price.