Private Label Distributors Stiff Competition for Manufacturer Brands

Increased awareness of distributor brands and continued confidence in distributor and manufacturer branded products are contributing factors in foodservice operators' purchasing decisions, according to a national study by Affinity Group Sales & Marketing. The study was conducted in May 2023 among 841 operator decision makers nationwide, including commercial foodservice (70%), non-commercial foodservice (13%), K-12 foodservice (11%) and college and university foodservice (6%).

Nearly All Operators are Familiar with Distributor Brands

While operators may have been less knowledgeable of distributor brands in the past, the study's results make it clear that today's operator is well aware of this alternative to manufacturer brands. In fact, 93% of all operators are familiar with the term private label and 98% are familiar with the term distributor brand.

"Consumers may be less knowledgeable about distributor brands, but we found that the concept is well understood among operators," said Megan Teates, Executive Vice President at Affinity Group Sales & Marketing. "Operators comprehend the concept – they can identify which is which and they have a good idea why distributors offer them."

Operators' Perceptions of Distributor vs. Manufacturer Brands Vary, Especially by Type of Product

Operators are savvy about distributor brands' competitive positioning. Operators view distributor brands as lower priced alternatives to manufacturer brands and sometimes of similar - but never better - quality. Distributor brands score poorly for "premiumness" and quality, but very well for value.

Though the study shows operators are open to purchasing distributor products, manufacturer brands are still seen as having higher quality and brand equity. Although, the study indicates there is less differentiation between manufacturer and distributor brands than manufacturers may like. Manufacturer brands win on best quality and "premiumness." But for many other attributes, operators say manufacturer brands and distributor brands are equal.

When asked which attributes best describe manufacturer brands, distributor brands or both:

  • 71% of operators say "availability" best describes both types of products
  • Increased awareness of distributor brands and continued confidence in distributor and manufacturer branded products are contributing factors in foodservice operators' purchasing decisions, according to a national study by Affinity Group Sales & Marketing. The study was conducted in May 2023 among 841 operator decision makers nationwide, including commercial foodservice (70%), non-commercial foodservice (13%), K-12 foodservice (11%) and college and university foodservice (6%).

Nearly All Operators are Familiar with Distributor Brands

While operators may have been less knowledgeable of distributor brands in the past, the study's results make it clear that today's operator is well aware of this alternative to manufacturer brands. In fact, 93% of all operators are familiar with the term private label and 98% are familiar with the term distributor brand.

"Consumers may be less knowledgeable about distributor brands, but we found that the concept is well understood among operators," said Megan Teates, Executive Vice President at Affinity Group Sales & Marketing. "Operators comprehend the concept – they can identify which is which and they have a good idea why distributors offer them."

Operators' Perceptions of Distributor vs. Manufacturer Brands Vary, Especially by Type of Product

Operators are savvy about distributor brands' competitive positioning. Operators view distributor brands as lower priced alternatives to manufacturer brands and sometimes of similar - but never better - quality. Distributor brands score poorly for "premiumness" and quality, but very well for value.

Though the study shows operators are open to purchasing distributor products, manufacturer brands are still seen as having higher quality and brand equity. Although, the study indicates there is less differentiation between manufacturer and distributor brands than manufacturers may like. Manufacturer brands win on best quality and "premiumness." But for many other attributes, operators say manufacturer brands and distributor brands are equal.

When asked which attributes best describe manufacturer brands, distributor brands or both:

  • 71% of operators say "availability" best describes both types of products
  • 64% of operators say "dependability" best describes both types of products
  • 56% of operators say "consistency" best describes both types of products
  • 48% of operators say "authenticity" best describes both types of products

When it comes to areas where distributor brands succeed most, operators say they are more comfortable buying non-food items or commodity ingredients like oil. Currently, distributor brands win in non-food categories where quality is less of a risk. Operators say they are comfortable buying distributor brands for paper products (64%), plastic cutlery (63%) and cooking oil (53%).