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Household Consumer Brands Face a New Reality

National  + Weekender  | 

“I’m not a brand person.” Five words that make a brand manager cringe, and an increasingly common sentiment among consumers.

For classic packaged goods brands ranging from Campbell’s soup to Dove soap, the winds of change are blowing, often with an Arctic chill. It’s by no means a new phenomenon: As far back as 2015, research firm Catalina reported that 90 of the top 100 brands in consumer-packaged goods had lost market share.

The belt-tightening habits that consumers adopted in the Great Recession had much to do with it. Store brands tend to be cheaper, after all, even when name-brand coupons are factored in.

Another factor, NPR reports, is the Internet. “Think about how people used to discover new brands. Only the biggest conglomerates could afford prime TV advertising and prominent placement in stores, right around eye level.” That kind of exclusivity isn’t as much of a factor on the Web.

“Rather than just relying on brand familiarity, consumers buy today what performs for them,” David Luttenberger of market-research firm Mintel told NPR. “They are much less brand-loyal. They are more driven by performance, by convenience, by price.”

The Baby Boomer generation, which grew up on the likes of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, Heinz ketchup and Procter & Gamble’s Crest toothpaste, remains loyal to the brands of their formative years. Not so with younger shoppers, such as 23-year-old Juliet McFadden, the source of the quote at the beginning of this article.

For starters, McFadden’s likes and dislikes tend to rule out a fair number of class brands. “I just don’t usually eat breakfast,” she told NPR.

Nor does she drink soda, and while Boomers grew up with Rosie the waitress extolling the absorbency of Bounty on 1970s TV commercials, McFadden prefers reusable, washable rags.

“Paper towels are expensive,” McFadden told NPR. “Stuff like that adds up.”

The tumultuous climate for CPG brands has been reflected in their manufacturers’ stock performance lately. “You’ve got a lot of CEOs that are at their wits’ end trying to figure out growth,” a now-retired food company honcho told The Wall Street Journal last May.

The WSJ said at least 16 CEOs of major packaged-food and beverage companies had stepped down in the previous two years.

“The challenge for these legacy brands is that the people that were born into them are going to die,” Americus Reed, a marketing professor with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, told NPR. “So you better have a plan to talk to these younger types of consumers.”

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About Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny serves as Senior Content Director for Connect Commercial Real Estate, a role to which he brings 13-plus years’ experience covering the commercial real estate industry and 30-plus years in business-to-business journalism. In this capacity, he oversees daily operations while also reporting on both local/regional markets and national trends, covering individual transactions across all property types, as well as delving into broader subject matter. He produces 15-20 daily news stories per day and works with the Connect team and clients to develop longer-form content, ranging from Q&As to thought-leadership pieces. Prior to joining Connect, Paul was Managing Editor for both Real Estate Forum and at American Lawyer Media, where he oversaw operations at both publications while also producing daily news and feature-length articles. His tenure in B2B publishing stretches back into the print era, and he has served as Editor in Chief on four national trade publications. Since 1999, Paul has volunteered as the newsletter editor of passenger rail advocacy groups (one national, one local).

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