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Consumer Perceptions of Private Label Brands in China and UK

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In China there are fewer studies of private label brands (PLB's) that take up less market share than generic brands and national brands. However, there is a successful development of PLB's in the UK. Therefore, this thesis aims to explore the difference of consumer perceptions on PLB's between China and the UK with national brands as a standard.

The literature review will review theories like brand equity/image, PLB's and double jeopardy; PLB's development compared with national brands in China and the UK; the influencing factors of consumer purchase behaviour and previous researches of consumers' perceptions about PLB's in China and the UK. The main objective of this part is to ascertain the difference of consumer's perceptions between PLB's and national brands in the UK.

Primary research will take the form of a non probability convenience sampling method to randomly select 200 members of the public from two shopping malls of Xidan and Wangfujing and several large-scale supermarkets in Beijing. Questionnaires will be used for data collection, and data is analysed by Snap statistical programme.

The finding shows that there is a significant difference of PLB's perception between China and the UK. Before the evaluation of brand image, the awareness of PLB's in China is understood and just less than half of respondents know the own-label biscuits. With reference to the literature reviewed on consumer perception in the UK, it can get the result that Chinese PLB's are perceived lower than British PLB's on the all attributes except “cheap” and “good value”.

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1 The topic of research

The aim of this thesis is to better investigate how private label brands (PLB's) are perceived by consumers in China, and compare it with the UK's.

1.2 Principle research question

To understand how Chinese consumers' perceptions of private label brands differ from the UK's.

1.3 Overall research objective

The primary purpose for this research is to discover the main difference of consumers' assessment of private label brands between China and the UK. This thesis will explore if there are significant differences between Chinese consumers' evaluation on PLB's and the UK's, and analyse the relevant factors that cause the distinctness of consumers' evaluation roundly on the basis of prior research in this subject scope.

1.4 Individual research objectives

In order to achieve the principle objective of this study, it will intend to fulfil the following objectives:

  • To identify the actual development of PLB's in China and the UK
  • To establish the influence factors of consumer purchase behaviour in China and the UK
  • To determine consumers' perception of PLB's and national brands in the UK
  • To determine consumers' perception of Chinese PLB's and national brands
  • To ascertain the different brand perceptions of PLB's in China and the UK

1.5 Report Structure

This thesis contains eight chapters. Chapter2 to 4 are based on a literature review about theories and relevant knowledge of marketing background. Chapter2 outlines the theories about branding, and then chapter3 introduces the private label brands and their development in the UK and China. Chapter4 refers to consumer perception of PLB's review between two countries based on analysing the determining factors of purchase. The research method is explained in chapter5 with some specific designing scheme. The results of surveying Chinese biscuit category is presented, interpreted and analysed in chapter6, and discussed relating with the UK's market of literature review in chapter7 before conclusion and recommendations are given in chapter8.

Chapter 2: Branding

Chapter 2 introduces the definition of branding with its importance in the retail market, and moves to realize “brand image” and “brand equity” as well as the shift between them. In addition, the Double Jeopardy (DJ) Effect is identified finally. The aim of this thesis is to evaluate Chinese consumers' perceptions of private label brands (PLB's) in comparison to UK's. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the background knowledge about “brand” first.

2.1 The conception of branding

A brand was defined as “a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors” (p.404, Kotler, 2000).

Aaker (1996) indicated that brand was used for suppliers to reflect the consumers' purchase information and make communicate with customers easier, so that it is helpful to build a long-term relationship of belief between buyers and sellers.

Wileman and Jary (1997) had realized that retail branding was playing an important role in the modern retail market gradually. Managers and executives also perceived that retail branding could be used to increase benefits as a strong vehicle in the competitive retail industry (Carpenter, et al. 2005). The reason is that the relationship between a product and consumers is personified by the brand name (organization's name) on the product itself, like Microsoft and Nescafe (de Chernatony and McDonald, 2003).

The difference between a brand and a commodity is shown below in figure1, which describes the process of decline from brand to commodity. Following the disappearance of brand characteristic, a reduction in the differentiation of price and product/image is demanded to achieve the likeness of product offerings in the particular category. Thus the “added values” is the main difference between a brand and a commodity. The result proved the strong power of added values in the blind (brand cancelled) and open (brand revealed) test of Coke and Pepsi preference (de Chernatony and McDonald, 2003).

2.2 Brand image

Brand image is explained as the integrated effect of brand associations (Biel, 1992). Also, Faircloth et al. (2001) cited Engel et al. (1993) as claiming that brand image refers to consumers' perceptions of brand tangible and intangible association. Keller (1993) stated that brand image, a part of brand knowledge, belongs to the perceptions about a brand that is reflected by the brand's attribute, benefit, and attitude association in the memory of consumers. Besides, consumer's brand image is derived from the accumulative effects of marketing mix actions of companies (Roth, 1994).

Wulf el al. (2005) has argued that image is one prerequisite for the presence of brand equity. Brand image in the consumers' memory network that is decisive to make decision, provides preferred brand reminding and evaluation (Holden, 1992), and so it can contributes the positive effect on brand equity (Yoo et al. 2000).

Furthermore, Winchester and Fletcher (2000) argued that measuring brand image was one of the most important research projects undertaken by a company, because it could help firms to understand their products' perceptions in consumers' memory.

For example, retailers have the cheaper brand image than the manufacturers in most of consumers' memory. Also, they suggest that consumers consider retailer brands as “me too” products compared with manufacture brands (IGD, 2003). Thus it demonstrates that retailers are trying hard to build up a strong image for their own brands to shoppers. The enhancement of brand image will be beneficial to drive the sales, brand equity and increase the gross margin of private label products (Quelch and Harding, 1996). Therefore, brand image is an important determinant of consumers' perception about private label brands.

2.3 Brand equity

Brand equity, like the concept of brand, has been identified as having multiple meanings. For instances, people have debated the concept of brand equity both in the accounting and marketing literature for several years (Wool, 2000). The original concept of brand equity is the added value that a brand name offers to the fundamental product (Quelch and Harding, 1996; Wulf el al 2005). Wood (2000) also cited Feldwick (1996) as claiming a classification of different meanings of brand equity as:

“- the total value of a brand as a separable asset - when it is sold, or included on a balance sheet;

  • a measure of the strength of consumers' attachment to a brand;
  • a description of the associations and beliefs the consumer has about the brand.” (p. 662, Wood, 2000)

According to the statement of Wood (2000), brand equity rests on financial accounting no longer, but extends to the measure of brand strength (brand loyalty) and the description of brand image.

Additionally, Aaker (1996) identified the major asset categories of brand equity to include brand name awareness, brand loyalty, perceived quality and brand associations (brand image). It reflected the value supplied by a product or service to a firm and/or customers in the various different ways. If the name and symbol of the brand change, the assets or liabilities will be affected and even lost due to the link between both sides. To brand awareness, the strength of a brand's presence is mentioned in the consumers' minds, ranging from recognition to recall to “top of mind” to domination. Recognition is more important than others due to the perception obtained from the past exposure. Also, recall can be a deciding factor of the purchasing of products.

Otherwise, Chou (2002) also insisted on two categories of definition of brand equity—the customer-based and financial brand equity. The customer-based one is defined as the different effect of brand knowledge on consumers' response to the purchase of brand (Keller, 1993; Lassar, et al. 1995), and the financial one refers to the intangible asset of the value of brand name to the firm (Chou, 2002).

Through understanding the multiple concepts of brand equity, it can deduce that brand equity has attracted more attention in the marketing literature over the last decade, because it reflects if a brand would be repurchased by consumers. As Shapiro (1982) has demonstrated, certain brand equity offered genial value even though the appearance of products is uncertain. Nowadays Broniarczyk and Gershoff (2003) still emphasise the importance of brand equity; also, as one of the most valuable assets, it should be maximised to manage brands for the company (Keller and Lehmann, 2003). High brand equity can increase the opportunity on consumer choice of a common sales promotion (Simonson et al., 1994) and reduce the negative debates of consumers for a price increase (Campbell, 1999), because consumers lean to buy the brand more than the real product. Consequently, brand equity is also a factor to evaluate consumers' perception of own brands.

2.4 The Double Jeopardy Effect

In recent years, more authors (Sharp et al. 2002; Ehrenberg and Goodhardt, 2002) have been interested in understanding, developing and reinforcing the concept of Double Jeopardy (DJ), which represents a natural constraint on customer loyalty, which cannot be increased by marketing inputs much or for long unless a significant benefit increases the brand's penetration (Ehrenberg and Goodhardt, 2002). The DJ effect is that “small share brands have fewer customers, but these customers buy the brand less often than the larger brands get bought by their customers” (p. 17, Sharp et al. 2002). A conceptual model of the DJ effect is showed in the figure2, which illustrates if a small firm would have higher turnover of their customer base if they lost the same number of customers as a large firm.

The DJ effect is fit for the discussion of national brands and PLB's. Bigger brand will be known by more customers, and have more opportunities to be purchased and receive more responses than smaller brand. It will be an essential theory to support the last result of investigation about the comparison between own labels and national labels.

Chapter 3: Private Label Brands

This chapter attempts to understand private-label brands, their development in UK and China and the reason for focusing on them. National brands will be also mentioned as the scale for the validity of comparison between Chinese and UK's own labels.

3.1 The definition of private label brands

“Retailer brands are designed to provide consumers with an alternative to manufacturer brands, to build customer loyalty to a retailer or improve margins.” (p.11, IGD, 2003)

They are particular to a definite retailer, and may have a same or different name of the retailer but exclude other retailers' name (IGD, 2003). The terms “own label” and “own brand” are always used together; also private label, retail brands or distributor brands are in common used (Fernie and Pierrel, 1996).

Own brands can help retailers reduce the direct impact of price competition, since retailers carry their own brands instead of national brands that are sold in the most of the stores (Carpenter, et al. 2005). Furthermore, according to IGD (2003) study, doing own brands can provide competitively priced products, increased profitability and loyalty due to the special store, establishes store image, drives innovation and targets specific consumer groups.

3.2 The development of PLB's in UK

Based on more previous researches about UK's PLB's, it will specify them as the base to compare with Chinese growing PLB's.

3.2.1 The history of development

The generation of own brands in the UK can date back to the end of the nineteenth century (Key Note Market Review, 2001). Until mid-1960s, manufacturers perceived that the development of store brands could be a direct threat for them (Ogbonna and Wilkinson, 1998). After that, own brands rose to penetrate into grocery markets gradually (Fernie and Pierrel, 1996), because supermarket had to implement a new strategy under the tough economic crisis (Ogbonna and Wilkinson, 1998).

The growth of own labels in the UK had been rapid during 1980s, and slowing down in the 1990s (Laaksonen, 1994). After 1980, the UK's retailing had a big metamorphosis to change their own-label products from previous low-price/low-quality/poor-packaging to current high quality, competitive price and good packaging (Burt and Davis, 1999; Key Note Market Review, 2001). Especially from 1990, more retailers began to provide own brand lines in stores and penetrated towards the grocery field (Veloutsou et al., 2004), and even innovated in product categories to be consistent with branded-products, such as the expansion from grocery to clothing (Quelch and Harding, 1996). Fernie and Pierrel (1996) illuminated that Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Safeway had developed their own brands, which competed successfully with other brands in the UK. Otherwise, there were more private labels on the shelves of supermarkets than ever before (Quelch and Harding, 1996). The main reasons for growth of own-label products include lower pricing (60%-85% of branded products), improved quality and higher profits for retailers (Ashley, 1998).

Through the review of historical evolvement of PLB's, the current bloom of PLB's development in UK that is built on the basis of constant change can be seen. Also, it can be a good explanation for the condition, in which customers choose more own brands of supermarket rather than manufactures' brands.

3.2.2 Current development

At present, private label brands have taken up a significant share of nearly 29% in the UK food market. It is expected to increase further in 2009. Especially since 2008, own label has been gaining popularity following accelerating economic downturn. As consumers have begun to feel the pitch, so they have bought own-label products instead of branded products to save money. Thus the competition between own-labels and brands is reinforced. There is the highest own-label consumption in the FMCG sectors, like milk and frozen vegetables, or some products without emotional appeal. However, manufacturer brands still account for the majority of sales in the most of grocery categories (Mintel, 2009). Table1 shows the share of brands and own-labels in the following different categories.

From this table, it can see that own label is the most dominant in the category of ready meals; and it has the least share in the crisp category. Also, more share own labels account for, more increasing opportunities they have.

In addition, UK's supermarkets recognise that consumers have a wide range of product needs, so they segment the market by providing the brands that cater for the best, healthy, valuable, kids' and organic requirements as table2 shows.

3.2.3 The feature of development

The development of PLB's, a competitive strategy adopted by retailers, is necessary for them within the current retail market of high competition in the UK (Carpenter et al. 2005).

Own brands are developing fast and winning a better share of the food market with definite advantage in the supermarket product ranges, because retailers can offer their private label products with high-quality and low-price (Wulf et al., 2005). Also, own-brand products exceeding 40% of market share have expanded their presence across markets—from low-priced, value-for-money items to the premium and lifestyle arenas so as to cater for consumers concern about healthy eating (Drewer, P. 2006). Therefore, it can fetch up the limitation of national brands that segment the market less, and target desired consumers more narrowly. For instance, figure3 shows Sainsbury's Be Good to Yourself range of lower fat which is one kind of “healthier” own-label ranges; and Asda's value (Smartprice), healthy (Good for You) and Premium (Extra Special).

Furthermore, the feature difference of own brands has been gradually shortened from national brands in terms of aspects such as packaging, size, and label (Choi and Coughlan, 2006). In figure4, Sainsbury instant coffee products are taken as an example of private labels with reduced feature differentiation as national labels inside FMCG sector.

Some of the UK's retailers such as Sainsbury's and Tesco have set up own brands focusing on quality and taste due to more consumers' regards on flavour and aroma. Production methods have become diversified, and manufacturers have been found around the world to get various products with exotic flavours. For instance, the recipes of multiple ready-meal foods are derived from characteristic foods of different countries, like Waitrose chicken chow mein, which is developed from Chinese stir-fried noodles. Thus it is common for retailers to compete by developing premium own brands (Fenn, 2007), yet the majority of retailers changed their attention from premium ranges to the promotion of value ranges in 2008 (Mintel, 2009).

3.2.4 Marketing support

The increase of own-label products is supported by the gradually concentrated nature of the retail market. Retailers control own brand marketing, which has obtained higher promotional support than national brands since there are better space and location for private labels on supermarket shelves (Cataluna et al. 2006). Retailers have got bargaining power in the market and more confidence to invest in their own brands, which bring higher profits than generic brands (Fenn, 2007). In addition, own-label food and drink has been supported strongly in the competitive market, although the main retailers began to promote the potential of saving money on PLB's purchase in 2008 and early 2009. For example, own-label brands are promoted principally in the main retailers like Morrisons. Marks & Spencer also spent a third of its total budget on M&S brands in 2008 (Mintel, 2009). Table3 shows the market support on foods in the form of media advertising expenditure.

Generally, an increasing trend is shown for the retailers' spending on foods in this table. However, depending on the retailers' spending share, it can ascertain that branded manufacturers are still the biggest spenders on advertising for food and drink. They use the “Reassurance” and “tradition” as the key themes of promotion to fight against PLB's (Mintel, 2009).

3.2.5 The biscuit category

Own-label biscuits take up a fifth of the UK market, where it has remained the share stably over previous 5 years. The biscuits category has increased substantially since 2002, although there is an unhealthy high sugar content in the most biscuits. The benefits can be obtained from defying all advice of nutrition, because consumers regard biscuits as a reward for their efforts on healthy eating most of the time. Moreover, the development of biscuit market is likely to be influenced by three key factors: requirement for healthy foods, indulgent products and convenient products. The indulgent demand can benefits the branded biscuits, as consumers believe premium-branded products more than PLB's (Kidd, ed. 2007). Figure5 shows the UK biscuits market shares in 2007.

From this figure, it can see own labels account for more share than any one manufacturer brand, but it is less than the total share of main large manufacturers.

In short, UK's PLB's market has been described and compared with manufacturers' brands specifically, so that it can be as the firm foundation for the later comparison with Chinese PLB's market.

3.3 The development of PLB's in China

Private label in China is still in an emergent stage, where many retailers had increased the place of own label development in 2004, but most do not have their own brands until they have greater scale in the market. According to IGD's estimation, own brand only takes up 2% of sales at Wal-mart and less than 6% at Carrefour, which is the strongest retailer in China. Although the foreign retailers have a long history to sell private label brands, this is a big challenge for them to sell in China, where own brand is a new concept for the Chinese consumers. They just believe the value and quality of local branded products. Thus retailers need to prove their own products are not only cheaper, but also provide better value to consumers (IGD, 2005b). Auchan, Carrefour and Wal-mart will be chosen as the example of private label development, because they have wider range of own label products than others.

“Pouce”, “Auchan” and “First Price” ranges were introduced by Auchan in 2003. And they were developed across both food and non-food categories by the end of 2004. In Carrefour, own labels can be found in most categories, especially strong in non-food. Its private label brands include “Great Value”, “Equate” and “Kid's Connection”. Wal-mart is developing their own brands including “Simply Basic”, “Equate” and “Great Value” in China, where the quantity is more limited than other developed international markets (IGD, 2005b). But actually, most of supermarkets usually just focus on the value with low price, and use the name of supermarket as their own brands' name to attract consumers' attention, such as “Ito-yokado”, “Dia%” and “Tesco”.

3.4 Why the focus on PLB's

Veloutsou et al (2004) indicated that all grocery retailers have been entangled by private brands in Great Britain in the last decade. Also, the growth of private labels is one of the most obvious successes to the retail stores (Drewer, P. 2006); own brands have been seen as the strategic weapon to provide retailers with more powers and opportunities to distinguish themselves from national brands and build store image (Juhl et al. 2006). Nevertheless, there is a completely different situation in China, where the study of PLB's is less than the UK's and is strongly encouraged (Song, 2007). PLB's is undeveloped with low sales account in China, even if some foreign retailers (e.g. Carrefour, Wal-mart) have launched their own brands (IGD, 2005b). Consequently, there is a need to expose why PLB's have little market in China, and understand the shortage of Chinese PLB's development through comparing consumers' different perceptions between China and the UK.

Chapter 4: Consumers' Perception of PLB's in China and UK

This chapter will evaluate private label brands and national brands based on a cognizance of factors determining purchase. A generality of different viewpoints about consumers' perceptions on brands will be discussed and some factors influencing the PLB's purchase will be presented.

4.1 Determinant of Purchase behaviour

Consumer's purchase can be influenced by environment, personal preference and psychological factors. Customers who live in diverse regions have their own experience about private-label products (Veloutsou et al 2004). Individual consumers often choose certain brands that they know to be guaranteed due to their habits, instead of spending more time to re-evaluate the brands with different attributes when purchasing (Ehrenberg, 2004). Furthermore, consumers' preferences are different following the change of age (IGD, 2005a). For example, young people high on the new things more than old people. From the psychological aspect, “the right customer mindset can be crucial to realizing brand equity benefits and value” (p29, Keller and Lehmann, 2003).

During the decision making process, purchase can be influenced directly by several factors. Veloutsou et al (2004) cited Omar, Burt and Sparks (1995) as claiming that many consumers always consider their products' characteristics, quality and perceived value instead of the prices of products when consumers make purchasing decisions. However, the price cannot be excluded from factors of decisions, because most of consumers go shopping after they have a budget in mind (Hogan, 1996). Additionally, a generalized private-label attitude is discovered to influence purchase behaviour; factors include: “consumer price consciousness, price-quality perception, deal proneness, shopping attitudes, impulsiveness, brand loyalty, familiarity with store brands, reliance on extrinsic cues, tolerance for ambiguity, perceptions of store brand value, and perceived differences between store brands and national brands” (p347, Collins-Dodd and Lindley, 2003).

4.2 Consumer perception in China

Due to the limitation of consumption per capita, the market was driven by price instead of brand loyalty in China (IGD, 2005b). According to China Management Newspaper (2008) reported, it is a fact that consumers who realise the supermarket own labels account for rather low percentage of total population. Moreover, “low price” and “high quality” are the main motivations to drive consumers' purchase. Thus national brands with better quality can attract more consumers, although they have higher price than own labels. This results from the increase of Chinese consumers' purchase power and the improvement of living level in recent years. Moreover, PLB's and national brands were considered as less difference on price (Chen, 2009). Thus it can be deduced that “low price” strategy of own brands in China would be successful due to less brand loyalty. However, following the improved standard of living, people would increase their demand from low price to high quality, which could be a challenge for the PLB's.

4.3 Consumer perception in UK

4.3.1 Comparison of PLB's with national brands

Following the quality improvement of PLB's, Richardson (1997) found that store brands could be compared with national brands from the aspect of quality and consumers preferred to buy store brands where they usually shopped. As Quelch and Harding (1996) discovered that this was similar for consumers to perceive and judge the manufacturer and retailer brands in the orange juice private-label test, because consumers had a low involvement activity on grocery shopping.

Nevertheless, “If all retailers stock manufacturers brands, they can only differentiate on price or sales promotions; with own labels/brands, they can offer further differentiation in the market place.” (p49, Fernie and Pierrel, 1996)

They supported that own labels/brands could bring retailers more differentiation in the market place than manufacturers' brands that just differed on price or sales promotions from each other. However, there is a different understanding based on consumers' mind. Dick et al. (1996) considered that private labels were less famous than national brands, which have a distinct identification with a particular manufacturer. Richardson (1997) also supported the unification of store brands without the speciality of national brands.

In the research of Harris (2007), he also demonstrated a significant difference of brand image evaluation for national brands and store brands. He established that PLB's have the advantage of “cheap” and “good value” to compare with national brands, while national brands were used more with higher quality/superiority based on attributes than store brands. However, after breaking down PLB's into three relative positions (premium, standard and value), he discovered that premium private labels were overpriced more without better value for money than national labels; customers buy more value private labels than national labels due to their cheapness. This implicates that consumers prefer the high quality of national brands and the good value of value PLB's at the same time. Therefore, he identified the characteristic of “worth more” regarded by consumers mostly. The brand association strengths are summarized in the following figure7 from his study.

Furthermore, his researching results (see Appendix3) will be used as the reference of British consumer perception of PLB's to compare with China's later.

In addition, according to Mintel research (2009), it has been a long-term trend for more consumers thinking that own labels are better than national brands.

4.3.2 Evaluation of PLB's

To the quality/value thinking, other authors have had same ideas. Quelch and Harding (1996) predicted that consumers would choose PLB's readily rather than the higher-priced name brand, if there were more quality PLB's in the market. Richardson (1997) cited Richardson et al. (1994) as claiming that store brand market share could be increased by successfully communicating a quality rather than a low price strategy. Moreover, according to the IGD's research, PLB's have become one of the important factors for shoppers to choose the supermarket they shop in. The satisfaction of quality with lower price has attracted more consumers. The proportion of main reasons is “45% lower price, 45% better value than branded equivalent, 26% the same as branded, 24% a good reputation for own brand (IGD, 2003). Furthermore, consumers are not confused about the increasing number of own-label brands, but the segmentation is beneficial for them to choose products that are fit for themselves. The clear differentiation among brands is also the key for retailers to success (Mintel, 2006).

Chapter 5: Methodology

On the basis of the relevant literature review about the market analysis of PLB's and national brands, especially the UK market, this has been analysed for the final discussion to compare with Chinese PLB's. This chapter will look for the most appropriate approach to implement the needed research and achieve the objective of this thesis.

5.1 The objective of this study

Perceptual variables related to consumers' perception are investigated in this study. It needs to finish the following objectives:

  • The difference of consumer perceptions between PLB's and national brands in the UK (achieved in literature review)
  • The difference of consumer perceptions between PLB's and national brands in China
  • The difference of consumer perceptions of PLB's in China and the UK

Based on the understanding of the UK's markets and perceived PLB's compared with national brands by consumers in the literature review, the Chinese situation will be understood by actual survey. Finally, it will compare the Chinese PLB's perception with the UK's according to the standard of national brands.

5.2 The research strategy and method

A quantitative research strategy will be used in this study, which takes a deductive approach deriving from the deduction of theories and objectives. It explores the data that refers to the development of theories and the achievement of aims founded on the literature (Saunders, et al. 2009), where the UK's market and the comparison of consumer perceptions between British PLB's and national brands have been also analysed concretely through large quantity of literature search. They are obtained by internet and various presses like books and magazines in order to develop the actual deep research. Then Chinese consumer perceptions of PLB's will be surveyed by questionnaire, and compared with national brands, which can be as a standard for the PLB's comparison of the two countries. In the result, conclusions can be gotten about the “differences and similarities in consumers' perceptions of own labels in China and the UK”.

5.3 The measurement of brand image attributes

There are three common measures of consumer perceptions about diverse brands of packaged goods: free choice, scaling and ranking, which are used to position the brands in their relevant sites aiming at each attribute dimension (Branard and Ehrenberg, 1990). Also, Dreisener and Romaniuk (2006) had demonstrated that all three approaches could provide equal results at both brand and separate level. In this study, the free choice approach is put forward to collect consumer brand beliefs for the supermarket own brand names of the top foreign supermarkets in China, also PLB's and national brands of biscuits they sell. The reason of choosing the foreign supermarkets is that they lead the Chinese own-label development with more varieties of private labels than Chinese local retailers.

5.4 The free choice sample

This study adopted a non-probability sampling method, because there was uncertain population of consumers in China, and everyone was unattached individual with different ideas. Furthermore, convenience sampling was undertaken due to limited time and resources. Remenyi et al (1998, p. 193) describe convenience sampling as “comprising those individuals or organizations that are most readily available to participate in the study”.

The sampling frame is all Chinese people in Beijing, which is chosen because Beijing as the capital of China is a representative city in China, where it can meet various people coming from different places of China. To consumers in Beijing, its sample size is 200, which will be selected across two shopping malls of Xidan and Wangfujing and several large-scale supermarkets in Beijing like Wal-mart and Carrefour. The sample size is an important part of research design when deciding upon sampling frame. The increasing sample size can decrease sampling error however a large sample cannot ensure the precision completely, which needs to consider the tolerance of sampling error (Bryman and Bell, 2007). The sample size of 200 is decided depending on the restriction of time, cost and personal capability.

5.5 The questionnaire

A personally administered (face to face) questionnaire will be developed with questions based on consumers' perceptions on PLB's. It is appropriate for data collection as establishing harmonization and inspiring respondent, clarifying doubts in time, less expense needed when dealing out in groups of respondents and ensuring almost 100% response rate (Sekaran, 2003).

Each of 200 respondents was asked if know the PLB's. Respondents who do not know the kind of brands were asked about the personal information, because they cannot give the exact data to support the brand comparison; and respondents knowing PLB's were given a table, which presented different attributes and main brand names of biscuits. In them, the national brands were mixed up with PLB's (see the questionnaire in appendix). Its objective is to understand consumer's perceives about own-label and branded biscuits fairly. Moreover, respondents were able to choose as many or as few brands as they believed the attribute is real, including none at all. To the answer of brand image measurement questions, Dreisener and Romaniuk (2006) gave the description as Pick any, with the following dialogue about how to phrase the questions:

“We would like to know how you regard different brands. We will give you a series of statements and for each we would like to know which brands you associate with it. You can select as many or as few brands for each statement as you like. It does not matter whether you have purchased this brand before or not; it is your opinion we are after”. (p. 686)

To obtain different response levels to understand the dimensions of PLB's and national brand positioning, many typical attributes were selected including “Good appearance, Good packaging and Clear information” (representing characteristics of appearance); “Good value, cheap and overpriced” (representing price based assessments); “superior quality” (representing the level of quality). Thus it can see whether the brand represents its essential characteristic that is more outstandingly than other category members. For example, “Good value” should be reflected in the biscuit products of “Great value” brand as it is expected. In general, it is predicated that there would be fewer feedback of attributes on PLB's than manufacturers' brands, because most of people did not know PLB's that accounted for tiny market share in China. Furthermore, PLB's would be assessed highly on “cheap” of price attribute, whereas national brands would be supported strongly on “superior quality” based quality attribute.

Otherwise, the questions about purchase frequency were also contained for identifying heavy, moderate and light consumers. Also, before the brand image measurement, the rough assessment of beliefs about own-label and branded features are asked with scale format. This is designed for those who do not really know PLB's in biscuit category but know other own-label products. Thus they still have potential consciousness on PLB's generally.

However, there are several limitations of this questionnaire design. The list of brand names is likely to limit the choice of respondents, who believe other unlisted brands from local supermarkets or other manufacturers. In addition, pick-any method does not represent the degree of association when indicating the attributes for various brands (for example, agreement that both of Carrefour and Wal-mart are perceived as cheap, but no definitude that which is perceived as cheaper between them can be deduced from the results).

5.6 The Pre-test

After finishing the design of questionnaire, it was piloted on 5 Chinese students (to test the academic approach and logicality) and 5 relatives with a non-academic background (to test the study from a consumer's view). Several corrections were then made to adjust the order of questions and remove any obscurity and design shortcoming. Data entry of the pilot survey into Snap statistical programme also ensured the validity of the questionnaire design on the aspects of answer coding and data input at the analysis stage.

5.7 Biscuits used for assessment

A study in the biscuit market was implemented as it is the primary product in the leisure foods, which have increased its requirement with the improvement of standard of living in China (China Grocery Industry Web, 2007). Thus there are more varieties of national brands and PLB's rather than other categories in China. In UK, biscuit market also accounts for definite share with high penetration. There are common biscuit brands like Oreo and Ritz in the two countries. Consequently, it is facilitative to obtain a mass of responses for this Chinese research and benefits to compare with UK's.

5.8. Data Analysis and explanation

Microsoft Word is used to design and format the questionnaire due to the complex table layout of brand image measurement (see appendix 4), whereas all questions designed were coded for the analysis process easily in the Snap statistical programme. Undertaking the data analysis could achieve the key objective that is to establish the differences or similarities in consumer perceptions of PLB's and national brands by assessing the diverse brand attributes.

5.9. Limitations of the study

Due to the constraints of time and budget, a convenience sampling method is used for this research, which may lack of the true representation of whole population. Also, the restriction of individual research abilities and skills could affect the reliability, validity and comprehensiveness of the study. As only one FMCG category was researched due to limited time and budget. This was not general to focus on diverse PLB's categories. Furthermore, to individual consumers, their evaluations of PLB's could associate with their own abilities, also be influence by other factors like the surroundings, so that they did not give the real intention.

Chapter 6: Results and Analysis

This chapter will present the key results of survey by questionnaire. Some data can be broken down to get the relevant information and satisfy the final objective of the research. Also, it will explain and analyse these findings, which mainly include the awareness of PLB's and the evaluation of brand image. A copy of questionnaire and some further relevant results with this area are presented in appendix.

6.1 Respondents

The sample is made up of 200 respondents. In them, there are 46% of male and 54% females. 61.5% of respondents accept that they know the own label products, whereas only 38% of respondents have ever purchased own-label foods. The low proportion of respondents with the experience of PLB's usage may influence the evaluation of brand image attributes. All detailed figures with relevant comments can be seen as follows, further information about respondent profiles is summarised in appendix 1.

6.2 The awareness of PLB's

As previous statement suggests, only 61.5% of respondents are aware of PLB's. The result is presented in figure8, which shows the difference of perceived own brands according to age.

From this figure, it can be seen a remarkable diversity about awareness of own brands among different age groups. In them, young group (18-30) has higher proportion of awareness than others, while older group (61 or over) is the crowd with the lowest proportion of perceiving the PLB's. Moreover, generally the proportion of unawareness of own labels is going up following the increase of age.

Based on the description about consumers' characteristics according to different ages in Chapter4, it just validates the description that young people are better at observation and try than older people. Youth have more curiosity on new things, while seniors conform to tradition more. Thus it leads to the result shown in the column chart that young people know the own brands rather than old people.

Furthermore, perceived own brands are related with the different occupations. As figure9 indicates the change of perceived own brands according to the occupation.

As can be seen from the bar chart, about 94% students express that they know the PLB's; next, 87% civil servants are also aware. However, more retired and unemployed people are not aware of own labels. Otherwise, there is no evidence of perceived PLB's in other occupations.

Youth are the main group as students and civil servants. Students who stand on the leading edge of the world study advanced knowledge, so they should know more than other people. Civil servants, as the “white collar” in the society, have the stable income, which can support their curiousness on something new. Most of retired and unemployed people are composed of middle aged and senior people, who know own brands less. Thus it leads to the above result.

In addition, there is no significant relationship between perceived own brands and gender.

However, focusing on the biscuit category, there are fewer people who know the own-label biscuits as long as they have been to the supermarket. The next table shows, the number of respondents who have shopped the supermarkets recently (last three purchases), recent consumers knowing the own-label biscuits, those knowing but never bought them and those who have ever bought them.

As from the above table, it can infer that most consumers do not often purchase own-label biscuits. As above data presents, generally more than half of consumers in recent three-time purchases know the private label biscuits except in Carrefour, Metro and Lotus; and less than half of recent consumers never bought the own brands of supermarkets they shopped before. This means that most consumers knowing own brands have bought the biscuits previously. However, only few consumers purchase them in recent three-time shopping, so they can remember the products more clearly and give the specific evaluations. Thus this may be a limitation of the accuracy of this study: the majority of respondents just give the assessment depending on their potential impressions on private label biscuits.

6.3 The brand image evaluation

As previous description, a rough assessment of PLB's and national brands is necessary before assessing the brand attributes specifically in biscuit category, because fewer people exactly know the own labels of biscuits among 61.5% of respondents who know the PLB's. (In this part, these respondents who know the PLB's will be seen as a whole, namely, 61.5% equals 100%). Figure10 presents the percentage of respondents who know the following biscuit brands.

According to figure 10, national biscuit brands (Oreo, Ritz, Danone and Nestle) are widely well-known by nearly all respondents who know own brands. Nevertheless, each own brand of biscuit is perceived by few respondents, who averagely take up only 17% of respondents knowing PLB's. In them, the own-label biscuits of Wal-mart are understood by more than other own brands.

Consequently, the total assessment of own brands compared with national brands are needed. Next, several main brand attributes are analysed to compare own brands with manufacturers brands generally. Then it will focus on the biscuit category.

6.3.1 Rough Comparison

From this figure, significant price diversity can be seen. Private labels focus on scale1 to 3 mainly, and national brands have a much smoother distribution from 6 to 10, where scale 8 achieves the peak response. Therefore, it can be concluded that PLB's still are perceived to have lower price than national brands according to the consumers' attitudes.

As shown in figure12, the choice of PLB's and national brands takes on a nearly symmetrical form. This illustrates that PLB's taste worse than branded foods mainly. The peaks still appear in scale3 and 8 like price evaluation. However, the difference is that separately about 10% of respondents do not identify their ideas and think there is no significant diversity between their tastes.

As can be seen from the figure13, the choice of brand variety of own labels and national labels is compared. It presents that over 40% of respondents on the scale8 accept more choices of national brands, which can be obviously compared with less choice of PLB's, according to about 78.8% of responses on the scale 2, 3 and 4.

It can be seen that PLB's still focus on scale 2 to 4, just leaning towards the average. National brands have the highest estimation of about 25% on average. However, most respondents believe national brands have better quality than PLB's.

According to figure15, there is an obvious estimation on average value of 36.6% on national brands and 23.6% on PLB's. The high proportion of average evaluation can be beneficial for PLB's to increase their value and achieve equal status with national brands, although about 64% of respondents still think they do not have good value like national brands.

In the above figure, it presents the difference of sale promotion intensity between own labels and manufacturer brands. Most respondents believe that own labels have weaker sales promotion than branded products. Only 13% and 18% of respondents on own labels and national brands respectively believe that there is no significant difference on sales promotion between PLB's and national brands.

As can be seen from figure17, there is still a significant difference of product exhibition position, as more branded products can take up most of the shelves, so that the minority of own labels can be found with difficultly.

In sum, it can be concluded that there is a significant difference of consumer perceptions between PLB's and national brands by the rough assessments on several main brand attributes.

6.3.2 Biscuit category

Based on the general evaluation of own labels and national brands, the general position of PLB's compared with national brands is understood in the market, like the lower price, worse taste and poor quality. Therefore, the biscuit category will be chosen for the further analysis to validate the accuracy of previous survey about the macroscopical brand image. In this study, 11 brands of all main national and private label biscuits are contained in the survey of biscuit category, 7 PLB's and 4 manufacture brands. It will analyse them according to different attributes of PLB's compared with national brands. Also, recent users are separated out from the overall consumers in respect that there is less awareness and purchase rate of own labels in China. Table5 displays the results of the evaluation of several brand attributes for PLB's compared with national brands.

To the aspects of price attributes, it can be seen that PLB's are cheaper with better value than national brands based on purchasers' assessments. The number of response can validate the previous general assessments of price and value. Also, own labels have 2.25 times the response rate as much as national labels on “cheap”, while “good value” can be 43% likely to be associated with own labels by purchasers. Oppositely, the response of “overpriced” and “superior quality” on national brands is much higher than own labels based on quality attributes. In them, consumers may not associate with “overpriced” for PLB's totally; and “superior quality” can be received on an 82% lower response for PLB's compared with national brands. This can be also a reason to explain the result of equal response on PLB's and national brands about “Good value” (good performance / price) to the overall consumers. As consumers believe PLB's do not have better quality but cheaper than national brands, while national brands have better quality but more expensive. Thus it is suggested to improve the own-label quality so as to enhance its value.

In the evaluation about function attributes, own brands have 29% lower response on “morning eat” and 80% lower response on “eat as snack” than national brands. This illuminates that PLB's may adapt to be eaten as breakfast more than snack. This can result from so many sweet national label biscuits like “Oreo” and “Danone”, which are not fit for eating as breakfast.

To other brand attributes, own brands also present a far lower level of response than national brands. The huge gap of response number between them can be demonstrated that bigger brands (with more knowers and purchasers) can obtain more responses of brand image than smaller brands from this table (Romaniuk and Sharp, 2000). There is a biggest gap between them on “clear information”. Most own labels have simple packaging with less information about the origin of products, and possibly only including product name, shelf-life and net content. Sometimes, shelf-life is likely to be found difficultly by consumers due to the printing problems. Therefore, it leads to the above response. It can be ascertained that all of them are the shortage of PLB's and are necessary to be improved.

Accordingly, through analysing the brand attributes of own-label biscuits and branded biscuits, it can be concluded that the significant difference between PLB's and national brands is existent and perceived by Chinese consumers. The benefits of own labels are represented on the price only, and they need to be improved a lot on other attributes to catch up with the national brands.

Chapter 7: Discussion

On the basis of the comparison of British consumer perceptions between own labels and branded products in the literature review, and the two perceived by Chinese consumers in the primary survey, their relevance will be discussed in this chapter. Consumer perceptions of PLB's in China are able to be compared with UK's by national brands.

7.1 The awareness of PLB's in China and the UK

In China, according to the perceived biscuit brands in figure10, almost all respondents know the national brands, but only 17% of respondents know the PLB's. In the UK, most consumers should know the own brands because only 6% of consumers never buy private-label biscuits in the UK, according to Mintel (2009) researched. Also, a strong competition exists between own labels and national labels in the UK. These demonstrate that PLB's have definite strength to compete with manufacturers brands. So there is no significant difference of awareness about PLB's and national brands in the UK. Consequently, perceived own labels in China are lower rather than the UK. Consumers perceive a significant difference of PLB's in China and the UK. Otherwise, it is necessary to find the reason of low perception through comparing the Chinese own brands with the UK's specifically.

7.2 The comparison of PLB's image

The aim of this part is to find the limitation of PLB's in China through comparing them with British own labels on several main brand attributes, such as price, quality and taste. It will compare Chinese PLB's with the UK's according to Harris (2006)'s research about British PLB's perception of tea bag brands (see Appendix3), which is a specific and up-to-date research that focuses on consumer perception of PLB's in the UK.

As can be seen from this table, own labels have definite advantage on “cheap” and “good value” in both of countries, where Chinese PLB's have more probability to associate with “cheap” attribute than UK's PLB's on average, even anyone of them based on same national brands. As “good value” is 43% likely to be associated with own labels by Chinese consumers; meanwhile, there is less gap of PLB's compared with national brands in the UK. To the price, “cheap” attribute received on a 2.25 times response for Chinese own brands than national brands. The “cheap” characteristic of own labels in China is similar with British value PLB's, which received 98% higher response than national brands. Through the data to compare Chinese and British PLB's with national brands respectively, it seems that Chinese ones are perceived with lower price and better value rather than UK's.

But actually, based on previous research Chinese own labels aim at the development of “great value”, which has become some product brands. It is related with better performance and lower price. Thus through this survey, it can be concluded that “good value” of own-label biscuits in China can be only achieved by lower price, but lack of good performance, which can be also seen from the latter comparison about quality, taste and packaging of biscuits with the UK's own labels. In them, quality can be compared alone due to its importance.

To the quality attributes, own labels have lower/inferior quality than national labels in the UK. However, they can obtain higher probability on “superior quality” response than Chinese PLB's based on comparing with national brands. As value PLB's are assessed less than national brands but higher than standard and premium PLB's, because British consumers regard more on “worth more” about the value of products (performance/price). Furthermore, premium PLB's received higher response on “overpriced” than national brands. Nevertheless, there is no such premium PLB's assessed as “overpriced” in China. Thus it can be inferred that British PLB's have better quality than Chinese PLB's.

To the relationship of perceived quality and value, it was shown previously in figure7 about the brand association strengths that consumers prefer high quality of national brands and high value of value PLB's. This is also suitable to Chinese consumers, where the own labels perceived as “cheap” and “good value” can be seen as value PLB's and compared with national brands with superior quality.

However, own brands are still necessary to be improved on the performance to keep the good value, like the inferior taste and packaging as follows.

According to this table, PLB's in the UK have limited difference with national brands. However, there is an obvious diversity on taste and packaging between Chinese PLB's and national brands. As “taste good” can be received on a 54% lower response for Chinese own labels than national labels, and “good packaging” has lower response than “taste good”. Consequently, PLB's in the UK can be perceived with better taste and packaging than Chinese ones.

In short, there is a significant difference of consumer perception on PLB's between China and the UK. Except the “cheap” and “good value” attributes on own labels in China can receive a higher evaluation than the UK's, other attributes are received on a lower response than UK's own brands.

Related with literature review, the reason of bringing on the results can be that consumers understand and buy the PLB's less, which account for less market share. Moreover, consumers can believe the own labels are worse than national labels potentially due to its lower price and less penetration in the market. Therefore, the Private-label image is worthy to be regarded more by the retailers. Consumer would be willing to know them, when the brand image is increased through improving the poor attributes of own brands in China.

In addition, the research only focuses on the specific category of biscuits, which cannot replace the whole market. Therefore, the survey results can be only as a reference for the all own labels in China. It is still suggested to improve the performance of Chinese PLB's such as quality, taste and packaging, so as to increase the value of products; meanwhile, the new brand positions of PLB's in China can be developed for consumers with more different demands to penetrate the food market deeper, such as premium, standard and value PLB's in the UK.

Chapter 8: Conclusions and Recommendations

This chapter concludes all problems identified and all findings obtained by the research in this thesis. Also, it provides recommendations for the future study.

8.1 Conclusion

During the last decade, private label brands involved all grocery retailers in the UK. The development of own labels in the UK is so successful that most retailers have used them as the strategic weapon to increase their reputation and build the store image through distinguishing with other brands. However, the situation in China is totally different from the UK's. There is less awareness of PLB's, which is in the condition of take-off with very low market share, although own labels have been seen in some larger retailers. Therefore, it is necessary to know the reason that private labels are developed difficultly in China through comparing the difference of consumer perception on PLB's between China and the UK based on national brands.

The biscuit category is chosen as the research objective because biscuit is the top one in the leisure foods in China. This research has investigated the consumer perception about brand image of PLB's compared with national brands in China by the questionnaire. And consumer perception of PLB's compared with national brands in the UK is known based on the literature review, because previously there are more studies on the comparison between own brands and manufacturer's brands in the UK. Finally, the comparison of PLB's between China and the UK is achieved by the norm of national brands.

According to the research data, it shows that there are just over half of respondents knowing the own labels and less than half of respondents having bought the own-label biscuits in China. Also, the awareness of PLB's has the relationship with the change of age and occupation. Moreover, through the total survey of brand attribute evaluation, it can be known that PLB's are perceived lower than national brands on any attributes generally.

Further data obtained by studying the biscuit category to validate the above result is that own labels in China are cheaper and have better value than national brands, and others have same results with general assessments. Thus the deviation of “good value” is discussed through more researches about quality, taste and packaging to compare with British PLB's based on the national brands. Lastly, it can be confirmed that the value is just emerged due to the low price, but there is no better performance of biscuits surveyed due to poor quality, taste and packaging.

8.2 Limitations and Recommendations

This research has indicated that there is a significant difference in consumer perceptions of PLB's between China and the UK in the biscuit category, and higher assessments on “cheap” and “good value” than the UK's, but there is a lower probability on other attributes such as quality, taste and packaging. Nevertheless, there are some limits within this research. To the methodology, convenience sampling method is used; questionnaires limited the individual ability to explore more views about brands and brand attributes. Also, the few purchasers of own-label biscuits can affect the accuracy of results. Furthermore, it just focuses on the biscuit category, which cannot replace the whole FMCG market. In addition, the UK's market is not surveyed with primary data collection due to the limited time and budget. Its source of secondary data may lack of the reliability and validity, especially make reference of Harris (2006)'s researching results about consumer perception of PLB's in the UK.

Further research can be recommended in future. As it has found out that there is a shortage of PLB's on their quality, taste and packaging. Thus it is necessary to know how to improve them better so as to adapt to the Chinese consumers' demands. Otherwise, it needs to extend the PLB's brands and segment them into different levels aiming at consumers with special needs like value, standard and premium PLB's in the UK.


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