Consumer Watch: Home brands a foreign legion

By Susan Edmunds

Supermarket brand products are usually cheaper, but many are imported

Tristan Rossiter-Sheehy. Photo / Michael Craig
Tristan Rossiter-Sheehy. Photo / Michael Craig

Buying supermarket own-brand products may save you money - but often means choosing something not made in New Zealand.

Some items, such as milk, are identical whether they are in own-brand packaging or sold by a brand name such as Anchor. But a Consumer NZ survey found that a significant percentage of own-brand products were imported.

Progressive Enterprises, which operates Countdown, said about 60 per cent of its Select, Signature Range and Woolworths Australia's Home Brand were imported. Foodstuffs, which operates Pak'n Save and New World and has Pams and Budget brands, put the figure at 25 per cent.

Consumer NZ found Select pears from South Africa, peaches from Swaziland and Pams tissues made in Malaysia.

A similar Herald on Sunday survey found Budget creamed sweetcorn at New World comes from Thailand while the Watties version is made in New Zealand.

Select lime marmalade is made in Australia and Rose's in New Zealand. Select crackers are Australian, the Huntley and Palmers version is made in New Zealand.

And though Sanitarium and Select peanut butters are Australian-made, Pams' comes from China.

Countdown said most of the money it made from its own-brand products was through locally produced milk and cheese. Foodstuffs said all international suppliers met food safety standards.

Massey University retail expert Andrew Murphy said Progressive would have more foreign products among its home brands because it was Australian-owned. Very few own-brand products would be made specifically for the supermarkets. Almost all were also sold under other brand names.

He estimated about 40 per cent of products had an own-label alternative. There are more than 450 Budget products and 2,500 Pams at New World stores. Countdown has 2,400 own-brand products, of a total 21,000 in stores.

Over the years, the Woolworths Home Brand label had crept on to shelves, Murphy said. He said Woolworths had cited Progressive's private labels as one of the reasons that it was interested in the company when it bought it. "There were some initial statements saying they were going to keep those arrangements. I haven't kept tabs on whether they have but I have noticed an increase in Home Brand products, the vast majority of which come from Australia."

Foodstuffs, by contrast, strongly promoted itself as 100 per cent Kiwi-owned, he said. Sourcing more than 25 per cent of its private label products internationally could jeopardise that. Foodstuffs Wellington, now part of Foodstuffs North Island, said in its annual report last year that it was setting up a "global buying office" in China to "source leading products and maximise in-store margins".

The chain said it preferred to source local product "wherever commercially possible".

Murphy said private label products were usually cheaper but overseas, some own-brand labels that had started out as budget alternatives had developed a following and become premium brands.

In New Zealand, he said people could assume that private label products were reasonable quality, because the supermarket was willing to put its name to them.

But he said sometimes they had more sugar, salt or fat than more expensive products, because the substitutes used to make products healthier were quite expensive. "Cheap brands tend not to have those quality substitutions."

Both chains said home brand products' country of origin was clearly labelled.

Local is first choice

Tristan Rossiter-Sheehy said he and his partner, Antonia Prebble, bought quite a few own-brand products for their children, Poppy, 3, and Oscar, 6 months.

He said he was not surprised that a lot of the products were imported, because they were cheaper.

"It is a bit weird though because some is local, like bread, milk and sugar, so you kind of don't think about the rest."

He said he would be more inclined to buy budget brands that were made locally.

"I'm more inclined to Pams now, based on these stats."

- Herald on Sunday

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