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September 14, 2023

How Center Aisle Brands Can Beat Back Store Brand Encroachment

Tony Treadway

Center Aisle Brand Strategies blog article.
Photo of center aisle brand competition in grocery store.
The battle for center aisle unit sales dominance is underway. Store brands are attacking.

From my wife to friends and co-workers, the topic of food inflation remains a frequent discussion. As the costs of meat, eggs, and produce have been tamed, products in the center aisle of retailers are another story.

“Center aisle products overall have risen by one-third in the past year.”


While fresh meats, seafood, and produce have been the sanctuary of a retailer’s brand, the increased prices of center aisle products have left the door open for retailer’s own store brands to steal market share. From potato chips to paper towels, double-digit price increases for the past year tell the story of why shoppers are giving in to the lure of store brands. According to analytics company Circana, prices on center aisle products overall have risen by one-third in the past year while store perimeter items have risen by 22%. NielsenIQ says prices for potato chips rose an average of 17% to $3.05 per package for the 52 weeks ending May 27th compared to the previous year. Mayonnaise increased 23% to $49.3 per container. Applesauce jumped 22% during the period.

When I look at retail sales data from clients, all are up in dollar sales, but the number of units they now sell is mostly down. That means that consumers have left the category or traded down to private label. Retailers have become more sophisticated in how they market their store brands and locked down much of the first-party data on who is buying what, leaving brands in a conundrum. Here are three tactics we are using to drive increased unit sales.

Partner With Store Brands

Meal solution promotions that leverage your brand’s strength with a retailer’s own store brand are smart in today’s environment. For example, a tortilla brand might partner with a retailer’s fresh ground beef or shrimp for a burrito or taco meal solution that also includes store-brand sour cream and shredded cheese. In return, the retailer offers a tortilla display near the ground beef or seafood section of the store away from the center aisle or Mexican foods section of the store. Store perimeters are valuable real estate for moving units faster and attracting new consumer loyalists.

Connect With Lapsed, Current & New Consumers With CTV

This CTV campaign that was focused on a social cause saw a 13% increase in unit sales.

Connected TV (CTV) advertising is one of the fastest-growing methods for targeting consumers. Now that nearly 90% of homes have at least one Smart TV or Roku and other devices, we’re directing clients toward CTV strategies. We use first and third-party data to identify specific targets for brand messages and use smartphone location technology to know where they live and when they shop at a specific retailer. Merge the data and you have an efficient path to deliver your message via TV commercials, digital, and social ads as well as geo-fenced messaging when they enter the retailer. We’ve found that CTV is not only efficient in generating awareness but also conversion into sales.

Freshen Up Your Messaging, Then Activate Smartly

Example of shelf danglers.
Shelf danglers highlight a three-way partnership for a chili meal solution.

First COVID, now inflation. We are seeing shifting attitudes toward center aisle brands that require a brush up on your messaging to those attitudes, then smartly activating the message.

We’re advising clients to turn messaging toward the end user benefits of their products, especially involving quality.

There should be a greater emphasis on easy meal solutions, either partnered with other aligned brands or if needed store brands for easy, delicious meals. Look for ways the consumer can use your products in new ways or on different occasions, such as game day or holiday entertaining.

Deliver that messaging through in-store signage or by partnering with other brands to grab an end cap location. Drive your message in the last mile before targeted consumers pull into the supermarket parking lot, via billboards or geo-fencing. Make new value statements on pre-shop or retailer website ads. Increase your targeted paid social ads to the zip codes of retailers you wish to influence.


Most center aisle brands are facing significant headwinds on further price increases throughout the year. Protecting your position against cheaper store brands should be a priority. Use some of your new dollar sales profits to increase brand awareness and conversion to pump up unit sales. If you are looking for an agency partner who is in the thick of the retail shelf battlefield, we are ready to help.