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Private Labels & Brand Competition. Dr Ariel Ezrachi, The University of Oxford Centre for Competition Law and Policy 16 January 2009, CCP UEA. Agenda. Developments of Private Labels Competitive Effects Competition Law Enforcement EC Competition Law Article 82 EC Enforcement Choices.

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Private labels brand competition

Private Labels & Brand Competition

Dr Ariel Ezrachi,

The University of Oxford Centre for Competition Law and Policy

16 January 2009, CCP UEA


  • Developments of Private Labels

  • Competitive Effects

  • Competition Law Enforcement

  • EC Competition Law

  • Article 82 EC

  • Enforcement Choices

Development of private labels
Development of Private Labels

  • ‘Value’ versions in the UK since the1920s

  • An increase in volume and range in the 1960s

  • Today, around 50 per cent of sales in major UK supermarkets are private labels.

    Influencing variables:

  • Growth of retailers (national and international level);

  • Increased market concentration;

  • Move from local stores to supermarkets;

  • Economic downturn.

Competitive effects
Competitive Effects

  • Starting point – lower prices, greater choice, innovation and competitive pressure.

  • Short term vis-a-vis long term effects.

    1. Lower Costs

  • Short term loss.

  • Economies of scale.

  • Reputation umbrella.

  • Lower risks, innovation follower.

  • High profit margins.

2 lower prices
2. Lower Prices

  • Range from ‘value’ to ‘premium’ products.

  • Competitive pressure on brands’ producers.

  • Note the retailer’s control over pricing, the possible use of artificial price differentials and value destroying promotions.

    40 per cent of consumers who purchase private labels, do so due to the lower prices of goods. 30 per cent see these labels as being a better value than brand equivalent.

    UK Competition Commission Grocery Market Inquiry, ‘Working paper on the competitive effects of own label goods’ para 8(Final Report published 30.04.08)

3 restricts brand power
3. Restricts Brand Power

  • Restricts the market power of dominant brands or a multi-product brands.

  • Facilitates entry which otherwise will not be possible.

  • Lower prices, better quality, more innovation.

    4. Innovation

  • (+) Pressure on brands.

  • (+) Private label innovation.

  • (-) Innovation follower.

5 choice
5. Choice

  • Wider choice?

  • Profit margins and delisting.

  • The elimination of slow selling brands.

6 foreclosure and access to shelf
6. Foreclosure and Access to Shelf

  • Control over distribution channel

  • Preference for private label.

  • Must stock brands and slower selling brands.

  • The effects of one stop shop culture  Switching costs between outlets increases retailers’ market power.

  • A loss of 20% of sales for the manufacturer involves a serious risk of bankruptcy (UK Supermarkets report (2000))

7 market transparency
7. Market Transparency

  • Brand recognition.

  • Private labels.

    8. Free Riding

  • Innovation follower.

  • Access to information.

  • Copycat packaging…

9 marketing and advertising
9. Marketing and Advertising

  • Reliability umbrella

  • Internal references to private labels

  • Control over in store marketing.

  • Only 1/3 of grocery store purchases are planned in advance.

Competition law enforcement
Competition Law Enforcement

  • Short and long term effects.

  • Long term stability of private labels’ share?

  • Self policing?

  • Speculative nature of long term effects.

  • Is intervention justified?

  • Can traditional analysis reflect the combined horizontal/ vertical effects and the rise in market power?

Ec competition law
EC Competition Law


  • Increased concentration.

  • Spiral effect and increased consolidation.

  • Buyer power.

    Article 81 EC

  • Buying alliances.

  • Agreements etc.

Ec competition law1
EC Competition Law

Article 82 EC


  • Case by case – market definition.

  • Market power below the threshold of dominance(asymmetry of information, in-store competition, control of shelf space, foreclosure, dependency ...)

    -Collective dominance

    -Cumulative effects as alternative?

Ec competition law2
EC Competition Law


Achieve lower prices, better quality and a wider choice of new or improved goods and services. Guidance on the Commission's Enforcement Priorities in Applying Article 82 EC

Abuse ?

  • Short term and long term effects.

  • Self policing.

  • Market constraints - ‘Asda Essentials’

  • Establish competitive harm.

  • Protecting competition or competitors?

  • Abuse of a non-dominant position?


  • Internal analysis - If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it…

  • External analysis - a new market reality?

    -Robert L. Steiner: Vertical competition exists…

    -Rob Walton, Wal-Mart Chairman: ‘The manufacturer’s price is something that’s determined largely by negotiating power of retailers that carry his merchandise’, ie by vertical upstream competition.’