What Can the Price Gap between Branded and Private Label Products Tell Us About Markups?
73 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2001 Last revised: 23 Oct 2010
Date Written: August 2001
In this paper we investigate the size of markups for nationally branded products sold in the U.S. retail grocery industry. Using scanner data from a large Midwestern supermarket chain, we compute several measures of upper and lower bounds on markup ratios for over 230 nationally branded products in 19 categories. Our method is based on the insight that retail and wholesale prices of private label products provide information on marginal costs that are also applicable to the appropriately matched nationally branded products. Under reasonable assumptions - the accuracy of which we consider in some detail - the wholesale price of a private label product is an upper bound for the marginal manufacturing cost of its nationally branded equivalent, while the retailer's margin on the national brand is an upper bound on the retailer's marginal handling cost for both the brand and private label versions. We find that lower bounds on the 'full' markup ratio range from 3.44 for toothbrushes and 2.23 for soft drinks to about 1.15-1.20 for canned tuna and frozen entrees, with the majority of categories falling in the range 1.40-2.10. Lower bounds on manufacturers' markups are even higher. Thus the data indicate that markups on nationally branded products sold in U.S. supermarkets are large.
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