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Private-label products are getting their own mass-marketing channel, thanks to a program introduced last week by direct mailer Advo.

The first national direct-mail program for store brands carried by supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandisers will be launched next month, called Private Pantry.

The program should irritate package-goods marketers who feel undermined by private labels, forcing escalating wars at point of purchase, marketing experts say.

Although Advo said several major supermarkets are expected to sign up for the program, it wouldn't disclose their names.

Advo will deliver coupons, samples and other promotional devices for private-label products directly to consumers' homes through Private Pantry, to be delivered weekly. The program will be separate but similar to Advo's Mailbox Values program that delivers promotional materials for national brands to 61 million households weekly.

Private Pantry will be available on a local, regional or national basis, and will include category exclusivity on certain merchandise to avoid conflicts among competing retailers participating in the program.

" In-house brands have become a key differentiation point among supermarkets, who are now asking for low-cost methods of marketing those brands to drive additional store business," said Advo President Joe Durrett.


But marketing experts warn that supermarkets should be wary of promoting store brands at the expense of mainstream brands.

"The highest strategic use of private label ought to be differentiating your store. If you're trying to build sales and revenues by marketing the private-label line, you're doing something that's counterproductive," said Frank Everett, president-CEO of Reach Marketing, Westport, Conn., which counts Gillette Co. and Ocean Spray Cranberries among its clients.

According to Advo's research, 67% of U.S. consumers buy private labels on a regular basis and total consumer expenditures on such items continues to increase.

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