Walmart Great Value: an America's Hottest Brands Case Study

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Walmart Great Value
Private label was always a big business, but never a big priority for Walmart. Clearly it's become bigger in both regards under Andrea Thomas.

Ms. Thomas, 45, has led the massive re-stage of what Walmart rightly bills as America's largest package-goods brand, Great Value, with sales estimated around $10 billion. It's easily bigger than all of Hershey Foods, Ms. Thomas' last stop, where she was VP-global chocolate.

Walmart doesn't release numbers for the brand. But the re-staging of Great Value has had a substantial impact since it began rolling out in April -- be it from the stores, where the stark white packaging has made the brand far more obvious, to third-party numbers.

After losing unit volume share the past couple of years, Walmart's private-label share was up 0.2 percentage points in the 52 weeks ended July 19, according to consumer panel data from Information Resources Inc. That's only about two months into the Great Value re-stage, before it was entirely complete.

The goal, as Ms. Thomas and other Walmart executives have said, isn't to take share from brands but from other retailers, or at least prevent defection of customers to stores that have historically put more emphasis on private label.

"People think we've expanded the line a lot because they see it so much better," Ms. Thomas said. But the net item count is about the same. That's a testament to the packaging standing out, as opposed to blending in with other brands as it did in the past.

Marketing focuses on the 140 million shoppers already coming through the chain's doors weekly, either through in-store TV or displays, though the brand has also branched into social media by courting bloggers.

Andrea Thomas
Andrea Thomas, Senior VP, private brands, Walmart
Though Great Value has historically been an opening-price-point brand, that's no longer the case in all categories, such as laundry. "Our strategy is to offer the national-brand-equivalent quality at the best price we can," Ms. Thomas said. "We didn't want to lower the quality below national brands to hit a price point."

Having switched from conventional CPG to private brands, Ms. Thomas isn't sure she'll ever want to switch back—at work or at home. "It's very fulfilling," she said, "because I feel we're providing a service to our customers where they really need our help right now."

Ms. Thomas likes to cook on weekends, but her husband cooks and shops most of the time. "My husband loves to buy Great Value and provide great feedback for me," she said. "I'll send an e-mail to my team: 'Had a great experience here. Need to work on this area.'"

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