Washington is about to get a new version of the generic, or "no brand" supermarket food and nonfood items that have been springing up all over the country since Jewel introduced them last year in Chicago.
As recently as a two months ago, Safeway's Washington division was denying it had any plans to follow the lead of other chains, but the May 22 edition of Supermarket News, an industry trade journal, reported that the chain's move into the lower-priced items will be announced to regional managers next month.
The difference between a no-brand and a branded item has been in the quality and the "frills." Generic toilet tissue is unperfumed, vegetables and fruits may be standard grade rather than fancy or extra fancy, packaging is usually quite plain. But Safeway does not plan to use a plain wrapper on its line. And it plans to give what it is calling "second-generation generics" a name, possibly Scotch Buy, a variation on its house-brand frozen orange juice, Scotch Treat.
According to a company spokesperson, "Safeway's products will meet the desire of customers for generic label items but it will not be generic. It will be cost competitive with other stores' generics."
The new line will not replace Safeway's house-brand items. it will be an addition to them and will cost less.
The supermarket industry has viewed the blossoming of generics with some suspicion. "What happens when there are so many companies selling these lower quality foods that we have shortages in them," a supermarket official asked at a recent industry convention. Others speculate that it will reduce margins, that as the demand for standard-grade products increases so will prices, that once the novelty wears off consumers will opt for quality.
Safeway, the largest supermarket chain in the country, expects to sidestep these problems. It has its own contract canners and its own plants turning out the products.
Last fall an informal taste comparison between several generic canned products at Jewel and the chain's house brands revealed little difference.