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What Can the Price Gap between Branded and Private Label Products Tell Us about Markups?

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Author Info

  • Robert Barsky

    (University of Michigan and NBER)

  • Mark Bergen

    (University of Minnesota)

  • Shantanu Dutta

    (University of Southern California)

  • Daniel Levy

    ()
    (Emory University, Bar Ilan University)

Abstract

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.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 grocery chain we compute upper and lower bounds for the “true” markup ratio 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 of nationally branded products as well. The data include not only the prices and quantities sold by UPC, but also the retailers’ margins on each product, which allow us to measure the markup ratios for nationally branded product manufacturers using both wholesale and retail prices. We find that lower bounds on markup ratios measured this way 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 1.4–2.10. Thus the data indicate that markups on nationally branded products sold in U.S. supermarkets are large.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Department of Economics, Bar-Ilan University in its series Working Papers with number 2002-02.

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Date of creation: Mar 2002
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Handle: RePEc:biu:wpaper:2002-02

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Postal: Faculty of Social Sciences, Bar Ilan University 52900 Ramat-Gan
Phone: Phone: +972-3-5318345
Fax: +972-3-7384034
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Web page: http://econ.biu.ac.il
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Keywords: markup; retail and wholesale price; marginal cost; national brand; private label;

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References

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  1. Daniel Levy & Shantanu Dutta & Mark Bergen, 2002. "Heterogeneity in Price Rigidity: Evidence from a Case Study Using Micro-Level Data," Working Papers 2002-09, Department of Economics, Bar-Ilan University.
  2. Shantanu Dutta & Mark Bergen & Daniel Levy, 2002. "Price Flexibility in Channels of Distribution: Evidence from Scanner Data," Working Papers 2002-10, Department of Economics, Bar-Ilan University.
  3. Hall, Robert E, 1988. "The Relation between Price and Marginal Cost in U.S. Industry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(5), pages 921-47, October.
  4. Brown, C. & Medoff, J.L., 1991. "Cheaper By The Dozen," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1557, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  5. Peter E. Rossi & Judith A. Chevalier & Anil K. Kashyap, 2002. "Why Don't Prices Rise During Periods of Peak Demand? Evidence from Scanner Data," Yale School of Management Working Papers ysm291, Yale School of Management.
  6. Susanto Basu & John G. Fernald, 1994. "Are apparent productive spillovers a figment of specification error?," International Finance Discussion Papers 463, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  7. Daniel Levy & Shantanu Dutta & Mark Bergen & Robert Venable, 1998. "Price adjustment at multiproduct retailers," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(2), pages 81-120.
  8. Bils, Mark, 1987. "The Cyclical Behavior of Marginal Cost and Price," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(5), pages 838-55, December.
  9. Rajiv Lal & Chakravarthi Narasimhan, 1996. "The Inverse Relationship Between Manufacturer and Retailer Margins: A Theory," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 15(2), pages 132-151.
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  12. Nevo, Aviv, 1999. "Measuring Market Power in the Ready-to-Eat Cereal Industry," Competition Policy Center, Working Paper Series qt7cm5p858, Competition Policy Center, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
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  15. Rotemberg, Julio J & Woodford, Michael, 1996. "Imperfect Competition and the Effects of Energy Price Increases on Economic Activity," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 28(4), pages 550-77, November.
  16. Slade, Margaret E, 1998. "Optimal Pricing with Costly Adjustment: Evidence from Retail-Grocery Prices," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 65(1), pages 87-107, January.
  17. Richard Schmalensee, 1978. "Entry Deterrence in the Ready-to-Eat Breakfast Cereal Industry," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 9(2), pages 305-327, Autumn.
  18. Robert E. Hall, 1986. "Market Structure and Macroeconomic Fluctuations," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 17(2), pages 285-338.
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