Own label food and drink new product development (NPD) overtook branded product launches for the first time in the UK in 2011, according to research from Mintel.

The company said the proportion of new product development within food and non-alcoholic drinks has traditionally been higher for brands than for private labels. While brands held a 55pc share of total NPD in 2010, own labels accounted for 54pc of NPD in 2011, compared to 46pc for brands.

The research reveals that 57pc of consumers now think that own label products have improved in taste and quality, while 52pc prefer them to brands in some cases. In addition, 82pc of adults think own label products provide value for money, compared to just 16pc for brands.

Some 80pc of shoppers now buy own label products, compared to 89pc of consumers who buy branded goods. Twenty percent of those who buy branded products said they will buy fewer of them in the coming year.

“While there are signs that pressure on consumer budgets is slightly easing, 2012 looks set to see the majority of adults remaining watchful and discerning when shopping,” said  Chris Wisson, senior food analyst at Mintel. “Our research suggests that on balance, consumers expect to buy more standard and value own label foods while cutting back on brands.”

Mintel’s research reveals that the UK market for own label food and drink reached Ł37bn in 2011, a 24pc increase since 2006.  The wider market grew by 23pc over the same period. The own label market is expected to show similar growth trends in the coming years and is projected to reach Ł46bn by 2016.

Today, sixty-nine percent of British people buy economy own label food and drink products. Just 6pc of adults who currently buy economy own label products expect to reduce their usage in the coming year, while one in eight (18pc) current users expect to buy more in the year ahead.

Premium own labels, meanwhile, are bought by 71pc of UK consumers. Growth looks set to continue in this segment, with 27pc of adults expecting to buy more of these products in 2012 and only 12pc to cut back.

“Retailers are appearing to put greater weight behind their own label ranges in attempts to encourage consumers to switch into using them,” said Wisson. “More comprehensive ranges, product improvements and even range relaunches have all put greater pressure on food and drink brands.”

Mintel said UK consumers traditionally associate a wider range of positive attributes with brands than own labels, particularly being trustworthy (52pc), traditional (51pc) and authentic (44pc), while just 2pc of adults think that they are bland. However, own labels come to the fore for being family-friendly (45pc versus 28pc for brands) and, in particular, offering value for money (82pc versus just 16pc for brands). The most likely users to maintain their usage and support the own label market are men (46pc), over-55s (49pc), retirees (54pc) and, surprisingly, ABs (48pc) and households with an income of Ł25,000-49,999 (50pc).

“Times have changed and there is no longer a perception about own label equating to lower quality. Our research shows that many affluent consumers do not necessarily dismiss own label products out of hand, but they appear to in fact be keen users in certain categories. The increasing credibility of private label products which, crucially, often undercut brands on price is a warning for brands who are under increasing pressure from consumers who are becoming more open to the idea of buying own label groceries.”