Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Is Walgreens Going All Trader Joe's?

I was in a Walgreens yesterday for the first time in a long while, and was surprised to see such a wide variety of store brands, most bearing the zippy new "W" label in place of the dowdy old "Walgreens" mark.

There were the usual generics - analgesic itch cream (the very term "itch cream" is enough to make you start scratching; properly marketed, this could be a black hole product trapping every consumer passing its event horizon), saline solution, and the like. But I also spotted "W" branded Scottish Shortbread (obviously produced by Walker's), and, miracle of miracles, W 'Ultra' Toilet Paper ("Compare With Charmin"). 

Charmin Ultra, once known simply as "Charmin", has long been the ne plus ultra of toilet paper. As the Charmin line has swelled with downlabel products, and other manufacturers have declined to produce a product of equal quality, its price has boosted ridiculously, to as much as a buck per roll. But, finally, Charmin stopped squeezing the customer: new "W" ultra costs only half the price of Charmin Ultra.

Everywhere my eye looked, I saw surprising and excellently-priced "W" store branded products on the shelves, most of them baldly betraying design motifs of the knocked-off brand. It makes me wonder whether Walgreens is aiming to become the Trader Joe's of notions and sundries.

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