top of page
  • Writer's pictureLina Altenburg

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Katrijn Found There

Written by Lina Altenburg, Ph.D. candidate at KU Leuven (Belgium)

Every human is different, and conditions, traditions and regulations can be very different at different places and times. Even completely opposite to what you know or how you experienced something before. Alice already learned that in 1872, when Lewis Carrol sent her back to a very different Wonderland. Although Carrol’s sequel to Alice in Wonderland might be a very fantastic take on this idea, it does hold some truth to it. As it does in the realm of marketing, as I learned during my interview with Katrijn Gielens.

During the interview, I had the chance to talk to Katrijn about her recent IJRM paper “The future of private-label markets: A global convergence approach”, which she wrote together with Marnik Dekimpe, Anirban Mukherjee and Kapil Tuli. In this paper, instead of focusing on the often-studied Western countries, Katrijn and her co-authors center their research on showing global differences in the current and predicted success of private-label products.

“I was hoping to see a lot of heterogeneity along dimensions that are not straightforward. For example, we did not find at all that all emerging markets are similar. Instead we found that large and booming markets, like South Africa or Turkey, behave very differently from some others. That is something that I was happy to demonstrate.” 

Katrijn Gielens

The authors managed to obtain data on more than 70 consumer-packed goods categories for more than 50 countries. Their research shows that the classical division into emerging and developed countries is not very useful in explaining differences in the success of private-label products. Instead, they suggest that marketing instruments, such as the extent of new-product introduction (both by national brands and private labels) as well as the price gap between the national brand and private label are better in explaining these differences. Furthermore, rather than sticking to a ‘rear-view mirror’ perspective that only describes historical developments and the current state, they predict future developments of the private label's success.

Save havens for national brands

Katrijn has a long history of researching topics related to private labels. She told me that her interest in this research area sparked from the relationship between manufacturers of national brands and retailers, which can be very tense in the setting of private labels. This is because when retailers start offering private label products they change from being a partner of the national brand manufacturers who resell their products to also being direct competitors.

“So when I go back to some of the earliest work that I've been doing, it was quite often motivated from brands trying to figure out what to do in this ever competitive field where those entities that are supposed to help them, retailers, are actually competing with them.”

Katrijn Gielens

One of the first things that Katrijn and her co-authors intended to do in this project was to identify the countries and categories where national brands are less threatened by private labels. Throughout the review process, the paper evolved as the reviewers challenged them to also look at levers that national brands and private labels can pull to change the situation in their favor. This is where the authors added the marketing instruments (new product introduction and price gap) to their model.

A global quest for data

It was fascinating to listen to Katrijn telling about the very bumpy road of this paper, a journey that took more than 10 years! Even before they started with the project itself, they realised that the major challenge they faced was the availability of data. A challenge that Katrijn states was one of the reasons for limited research in certain countries. This data challenge had two dimensions: on the one hand, they had to puzzle together the data from many different countries. This was especially challenging for the contingency factors. On the other hand, the most difficult challenge was that they could not obtain sales data from the moment of the introduction of private labels for a large share of the countries and categories.

“We could get data from a certain point in time, but for a lot of countries we don’t have the first years that private labels were in the market. We don't have it in our data or they may actually be even under recorded because most data companies only start recording something when something gains traction. When they think that they can sell it on to the brand manufacturers” 

Katrijn Gielens

This is the reason why the authors could not use one of the established Bass-diffusion-type models. Instead, they developed a convergence model that could handle the missing data. Convincing the reviewers about the suitability of this approach was the most difficult challenge of this paper.

The End?

As with Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, also the journey of this paper has a happy ending and a deeper meaning. A happy ending, because the persistence of the authors paid off with a publication at IJRM. A deeper meaning, because it shows that classical divisions, such as developed vs. emerging countries, may not be a good distinction for differences in marketing phenomena. This message should inspire future researchers to further investigate under-researched markets and think outside the box to identify factors that explain the differences between markets. Katrijn is already on pins and needles waiting to receive data on African markets, an under-researched region that she is excited to dive into.

Read the paper

Interested in reading all the details about the global convergence of private-label markets? Read the full paper here.

Want to cite the paper?

Gielens, Katrijn, Marnik G. Dekimpe, Anirban Mukherjee, & Kapil Tuli (2023). The future of private-label markets: A global convergence approach. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 40(1), 248-267.


Meet Katrijn

Professor of Marketing and Sarah Kenan Graham Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA)

What drives you to do the research/work that you do?

I genuinely like research. That's why I knew I wanted to do a PhD. And luckily that passion hasn't gone away. It can be frustrating as hell at certain points in time, but ultimately it’s the one thing that really keeps me driving; I just like doing it. The enthusiasm that you have when you think: should it be interesting to look into that? Seeing some first results and then sort of making abstraction of all the misery in between. But finally (hopefully) having something that is accepted for publication.

If you were not in academia, what would you be?

I was a, how should I say that, a very early convert in the sense that I, even when I was doing my Masters in Belgium, knew I wanted to do a PhD. That doesn’t mean that I immediately wanted to do research in marketing. In fact, marketing wasn't even on the radar. Because at that point in time I thought I was going to do something in monetary economics because I thought that this was so much more noble than marketing. I thought in my wildest dreams, if there's nothing I do with that PhD academically, I can go to the World Bank or IMF and do something that is “worthwhile”. And the rest is history, right? So yeah, if I have to go back to your question, it would be something along the lines of the World Bank or IMF.


This article was written by

Lina Altenburg

Ph.D. candidate at the KU Leuven (Belgium)

59 views0 comments


Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Thanks for submitting!

bottom of page