CHICAGO — Providing more than just less-expensive alternatives to national brands, the newest private-label foods utilize premium ingredients, portability and health benefits, according to Mintel GNPD. Mintel GNPD has seen approximately 1,800 new U.S. private-label foods appear on retail store shelves this year: 27% of all food products introduced in 2009. Private-label foods comprised only 13% of new food product launches in 2005.

"Not only have private-label introductions increased, but product innovation is reaching unprecedented highs," said Krista Faron, senior analyst at Mintel. "Retailers no longer only launch ‘me-too’ products to compete against major national brands. Instead, private-label lines are hotbeds of creativity, driving markets and establishing themselves as trend leaders."

Since more than half of Americans try to spend less at restaurants, Mintel sees private-label retailers creating premium in-home meals that boast restaurant quality and fresh ingredients. For example, Supervalu’s Culinary Circle features an upscale Pork Carnitas Enchilada Casserole, while Wal-Mart claims fresh-baked taste in minutes with Sam's Choice Thin Crust Pepperoni and Canadian Bacon Pizza.

Another hot area of private-label development is portable, high-quality lunches, Ms. Faron said. People want to save money by lunching at the office.

Although convenience remains a driver for private-label prepared foods, Mintel GNPD sees health and nutrition increasingly influencing product development. Lucerne Foods gives shoppers convenience, nutrition and private-label pricing with its Eating Right brand, Mintel relays. Products span the store, including kids’ Whole Wheat Mini Ravioli

"Private label manufacturers realize ‘value’ means more than ‘low price’ to consumers, so they’re wisely creating new products that deliver on some of today’s most exciting food trends," Ms. Faron said.

Although the recession is causing more Americans to cut down on food spending, both at home and by dining out less, private label has benefited: the U.S market grew 9.3% in 2008 compared to 4.5% for branded food sales. By the end of 2009, Mintel forecasts it will grow another 8.1%.