A new study conducted for the Private Label Manufacturers Association reveals that more than eight out of 10 supermarket shoppers see no improvement in the economy, and 40% actually believe things have gotten worse. As consumers continue to cope, the study affirms, the appeal of store brand products is stronger than ever and may even be intensifying.

In the study conducted by GfK Custom Research for PLMA, most American shoppers implied the recovery has yet to begin. Asked whether the economy has changed over the past few months, 40% said conditions were worse, while another 42% said things have stayed the same. Fewer than one in five felt the economy had improved.

In turn, the survey suggests the recent surge in store brands sales is likely to continue. When asked how important economic conditions were in deciding to buy a private label grocery brand, four in ten responded “very important.” More than six in 10 consumers said they plan on buying more private label as they attempt to maximize their dollar in the grocery aisles. Moreover, half of those surveyed intend to spend less money on groceries in the months ahead.

Consumer awareness of store brands is also rising. More than half of respondents said they are more aware of store brand products now than they were a year ago.

The study also found that the number of consumers who consider themselves “frequent” buyers of store brands has reached an all-time high. Some 57% say they buy private label products frequently, up from slightly less than 55% a year ago.

The mass exodus from national brands to store brands across a number of product categories continues, the survey found. About 43% of those surveyed have recently forsaken a familiar national brand for a private label counterpart, a significant rise since June 2009 when only 35% said they had done so. What’s a national brand’s loss may be a private brand’s gain...and may remain so for some time to come: About 97% percent compared store brands favorably to their previous national brand choices in the same categories. About half said that their store brand selections compare “very favorably,” a dramatic increase from the June 2009 study when only one quarter reported that.