Kraft Foods chairman and CEO Irene Rosenfeld today (17 February) insisted that its rivals are being more affected by the rise in demand for private-label products in the US.

Rosenfeld, speaking at an analyst conference in Florida, claimed Kraft was well placed to handle the growing popularity of own-label products.

“Private label is no stronger in our categories than in the food and beverage market overall,” Rosenfeld told the Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) conference today. “Private label is taking more share from our competitors than us.”

Private label grew by 1% in Kraft’s categories last year, compared to 1.1% in the wider US food and beverage market, Kraft said.

The world’s second-largest food manufacturer is focusing on more profitable products and discontinuing under-performing lines.

Rosenfeld said Kraft’s “pruning” of its product portfolio would account for brands generating sales of around US$300m a year – or 1% of the group’s global sales.

Rosenfeld said not all of the discontinued lines were loss-making but accumulated a combined loss of $4m a year.

“We’re talking about taking less growing, less profitable product lines, which are a poor use of our resources,” she added.

In December, Kraft discontinued shelf-stable, ready-to-eat Handi-Snacks puddings and Kool-Aid gels for retail sale in the US.

The company is looking to launch a raft of products and revealed that, in the first quarter of 2009, it plans to introduce 20 products in about 60 different varieties.

However, Kraft CFO Tim McLevish warned that the company’s sales volumes are likely to fall 5% in the first quarter of 2009 due to the streamlining of its product portfolio, weak consumer demand and retailers holding on to less stock.