Purpose ‐ This paper seeks to examine long-term trends in retailer and manufacturer brand shares in grocery product categories, and to relate these trends to retailer category strategy with regard to these two types of brand. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The study makes use of secondary data and empirical materials from the literature to establish and explain the trends in four countries: the UK, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand. Additionally, interview data are used to develop issues. Findings ‐ The results indicate the existence of long-term equilibrium points between the shares of manufacturer brands and retailer brands in grocery product categories in the USA, New Zealand and Australia. Only the UK shows strong growth of retailer brands in line with retailer consolidation and power, but this trend is arrested, reversed and brought to equilibrium in 2001. Research limitations/implications ‐ The data presented are restricted to four major English-speaking economies between 1992 and 2005. The data are also consolidated national data. Equilibria within individual categories will vary due to variations in category structure and pace of innovation. Practical implications ‐ This research indicates that major retailers deploy manufacturer brands to drive the categories via innovation and retailer brands to generate additional profit for the retailers. Therefore manufacturer brands do have a long-term future. Individual manufacturer brands are likely to be assessed by the retailer primarily on this driving capability, and on the manufacturers' ongoing investment in the capacity to innovate that supports it. Originality/value ‐ The paper provides a fresh perspective of looking at retailer and manufacturer strategy via brand share trends.