Private label laureates

The Grocery Headquarters Private Label Trailblazer Awards recognize outstanding private label manufacturers for their innovative excellence and leadership in the grocery industry.

By Carol Radice

Private label products have garnered favor with value-conscious consumers over the past few years and many industry experts expect store brands to hold on to most, if not all, of those gains going forward as the economy slowly rebounds.

To maintain consumer interest in private label offerings, retailers must partner with suppliers that provide innovative, quality products to keep pace with consumer demands.

When choosing a supplier for their private label products, retailers put their reputations on the line, so it is important to make wise choices. The Trailblazer Awards honor some of the leaders in their respective segments, from diapers to drinks and beyond.

The following is a look at the inaugural Private Label Trailblazer Award winners, including some information about their history, products and business strategies going forward.

American Italian Pasta Co.
The American Italian Pasta Co. has built its reputation on its dry pasta business and by using its expertise with consumer brands to help build its store brand business. The Kansas City, Mo.-based company, an independent operating division of Ralcorp Holdings, has become a major player in the store brand pasta category.

“We serve retail, foodservice and industrial channels with dry pasta,” says a company spokesperson. “Store brand pasta is our strength and we are committed to growing our customer’s store brands by delivering consistent, superior quality pasta and new items that satisfy new trends and consumer needs.”

The company, founded in 1988, produces such name brands as Mueller’s, Golden Grain, Heartland and Anthony’s. “Our commitment to quality, the depth of product offerings and our consumer/category insights are just a few things that differentiate us from the competition,” says Pat Regan, senior vice president of customer and consumer brands. “We treat our store brands as brands and support our customers with the tools they need.”

The company plans to introduce several “innovative better-for-you pastas” later this year.

For more information, visit

Associated Hygienic Products
Associated Hygienic Products (AHP), a wholly owned subsidiary of Disposable Soft Goods (DSG International), has been manufacturing, marketing and selling disposable baby diapers and training pants for customers in North America since 1984. According to company officials, the customer- and consumer-driven company is committed to providing the highest quality store brand products with an eye on continuous improvement in activities ranging from product development and manufacturing to distribution and customer service.

Headquartered in Duluth, Ga., AHP boasts manufacturing and distribution facilities in Delaware, Ohio and Waco, Texas. These facilities represent state-of-the-art operations built in response to tremendous growth in the baby diaper category. With the expansion, AHP is now the third-largest manufacturer of disposable baby diaper products in North America. With an eye on solid growth and a timely acquisition strategy, the company continues to expand in ways that help it serve its customers and corporate vision.

“Because innovation is always a key focus in the baby diaper category, we will continue to work collaboratively with our parent company, DSG International, on many key product initiatives with a focus on developing proprietary materials and product features that deliver superior consumer benefits and value,” says Chris Ferdock, vice president of marketing for AHP.

The company’s focus on innovation, quality and continuous improvement appears to be making an impact with key retailers and strategic partners. Ferdock notes that AHP was recently was honored by four major corporations for its best-in-class partnerships and innovation in the disposable baby diaper category: Outstanding Supplier from Kroger, Partner Award of Excellence from Target Stores, Supplier of the Year for Department 26  and Product of the Year from Fisher-Price.

For more information, visit

Berner Food and Beverage
More than 60 years ago, Berner Food and Beverage began as a Swiss cheese maker. Today, the family-owned and operated company is a leading store band supplier of shelf-stable sauces and shelf-stable low-acid beverages. Headquartered in Rosco, Ill., the company operates several production and warehouse facilities in the Northern Illinois and Chicago area.

Among Berner’s key products are snack condiments in glass jars and portion-control cups, aerosol toppings in aluminum cans and low-acid beverages such as iced latte coffee drinks and nutrition drinks in both bottles and aluminum cans. The company’s offerings were recently expanded to include a line of dips, lattes, ethnic and coffee-based energy drinks, among others. According to executives, the company’s product breadth and depth helps it stand apart and makes it uniquely qualified to help retailers develop and expand successful store brand products in a variety of categories.

“Our primary mission is to serve the store brand industry in all classes of trade, but with particular focus on retail grocery,” says Steven Fay, executive vice president of Berner Food and Beverage. “Our success has been the result of following a simple philosophy: we listen to our customers, we get on board with their initiatives and we support their objectives. More importantly, we never lose track of the fact that our role is to serve. We create the products and the services our customers want. That philosophy has served both our customers and our company well.”

For more information, visit

Classic Salads
A national supplier of gourmet baby leaf salad products to the foodservice and retail markets, Classic Salads is based in Watsonville, Calif., in the heart of “America’s Salad Bowl.” The company has become one of the fastest growing salad processors in the industry with 100% of its products grown in the U.S., company officials note. In addition to Watsonville, where produce is grown eight months out of the year, the growing operations and processing facilities move to Yuma, Ariz., during the winter months to ensure year-round availability.

Established in 2000 by longtime Salinas Valley farmer Lance Batistich, Classic Salads is a known leader in producing and distributing upscale baby leaf salads, such as spring mix, baby spinach, arugula and similar salad blends. These are available in either bags or clamshell trays under the Classic Salads brand or private labels. In the fall of 2010, the company added a full line of organic salad products to their offerings.

“We’ve become an industry leader by offering world-class products, quality and service to our customers, team members and suppliers,” says John Burge, vice president of sales and marketing for the company. “Whether providing branded or private label products, Classic Salads is dedicated to the specialized category of organic and conventional gourmet baby leaf products. As the grower, processor and shipper our ability to create individualized programs for our customers is what sets us apart —or what we refer to as ‘The Classic Difference.’”

For more information, visit

Clearwater Paper Corp.
Based in Spokane, Wash., Clearwater Paper Corp. was founded in December 2008 as part of a spinoff from the Potlatch Corp., a 100-year-old, vertically integrated wood products company.

Known for putting customer service and quality first, the company produces wood and wood fiber based products that include lumber, pulp, quality paperboard and private label tissue products, which include bath and facial tissue, paper towels and napkins.

“Clearwater Paper is a recognized industry pioneer, in providing leading national brand comparable tissue products for major retailers of private label, enabling their customers to compete in the highest ends of their markets,” says Bruce Woodlief, director of marketing for Clearwater Paper’s consumer products division. “In fact, we are the only national private label supplier who offers a full matrix of tissue products ranging fromvalue to ultra-premium quality in bath and facial tissue, paper towels and napkins.” Woodlief also notes that Clearwater Paper began offering Forest Stewardship Council certified tissue products in 2010. Currently, no national brands in major retail channels offer this prestigious certification, he says.

For more information, visit

Clement Pappas & Co.
In the early 1900s, three brothers from Greece came to the U.S. seeking the American dream. After working in a cannery in Alabama, the Pappas brothers decided to start their own business and purchased land in New Jersey to grow tomatoes and other vegetables. Soon after, they built their own cannery to process the crops they grew. Today, Carneys Point, N.J.-based Clement Pappas & Co. is one of the top producers of store brand fruit juices, fruit drinks and cranberry sauces.

According to the company’s website, their leadership position is one based on quality, integrity, accomplishment and innovation. As such, its customers are assured that they can always expect superior products, service and support. Its quick turnaround on new product introductions, innovative packaging solutions, state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, combined with coast-to-coast service are just some of the reasons this company stands apart from others.

For more information, visit

First Quality
First Quality was founded more than 20 years ago as a family business based in Great Neck, N.Y. Since its inception, the company has focused on offering its customers high-quality and innovative products, according to company officials.

From its beginnings as a manufacturer of adult incontinence products, First Quality has expanded into baby diapers, training and youth pants, baby wipes, sanitary pads, tampons, adult protective underwear, briefs, bladder control pads, underpads, adult wipes, paper towels, bath tissue, purified drinking water and component non-woven fabrics. The company serves health care and retail markets worldwide and offers a vast array of its own brands and store labels.

“Our core focus areas make us unique to others that serve the private brand retail arena and health care/institutional markets,” says Dan Murphy, vice president of sales and marketing for the company. “First Quality’s commitment to continuous reinvestment in state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and capabilities allows us to offer unique and often better products than nationally advertised brands. Our focus on product development, driven by fact-based consumer insights, results in premium quality products designed to deliver customer satisfaction,” he adds.

Murphy says that First Quality’s vertical integration efforts provide economies of scale and the self-production of many product components enables the company to control costs. “As a multi-line supplier, First Quality offers logistical efficiencies by combining orders to maximize truck utilization. This helps optimize inventory levels for our business partners.”

For more information, visit

Global Tissue Group
Medford, N.Y.-based Global Tissue Group (GTG) prides itself on the superior value of its products and top-notch personal service, according to company officials. Since its founding in 1998, the family-owned paper manufacturing company has established itself as one of the leading consumer paper product suppliers for the private label industry and contract manufacturing. GTG manufacturers a wide range of paper products including facial tissue, napkins, bath tissue and paper towels.

According to company officials, Global Tissue’s combination of designed embossing, earth-conscious production, use of soft fibers and outstanding value are only a few of the qualities that make their products stand out. Recognizing not every retailer needs or wants to order large quantities, GTG has the flexibility to offer retailers low minimum packaging commitments, various sheet sizes and counts and specialty items.

“Global Tissue provides value, quality and consistency, and helps retailers increase their revenue,” says Philip Shaoul, the company’s chief marketing officer.

“What’s more, we bring the trust and comfort of our relationship to your consumers, who will grow to depend upon our standard of excellence—and your brand, through our private label programs, contract manufacturing, or our control brands. This is what sets us apart from our competition.”

For more information, visit­

ICCO Cheese
The Orangeburg, N.Y.-based Italian Cheese Co. (ICCO) began in 1932, operating out of a small storefront in Brooklyn, N.Y. Three generations later, the company still sells grated Parmesan and Romano cheese products and has added plain and Italian-flavored bread crumbs to its store brand offerings.

ICCO is known for its turnkey support program that assists customers with new product development, package design, distribution planning and in-store merchandising. To satisfy its diverse customer base, the company offers fast turnaround times, a variety of packaging and shipping options as well as low minimum quantities.

For more information, visit

The Jel Sert Co.
The Jel Sert Co., which is based in West Chicago, Ill., derives its name from its first product—a gelatin dessert mix called Jel Sert, a combination of “jelly” and “des­sert.” Since its founding in 1926, Jel Sert has expanded into many fun food categories and today it is the world’s largest freezer bar manufacturer as well as a leading manufacturer of powdered soft drinks, dessert mixes and fruit flavored beverages, company officials note.

Its branded portfolio includes Fla-Vor-Ice, Pop-Ice, Otter Pops, Bolis, Wyler’s Light, Wyler’s, Flavor Aid, Mondo and Royal, among others. In addition, Jel Sert also has many strategic licensing partnerships with companies such as Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Sunkist Growers, Jelly Belly Candy Co. and Arnold Palmer Enterprises.

“Jel Sert is a unique manufacturer that offers a winning portfolio of iconic brands, innovative licensed products and a wide variety of private label options to fit the many needs of our customers,” says Ken Wegner, president of Jel Sert. “Mixed, cooked or just plain frozen, Jel Sert products continue to be at the front of every market category. The perfect combination of great taste, great prices and great packaging makes every type of Jel Sert product jump off store shelves. Today, one in five households enjoys a freezer bar item, a category that Jel Sert has evolved by offering consumers a variety of fun formats, flavors and textures,” says Wegner.

For more information, visit

John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc.
At John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc. (JBSS), they are crazy for nuts. For more than 85 years, the company has been dedicated to procuring, processing and packaging the best quality nuts in the business, company officials note.

The company got its start back in 1922, when Gaspare Sanfilippo and his son John founded a pecan shelling company in a small Chicago storefront. Today, the company operates out of a state-of-the-art one-million-square-foot corporate headquarters, manufacturing and distribution center based in Elgin, Ill. According to company officials, the center offers the most advanced automation, roasting and packaging capabilities in the industry.  JBSS also operates four production facilities strategically located in primary nut-growing regions. Officials note that the company’s solid infrastructure allows it to react quickly to changes in consumer preferences for alternative pack styles and flavors and increases in end-user demand.

They also say that JBSS offers the most complete product portfolio of nuts in the U.S. and the most comprehensive variety of value-added products. From staple snack and baking favorites like whole cashews, mixed nuts and chopped walnuts to newly developed on trend flavors and mixes. As a supply partner, the company works with its customers to develop category solutions through brand development, packaging innovations, line extensions, marketing plans and graphic support.

According to Howard Brandeisky, vice president, global marketing and innovation, the company’s consistent commitment to identifying and investing in advanced technologies separates them from other nut companies.
“We use direct sourcing to enhance the stability and quality of our supply of nut types,” says Brandeisky. “The real benefit of doing business with JBSS comes from our commitment to excellence, investment in the industry, understanding of market dynamics and ability to deliver products quickly. Our research and development, sales and marketing and quality assurance departments are dedicated to customer success through manufacturing excellence, product and package innovation and the development of long-term strategic partnerships.”

For more information, visit

LiDestri Foods
After the sale of his family’s business—the Ragu Packing Co.—Ralph Can­tisano decided it was time to create his own company. In 1975 he did just that, naming the new cheese company Cantisano Foods. A year later, Cantisano asked current owner Giovanni LiDestri to leave the Ragu production floor to manage the business. Since the ‘70s, the Fairport, N.Y.-based company has become one the largest producers and co-packers of pasta sauce and salsas, as well as producing beverages, spirits, infused oils, vinegars, cooking wines, syrups and jams.

The products have changed since the company was initially founded, but executives say its focus on building a strong foundation by creating long-term relationships with suppliers and retailers and consistently meeting and exceeding expectations has never wavered. According to company officials, the foundation of the LiDestri team is built on trust, hard work, dedication and integrity, something clearly seen in both company founder, Ralph Cantisano, and their president and CEO, Giovanni LiDestri. These attributes have made it the industry leader in pasta sauces and salsa and has positioned it for success in other categories as well.

“What separates us from our competition is that we are involved in multiple facets of the business from private label to proprietary brands,” says Edward Salzano, executive vice president and chief operating officer of LiDestri Foods. “We bring both the knowledge of how to make great tasting products and the detailed understanding of what the consumer is looking for. What also sets us apart is our heritage and our passion for food. We understand that any one of our products can make or break a meal so we take our work very seriously. This is not just a business to us—it is our life and we try to create the types of products we would serve in our own homes.”

For more information, visit www.lidestri­

Marfood USA
Based in Taylor, Mich., Marfood USA is the North American headquarters for the Marfrig Group. With more than 85,000 employees across 150 production facilities in 22 countries and sales over 16.4 billion, company officials say the Marfrig Group is the world’s second largest supplier of proteins including beef, pork, lamb and chicken. They say Marfood USA is also the world’s largest private label beef jerky provider, servicing more than 25,000 retail locations and supplying nearly 70% of North America’s top 25 retailers.

Marfood USA is also the owner of Pecos Bill’s Brand, the top-selling beef jerky brand in Canada, and Pemmican Brand Beef Jerky, the third-best selling national brand in the U.S. The company also produces an extensive lineup of canned beef products, including corned beef and chili, that are available for private label.

Nakia Watkins, the company’s marketing manager, says Marfood USA has a responsibility to work to continuously develop new products and recipes and conduct research to ensure the company is performing at the highest level. “We understand that our customers and their shoppers want innovation,” says Watkins.

“Therefore, we consider the shopper in every step we take from listening to them when designing new packaging all the way to offering meaningful promos to spark their interests when they are shopping in our customers’ stores.”

Watkins notes that the Marfood USA mission is to represent the values of the company and grow Marfrig Group’s presence in North America. “We will deliver quality products for shoppers and smart initiatives to pull that quality off the shelf.”

For more information, visit www.mar­food­

Mario Camacho Foods
In 2008, Mario Olive Co. (a division of Westin Foods, based in Omaha, Neb.) and A. Camacho Inc. (a subsidiary of Angel Camacho Group, based in Seville, Spain) joined forces to create Mario Camacho Foods. Based in Plant City, Fla., Mario Camacho Foods is a privately held, fourth-generation industry leader in the condiment category, including both branded and private label product lines serving the retail supermarket and food service channels.

The company distributes olives, olive oil and a variety of innovative specialty food products throughout the U.S. under their flagship brands Mario and Fragata. Today, company officials say it is easily one of the largest and most recognized global marketers of specialty food products in the North American marketplace.

From production to the dinner table, the company’s consumer-oriented marketing philosophy, coupled with its unique, long-term supplier and customer relationships have served as the time-honored formula for success. “We continuously strive to improve our position as the leading supplier of quality olives, olive oil and innovative specialty food products,” says Annie Owens, director of marketing for the company. “As an independent importing, distribution and marketing company, Mario Camacho Foods is an industry leader in the manufacturing, packaging and exporting of only the very best food products to our customers and consumers.”

For more information, visit

Nice-Pak Products
Founded in 1957 by Arthur Julius, Nice-Pak Products established the wet wipes market with its Wet Naps brand. Arthur and his son Robert had a simple premise— provide consumers with an optimal product at the right price. According to company officials, Nice-Pak has a history of building new categories and driving innovation across all aspects of the business.

Led by Robert Julius, Nice-Pak produces wet wipe products for the mass, food, club and drug channels. Its sister company, PDII, manufactures products for hospitals, doctor’s offices, restaurants and schools. Nice-Pak offers products in a wide variety of categories, including, baby, cosmetics, hand sanitizing, household, patient care, personal care and surface disinfecting. The company markets its products under retailer brands as well as its own brands, which include Wet Naps, Sani-Hands and Nice & Clean.

Company officials say they have a particular passion for sustainability and health and wellness. As an example, its primary manufacturing facility in Mooresville, Ind., has just gone completely landfill free. “Nice-Pak has a long-term track record of building categories by understanding consumer needs and then translating this insight into relevant products and programs,” says Tom Hernquist, president of Nice-Pak’s consumer division. “At the core of our company is a drive of continuous improvement and innovation to grow businesses whether it is for retailer brands or our own brands.”

For more information, visit

Ralston Foods
St. Louis-based Ralston Foods has a heritage of more than 100 years in the cereal business and offers customers a full line of ready-to-eat and hot cereals that compares favorably to the national brand in taste, appearance and nutritional content.

In addition to being the nation’s leading supplier of high-quality, wholesome, store brand breakfast cereals, Ralston Foods also offers a store brand snack mix product line. In total, the company supplies more than 60 ready-to-eat and hot cereal varieties and cereal-based snack mixes.

According to company officials, Ralston Foods provides winning solutions for customers through its best practices approach, which includes: packaging technology, quality and product safety, product development strategy, marketing and category management expertise, packaging graphics expertise and supply chain management.

For more information, visit

Ranir Global Holdings
Many companies are born as a result of a personal passion of their founders and that is true in the case of Ranir Global Holdings. The company was started more than 35 years ago by a dentist who believed that a preventive dental care program that included daily flossing was the key to good oral health.

In 1990, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company merged with DCP (Dental Control Products) to increase its manufacturing capabilities and expand its product offerings. Since then, the company’s product line has grown to include toothbrushes, dental floss, trial/travel accessories and dental whitening products. By continuously developing and expanding its extensive range of comparable to national brand oral care products as well as custom oral care products, Ranir has become the largest private label manufacturer of oral care products in North America.

Its state-of-the-art manufacturing and distribution facility provides Ranir the capability to manufacture a broad range of products while maintaining award-winning quality and customer service. In July 2010, Ranir acquired Synpart Limited and Synpart AG., a manufacturer and marketer of store brand oral care products in the European Union. It is also a contract manufacturer for global oral care companies. The acquisition of Synpart allows Ranir to build a global oral care footprint, increase its product offerings, expand its expertise in oral care and enhance its supply chain network partnership, company officials say.

“Ranir’s mission is to be the clear leader in providing consumers with high-quality, innovative oral and personal/healthcare products through helping our retail partners and contract manufacturing partners achieve their business goals,” says Christine Henisee, CEO of Ranir Global Holdings.

“We will accomplish our vision and mission in ways consistent with our core values of integrity, teamwork, high performance, and service. That being said, we are thrilled to win the Trailblazer Award from Grocery Headquarters as it validates Ranir’s strong commitment to innovation, customer service and high quality products,” says Henisee.

For more information, visit

Red Gold, Inc.
Making the highest-quality, best tasting tomato products in the U.S. has been a way of life for the team at Red Gold, Inc. since 1942. According to officials at the Orestes, Ind.-based company, Red Gold is the nation’s largest family-owned producer of private brand tomato products.

Red Gold offers products in many tomato categories, including canned tomatoes, pasta sauce, salsa, tomato juice, vegetable juice, ketchup, sea­food cocktail sauce, chili sauce, pizza sauce, and Sloppy Joe sauce. The company is well known throughout the private brand industry as a leader in quality assurance. Its system for excellence includes SQF Level 3 certification in all three plants, a proprietary quality assurance protocol, continuous improvement processes, state-of-the-art technology and extraordinary product consistency, according to company officials.

“At Red Gold, we are passionate about quality,” says Gary Petersen, director of private brand sales. “We strive for excellence every day to ensure that the quality and safety of Red Gold Private Brand products are unsurpassed in the industry.”

As Petersen explains, to meet the private brand customer’s needs, Red Gold starts with the best tomatoes and adds the finest ingredients, creating a wide variety of product formulations. “From the seed to the store, Red Gold exceeds industry processing methods that result in superior quality and consistent flavor. Our customers know that Red Gold’s private brand products will meet, or exceed their standards for quality and consistency.”
For more information, visit

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