Private Label’s time to shine

Grocery Headquarters honors standout companies with its Private Label Trailblazer Awards.

For years private label manufacturers took cues from their national brand counterparts for the development of new products. This is certainly not the case anymore. By ramping up consumer research and investing in state-of-the-art technology, private label manufacturers have won a leading role in product innovation.

Consumers and retailers are both reap- ing the benefits. By instituting multi-tiered private label platforms, retailers are expanding their reach to a broader audience. It is about value, say industry observers; it is about meeting the consumer’s need for something new and exciting at an affordable price.

It is because of the dedication to build- ing the private label sector as a whole and setting trends in their individual categories that has earned the following companies Grocery Headquarters’ 2013 Private Label Trailblazer Award.

Established in 1984, Associated Hygienic Products (AHP) has grown both organically and through acquisition to become a major supplier of private label baby diapers in the U.S. market. The Duluth, Ga.-based supplier’s parent company, Disposable Soft Goods (DSG), is celebrating more than 40 years in the business.

AHP finds its inspiration from mothers and their babies, say company officials. “We conduct perpetual in-home testing with mothers from across the country with a focus on both form and function,” says Chris Ferdock, corporate vice-president marketing. “Our strength is in our knowledge of our customers and consumers that have driven our product design philosophy to be one of innovation rather than duplication. Our products are effective and unique consisting of proprietary features that can be successfully marketed with consumers against competing national brands.”

AHP recently launched a new baby diaper product design that cannot be duplicated by competitors because of proprietary and patented technologies, and created marketing campaigns designed to attract consumer attention in a dynamic category. In addition, the company is offering extended product lines that will create some niche markets currently not occupied by large national brands, adds Ferdock.

Bascom Family Farms
Bascom Family Farms is an independent year-round supplier of private label pure natural and organic maple products including maple syrup, sugar and candy to companies worldwide. As both a producer and packager of maple products, company officials are advocates of small family farmers and believe in ensuring the sustainability of maple farming and the growth of the industry.

“At Bascom, we take an extremely collaborative approach with our retailers so that we can understand their markets and their consumer,” says Arnold Coombs, seventh generation maple farmer and director of marketing and sales. “Our extensive experience enables us to offer advice about product selection (grade, package, etc.) that can have a positive effect on both the top and bottom lines.”

The Alstead, N.H.-based company operates a technologically advanced food-safety certified facility with six packing lines dedicated to maple syrup to ensure consistency in supply, delivery, quality and experience. These multiple lines allow Bascom the flexibility to pack a variety of containers from all forms of glass to plastic jugs.

Clean Ones Corp.
Since 1984, Clean Ones Corp. has been committed to continually innovating and improving the glove wearing experience with high-quality, high-value gloves at a reasonable price, says Kimberly Milstead, assistant product marketing manager. “We are dedicated to making the user experience enjoyable by bringing new innovative products to the category with features and benefits designed especially to address key consumer glove needs.”

The Portland, Ore.-based company’s products are sourced from single suppliers and with gloves tested by third party labs to ensure established quality and specifications are met. Additionally, all of Clean Ones’ products are backed by a 100% satisfaction guarantee to the consumer.

One of the biggest trends the company has witnessed is a transition to a mix of both private label and national brand products in category sets. “As the economy continues to improve, we are seeing consumers seeking out more premium options that deliver additional benefits and comfort features than ever before, and this mixed set is able to meet the widest variety of needs for the total consumer set, which drives greater profitability for retailers,” says Milstead.

Clearwater Paper Corp.
The Clearwater Paper Corp. prides itself on its commitment to consumers, says Bruce Woodlief, director of marketing. “What sets Clearwater apart from other manufacturers is a total commitment to the development of successful private label tissue programs for retail customers.”

Within the past year, the Spokane, Wash.-based company has made a significant investment in Through Air-Dried technology in an effort to upgrade its private label ultra bath offering to rival that of the branded offerings. “In the paper category retailers and consumers can expect to see continued growth particularly in the bath tissue segment. Leading national brands continue to bring new innovation to premium and ultra-premium products that include improvements in softness and strength,” says Woodlief. “This investment elevates retailers’ private label bath offerings to a new level of superior quality.”

Other recent innovations include products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which, according to Woodlief, is another trend that is gaining strength in this category. “FSC certification began in retail tissue products primarily through private label in 2010. Today it continues to gain popularity among retailers who wish to make the certification part of their overall sustainability program,” he says.

Diamond Wipes International
Diamond Wipes International is a 19-year-old wet wipe manufacturing company, founded by now-president Eve Yen in 1994 in El Monte, California. With just a single machine in operation, Eve made individually wrapped hand wipes that she sold to local restaurants, door to door. The commitment to deliver fresh products to customers remains as one of the company’s core operational philosophies, says Tom Hill, senior vice president and general sales manager.

The company specializes in contract manufacturing and private label of all things wet wipes. It prides itself in its flexibility and ability to customize projects to meet unique needs of each client—national, regional or local—says Hill.

In 2011, Diamond Wipes completed its clean renewable solar energy system installation in its Chino, Calif.-based headquarters, offsetting about 86% of electricity used to operate the plant. In 2012, the company was awarded EPA Green Power Partnership, and became one of the few wet wipe converters to receive FSC and Rainforest Alliance certifications. The company can now source its wet wipe papers from responsibly managed forestry resources.

“We believe that retailers, their branding/marketing partners and suppliers must work closely together to develop a store brand program that delivers not just the savings to consumers but also innovation and unique values,” says Hill.

Fempro I
According to company officials, the mission of Fempro I is to provide peace of mind by offering assistance throughout every step of the merchandising plan—from product proposal to promotional tools. With state-of-the-art machinery and a highly qualified team, Fempro has been recognized in the industry as being a superior service level company, says Sebastien Bourassa, sales and marketing vice-president.

Fempro manufactures both private label products and its own brand, INCOGNITO, and strives to adjust rapidly and with ease to continuously changing market trends. “Our knowledge of the world market allows us to be proactive with our clients. Our constant monitoring allowed us to be the first to offer the latest national brand’s innovation,” says Bourassa.

Since the beginning of 2012, the Drummondville, Que., Canada-based company has reduced its landfill shipment by 50% by sending all plastics, paper and cardboard to recycling facilities and all fluff pads to a fluff and super absorbent reclaim company.

Global Tissue Group
Global Tissue Group (GTG) is one of the few in the industry to provide three levels of paper quality: standard, premium and ultra-premium. The company has built a strong reputation and gained industry respect for providing high standards and quality, says Daniel David, executive vice president.

As the demand for product differentiation increases, GTG has installed high-speed four-color printing units in its New York and Florida facilities with the capability for quick changeovers and multiple print patterns. These high-speed units have the flexibility and accuracy to print designs for any theme, concept or season.

“We really want to be innovators in the category of paper products, and we have a number of innovations in the works including the newly featured premium towel program offered in an assortment of vibrant colors and made in the U.S., consumers can now show off their individuality by expressing themselves and their celebrations with the colors they purchase,” says David.

Additionally, the Medford, N.Y.-based company is finalizing the advancement and development of an ultra-premium bath tissue to compare to the #1 selling bath tissue in the ultra premium category, and is introducing two new innovative package designs for facial tissue.

John B. Sanfilippo & Son
Coming from humble beginnings as a small pecan shelling company in 1922, John B. Sanfilippo & Son (JBSS) reported sales of $701 million for the 2012 fiscal year, says Howard Brandeisky, vice president, global marketing & customer solutions. The Elgin, Ill.-based company sells products under the Fisher, Orchard Valley Harvest and Sunshine Country brand names as well as a variety of private brands, which constitute the majority of the company’s business. They are sold across multiple channels of trade including consumer, commercial ingredients, export and contract manufacturing.

Among the company’s accomplishments, officials say they are proud of its reputation for quality products and its SQF certification; JBSS was recognized by the EPA as a 2011 Energy Star Partner of the Year, for excellence in energy management. Through investment in primary and secondary research JBSS has also been able to provide strategic solutions to category management challenges to help retailers grow their category.

“JBSS is proud to be a fourth generation Chicago-based company committed to quality, expertise and innovation,” says Jeffrey Sanfilippo, CEO. “Our employees are dedicated to carrying on John B. Sanfilippo’s legacy of providing the freshest, best quality nuts to consumers around the world.”

LiDestri Food & Beverage
LiDestri Food & Beverage officials describe company culture as one that encourages social responsibility and volunteerism. LiDestri proudly supports both the United Way and The Hole In The Wall Gang Camps with donations and sponsorships as well as taking the time to support local events around the country.

What the company is most proud of, says Edward P. Salzano, executive vice president and COO, is LiDestri’s world-class health and wellness program. “We have a full-time health and wellness vice president, Dr. Cindy Reddeck-LiDestri, whose responsibility is not only to develop and maintain programs to keep our entire group of associates physically fit but also work with our culinary and product development group to create foods that not only taste great but are also very healthy for you,” he says.

The Fairport, N.Y.-based company manufactures many specialty products like cooking wines, Asian sauces, finishing sauces, specialty oils and flavored vinegars. “Our culinary and product development staff bring stove top taste to the production floor, creating products that taste like they were made in your our kitchen,” says Salzano.

Mizkan Americas
With roots and traditions that go back more than 200 years, Mizkan has followed two basic principles throughout its history. The first is to make the finest products that best fill its customers’ needs and the second is to always challenge the status quo, says Dave Rotunno, executive director of marketing. “These two principles have served Mizkan well, as product quality is the strength on which the company is built. Since change is inevitable, as both our customer base and consumer base are more dynamic now than ever before, challenging the status quo allows us to leverage innovation to best serve the needs of our customers,” he says.

The Mt. Prospect, Ill.-based company supplies all major retailers in the U.S. with private brand products ranging from white distilled vinegar to cooking wine, wine vinegars, mustard, jalapenos, green chilies and more. Throughout the past 10 years Mizkan has received numerous awards for its manufacturers’ reliability and service standards. “Our customers know us for our extensive product portfolio, both branded and private brand, that allows Mizkan to be a one-stop shop for liquid condiments and peppers,” says Rotunno. “We are extremely proud of our perfect order completion rate at close to 100%, day-in and day-out. Our ability to cover all of North America with more than 15 manufacturing plants and distribution facilities gives Mizkan an edge that most of our competitors cannot match.”

National Raisin Co.
National Raisin was started in 1969 by three brothers—Ernest, Krikor and Kenny Bedrosian—who saw a need to supply high-quality, low-cost dried fruit to industrial and bulk customers. They quickly became known as providers of “The World’s Cleanest Raisin,” which is a phrase that is still on much of their sales materials, says Jane Asmar, vice president of sales.

As private label dried fruit increased distribution, the Fowler, Calif.-based National Raisin Co. started to procure and package dried fruits from all over the world, including high-quality domestic Cranberries, international Apricots and Tropicals, as well as Figs and Dates. “The ability to supply a complete line of products with ‘One Order, One Invoice and One Shipment’ was important to our customers,” says Asmar. “As private label evolved, we did too. Most of our private label sales fall into National Brand Equivalents, where consumers can make direct comparisons, but there are some progressive offerings out there that are custom sizes and blends. We do it all.”

Premier Brands of America
Premier Brands of America is celebrating 40 years as a privately held manufacturer, packager and marketer of OTC and non-OTC health and beauty aid products. The Mount Vernon, N.Y.-based company’s product offerings include over 125 different items that provide comfort and care in the areas of first aid, foot care, medicated spray, depilatory and beauty, found in more than 50,000 retailers under its customers’ private label brands and in more than 15,000 stores under its house brand.

By expanding its product line in recent years, the company’s offerings encompass that of a true wellness manufacturer, say officials. “Innovation, along with a constant focus on quality, service and price have played a large role in differentiating Premier from its competition and helping it remain a strong, viable company,” says Vinnie Gioffre, vice president of sales. Premier strives to be not just equal to, but truly being better than the national brand, while remaining cost-conscious. The company has moved away from the ‘fast-follower’ strategy of staying behind the national brand’s every move and now employs its own product innovations to enhance its customers offerings. Premier has recently introduced numerous new products such as a continuous form of anti-itch spray and antifungal nail solution.

Select Store Brands
Select Store Brands, a division of Haliburton International Foods, aims to enhance the retailer’s brand through research and development and working with the chefs that are part of its Culinary Development team. The Ontario, Calif.-based company has developed a reputation as an innovative, creative solution provider, and is bringing the restaurant experience into the grocery stores of America, says Bobby D. Ray, vice president retail and store brands.

“When we begin working with a customer we ask them: ‘What are your challenges?’ Then work hard on the solution,” says Ray. “The entire Select Store Bands team is focused on the customer and working hard to gain not only their business but, more importantly, their trust. When we have a customer’s trust, they will buy from us again.”

At the end of 2012 the company moved into a new state-of-the-art processing plant more than three times the size of its former plant. The new facility focuses not only on food safety but also brand protection.

Sovena USA
With a global presence in more than 70 countries, Sovena Group strives to inspire people to eat healthier and tastier by using olive oil, says Tomás Almeida, brands marketing and sales. Sovena USA, based in Rome, N.Y., offers a full portfolio of edible oils, including olive oils, organic oils and high‐volume frying oils, as well as a complete line of vinegars. According to Almeida, Sovena USA supplies more than 60% of all private label olive oil sold in the U.S., as well as distributing branded products GEM and Olivari Mediterranean Olive Oil.

The 100% family-owned company is involved in every step of the process, from the olive tree to the store shelf, with environment sustainability initiatives in place, such as recycling of all materials in factories and offices, controlling water consumption using drop-by-drop irrigation systems and producing around 75,000 tons of biodiesel per year.

The company’s bottling facility is complemented by an on‐site quality control lab, which helped make it the first olive oil plant in the world to obtain SQF certification and is the only lab in the U.S. to be accredited by the International Olive Council, says Almeida.

TreeHouse Foods
Retailers need to have a clear identity and strategic focus for their private label brands, says Harry Overly, senior vice president of sales and marketing at TreeHouse Foods, and they need to differentiate through innovation—both in product and packaging. A key point, he adds, is private label’s fair share of promotion, as private label merchandising has been lacking versus the national brands.

The Oakbrook, Ill.-based manufacturer brings value to its retail partners through its marketing programs, which include driving incremental sales with display shippers, shopable pallet programs and key cross-merchandising events, in and out of a category’s seasonality. “We continue to innovate with our research and development teams and category buyers to help retailers expand and improve their product offering within categories and by entering new ones, such as single-serve coffees,” says Overly.

TreeHouse Foods, through its operating companies Bay Valley Foods, Sturm Foods, ST Specialty Foods and E.D. Smith Foods, manufactures products across the center of the store, and recently acquired Naturally Fresh, a line of refrigerated dressings and dips, to expand its efforts into the perimeter of the store.

Valor Brands
Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2013, Valor Brands is the North American operation of the Mabesa Group-Productos Internacionales Mabe, a manufacturer of diapers and pants in Mexico with leading brands and private label programs.

Since Alpharetta, Ga.-based Valor Brands’ entry into the North American market, it has aimed for consistent leadership in product innovation in the diaper and pant business, says Kyle Tucci, senior vice president. “Our success is based on our strong ability to innovate as we are continuously searching for better solutions to meet the needs of consumers, our focus on quality as we utilize best manufacturing processes, our quality assurance processes and outstanding customer service by working collaboratively with our customers and implementing solutions that anticipate their needs,” says Tucci.

Valor Brands also leads the market with its environmentally sensitive absorbent products, says Tucci. “We have both a diaper and training pant offering that helps reduce the use of non-renewable resources found in traditional diapers through innovative technology and materials.”

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