General (merchandise) rulers

Grocery Headquarters Trailblazer Awards recognizes general merchandise companies that have soared above and beyond the competition.

For nearly 10 years Grocery Headquarters has honored dozens and dozens of companies with its prestigious Selling Wellness and Private Label Trailblazer Awards. This year the Grocery Headquarters editors and Board of Retailers put general merchandise manufacturers under the microscope, judging them on a number of criteria including innovation, dedication to the category, customer service, marketing, social responsibility, community involvement and sustainability.

Without further ado, we are proud to present the inaugural Grocery Headquarters General Merchandise Trailblazer Award winners.

American Greetings
American Greetings continually invests in the greeting card category to ensure that shoppers can choose from a large variety of cards that address their social expressions’ needs across all generations. Along with its creative studio, the Cleveland, Ohio-based company has a comprehensive portfolio of brands and licenses intended to make its products more relevant to amgreettoday’s consumers.

In a competitive greeting card category, officials at American Greetings say innovation is key. “Innovation is evident in our more than 100 new-to-the-world card formats and our commitment to bringing even more to the marketplace,” says Tom Kilcourse, vice president, U.S. sales.

Along with innovation, American Greetings places heavy emphasis on merchandising and marketing, particularly to younger consumers. “We offer a comprehensive card, merchandising and marketing program for Gen Y—justWink,” he says.

Big Time Products
Big Time Products started as an idea sketched on a napkin in 2003 when Rick Chambers and Harry Pierce wanted to build a better glove product. The co-founders developed a plan to not just be an addition to the glove market, but to actually change the category itself. At the time, brown jersey and canvas gloves accounted for about 50% of sales in the gloves category. Now they represent about 4%. Chambers and Pierce anticipated the change and took part in developing the high dexterity category for gloves in the retail market.

“Big Time Products has grown to be the largest supplier of high performance work gloves in the U.S.,” says Russ Household, executive vice president and CMO of the Rome, Ga.-based company. “We take pride in leading the industry in work, garden, automotive, household reusable and household disposable glove categories.”

Household adds that Big Time Products offers world-class customer service, high-quality products at affordable prices, 24-hour shipping and remarkable packaging from an in-house design team.

Bradshaw International
Officials for Bradshaw International say they have always felt the need to continue its history of setting the standard for the market, whether it be in product innovation, promotional prowess or customer service. In 2013 that included reinventing its flagship brand, Good Cook, and launching a new image behind new product tooling, redesigned packaging and a new logo.

The rebranding was more than just a chance to give the company a new skin. “It allowed us to reexamine our entire product line to see where we could improve on what was already working, or in some cases, invent a better mousetrap,” says Tom Barber, vice president product development for the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based company.
He says the Good Cook TOUCH line is a prime example. What started as an answer to the higher end kitchen gadget category has been continually honed and crafted until it now stands on its own with a distinct identity.

Retailers should also look for the Sweet Creations brand to continue to expand. “When we set out to dive into the highly specialized category of bakeware decorating, we decided to go beyond just baking. Our core concept encourages consumers to: bake, decorate and create, and share with friends and family as gifts,” says Barber.

For the last 170 years, Candle-lite’s mission has been to provide consumers with the highest quality, best value candles for the fragrance and home décor category.

Through its high volume and quality manufacturing, the Cincinnati-based company has the capabilities of producing a broad range of candle forms including filled glass, pillars, votives, tealights and tapers. “Our large market share within the home décor and fragrance category is possible due to strong in-house product development, design, marketing, fragrance management and global sourcing teams,” says Mark Cunningham, executive vice president, sales and marketing.

Domestic manufacturing and stringent quality standards are the cornerstones of Candle-lite’s continued success. Candle-lite candles are manufactured in Leesburg, Ohio in strict compliance with state and federal consumer product regulations and in adherence to all industry and ASTM standards. Quality testing is conducted during every phase of development and throughout production to ensure that all candles are safe for consumers.

Candle-lite is also keeping pace with growing trends, particularly in the flameless fragrance arena, and will soon launch an “Aroma Melt” program.  “Recognizing that the consumer is eager to decorate with fragrance that makes a home décor statement our brand new ‘Illuminate’ collection for both every day and holiday fits that need,” says Cunningham.

Clean Ones Corp.
Clean Ones Corp. officials say they are committed to continually innovating and improving the glove wearing experience.

“We are dedicated to making the user experience enjoyable by bringing new products to the category with features and benefits designed especially to address key consumer glove needs,” says Kimberly Milstead, assistant product marketing manager for the Portland, Ore.-based company. “All of our products are sourced from single suppliers and our gloves are tested extensively by third party labs to ensure established quality and specifications are consistently met.”

One of the biggest trends Milstead has seen is a continued transition to a mix of private label and national branded products in category sets. She says as the economy continues to improve consumers are seeking out more premium options that deliver more benefits and comfort features than ever before. This mixed set is able to meet the widest variety of needs for the total consumer set, which drives the greatest profitability for retailers. To meet the demand Clean Ones has redesigned its product line with clearly marked packaging, allowing consumers to better differentiate the materials, features and benefits of gloves.

Cool Gear
Recognizing a need for products offering insulating properties that kept food and beverages colder for a longer period of time, Hank and Donna Roth began Cool Gear International. Since 2000, Cool Gear has become a market leader in the hydration and food storage categories. Cool Gear, based in Plymouth, Mass., is known for its patented freezer gel products, imaginative designs and commitment to their customers.

“The ‘Cool Gear Cares’ philosophy is based on treating customers, the community and the planet with respect,” says Hank Roth. It seems happy customers are a priority, evidenced by Cool Gear’s 100% customer satisfaction policy. Roth says the company also feels a strong sense of social responsibility to community and country.

Charitable contributions are geared towards women and children’s medical research and the unfortunate national tragedies that sometimes occur. Most recently the entire Cool Gear team made a generous donation to the Boston One Fund, which helps those affected by the Boston Marathon Bombings. “An important function of Cool Gear’s products aligns with the company philosophy of taking care of Mother Earth,” says Roth. “Quite simply, Cool Gear helps reduce the environmental impact of this disposable world by creating functional, beautiful products.”

In May, the company launched its latest product, the coolgearcan. A reinvention of the traditional soda can, the line is filled with bright colors and bold patterns.

Design Design
Design Design is a leader in the personal expression industry with product categories that include: greeting cards, paper tableware, gift packaging, cocktailing, stationery gifts and most recently, a fresh range of cake candles.

“We connect people to people by being a fun, family-oriented company that provides trend-driven product choices for celebrations of life,” says Colin Littler, director of marketing for the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company. “This philosophy underlies everything we do and who we are. We want that message to come through in all our products lines, and especially with the experiences those products create.”

Design Design continues to broaden its range in all categories, including cake candles, with the added bonus to retailers of the merchandising solutions afforded by such a wide range of products, easily mixed and matched for optimum shelf appeal and sales.

Duracell, part of the Procter & Gamble family of brands, has been working since December 2010 with others in the battery industry on leading and shaping a primary batteries recycling program in the U.S. The impulse for this work came from a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of alkaline batteries carried out by MIT, which for the first time showed that a purposefully designed collection and recycling program could be environmentally beneficial compared to disposal with municipal solid waste in landfills.

“Accordingly, one of the goals of our program is to leverage the latest scientific innovations and make the outcomes environmentally positive relative to landfill over time,” says Win Sakdinan, Duracell Communications, associate director. “With our support the industry has formed the Corporation for Battery Recycling (CBR) to manage all the operations necessary for a successful program.”

Sustainability is a key business priority for Bethel, Conn.-based Duracell. “We believe that by showing leadership we can help spearhead the development of optimal outcomes for our consumers and the environment,” says Sakdinan.

Energizer Household Products
Within the last year, Energizer has worked with its consumers to identify and improve battery claims on its alkaline, rechargeable and high-performance lithium batteries. Energizer MAX batteries now feature Power Seal Technology, and hold power for up to a decade in storage and Ultimate Lithium batteries last up to nine times longer (vs. Energizer MAX) in high drain devices. The St. Louis-based company has also added a second rechargeable battery line, Energizer Recharge Universal batteries, which can be recharged up to 1,500 times.

Energizer also conducts and utilizes in-depth consumer and shopper research to strategize with retail partners, via its Shopper Based Solutions (SBS) initiative. “We understand their needs, attitudes and behaviors,” says Lou Martire, vice president of trade development. “We also spend a lot of time understanding the needs of retailers, and help them make the best use of the space available. All of that folds into the category growth strategies we bring to the table.

“Our SBS team provides a recommended product mix, in-store location, shelf organization and category messaging, he adds. “Most importantly, we have found that retailers adopting the Shopper Based Solution strategy enjoy above-average category sales growth.”

Gartner Studios
The Duff Goldman by Gartner Studios product line was created to shake up the cake baking and decorating products category, letting everyday bakers “unleash their inner artist” and create masterpiece cakes and baked creations of their own at home. The product line was co-designed by Charm City Cakes founder/Food Network Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman to create a trend-forward, high-quality collection of products gartnernever before available outside of professional bakeries.

“The line surprises at every turn with zebra-striped and tie-dye cake mixes, chocolate rock-shaped cake sprinkles, intensely flavored fondant and cake tattoos—edible stickers that lend patterned flair to cakes and cupcakes,” says Greg Gartner, CEO and founder of the Stillwater, Minn.-based company. “Tapping into his reputation as a famous graffiti artist, Duff also co-designed colorful, edible Graffiti Spray, as well as an affordable Airbrush Machine, allowing consumers to create professional airbrushing results.”
Designed to make creative expression easy and fun, this cutting-edge specialty line includes affordably priced, commercial-grade Anodized Aluminum and Non-stick Bakeware with silicon grips.

The Hispanic market is crucial for business. This demographic is the fastest growing population group in the U.S., representing $1.3 trillion in sales. The Hispanic population is projected to be 132.8 million on July 1, 2050. As an ethnic housewares brand IMUSA provides retailers with products targeting the fast growing population.

“The Latin community has demonstrated a fierce loyalty to their home countries and traditions,” says Manny Gaunaurd, president of the Miami-based company. “So, if the retailer supports the demographic, they can anticipate loyalty from the shopper.” He adds retailers not effectively targeting the Hispanic market are at risk of ignoring an audience of more than 50.5 million consumers.

Loving Pets Corp.
Loving Pets Corp. is dedicated to providing its customers with high quality, all natural, innovative and affordable pet treats and accessories. The Cranbury, N.J.-based company’s proprietary “Tested in the USA” program offers retailers and consumers a strengthened commitment to quality.

“Every product in our ever-growing assortment of 100% all natural, premium and vitamin-enhanced meat snacks and treats; patent-pending stainless steel pet feeding bowls; and innovative pet feeding accessories exudes our commitment to quality ingredients and affordability,” say Dan Nagy, part of the Loving Pets marketing department.

Loving Pets recently launched Barksters treats—the first of four Loving Pets treat collections now not only Made in the U.S., but also containing all U.S. sourced ingredients—Loving Pets’ It’s So Natural, Barksters, and Grill-icious dog treats and 2 skus of Purrfectly Natural Cat Treats use U.S.-sourced 100% all-natural ingredients.
Not only do Barksters support a healthy pet lifestyle at only 12 calories each, but they also have the benefit of affordability, as each 5-ounce box retails for only $8.99, says Nagy.

Mizco International
Founded in the 1990’s, today Mizco International consists of seven brands: Iessentials, Digipower, ToughTested, Travelocity, Ecko Unlimited, NFL and MLB and Cellular Innovations. Sam Mizrahi, executive vice president of the Avenel, N.J.-based company says each brand represents a unique position in the marketplace, whether it is fashion, hi-tech, industrial, sport or a value proposition.

“Each brand is driven by dedicated teams who embody the brand’s identity, and ensure that we stay true to that brand’s promise and don’t just slap a brand label on a product,” says Mizrahi. “Retailers can trust that Mizco is behind the long-term evolution of each brand.”

Each Mizco product is designed with a specific consumer in mind, he adds. “We recognize that one company can’t be everything to everyone and that the same product is not going to be appropriate across all retailers. We believe our brand/lifestyle approach gives each consumer what they really want, and at the same time, allows each retailer to deliver what is right for their customer.”

Multipet International
Multipet International entered the pet industry in 1995 when president and founder, Mark Hirschberg wanted to bring unique and design oriented products to the market. Under his guidance the company continues to use quality materials while making safety and value the top priority.

“When retailers hear the Multipet name they know that they are partnering with a company that is going to supply them on a consistent basis with product that is designed with the consumer in mind,” says Leslie Yellin, executive vice president.

Hirschberg has instilled a philosophy that it is not just about selling product, it is about growing and maintaining true relationships within the pet industry, she adds. For example, Multipet partners with its customers on merchandising, packaging and analyzing what is best for their market.  “We work on long-term strategies and use our industry knowledge to make our customers stand above the rest,” says Yellin.

Beyond its products, Mulitpet is socially responsible. The Moonachie, N.J.-based company supports local animal shelters, brings attention to causes such as breast cancer awareness, supports the troops and makes a commitment to using as many recycled materials as possible.

Now Designs
Since 1967, Now Designs has focused on kitchen linens, specifically aprons, mitts, potholders and dishtowels. The hallmark of Now Designs kitchen linens is immaculate attention to detail: from fabric quality and construction to stitching and trimming, say officials for the Blaine, Wash.-based company.

“Now Designs’ success can, in some part, be attributed to the fact that it has been able to maintain relationships in excess of 15 years with its two main sources of supply,” says Jeremy Braude, CEO. “This stability has resulted in consistent quality year after year.”
Surface designs for prints are done in-house by a team of six designers. An advantage to having an in-house team is the ability to provide custom design. To help with sales, Now Designs provides display racks for the differing sales environments. Currently there are four options available.

Omega Paw
Officials at Omega Paw want retailers to think of the company as a provider of simple solutions to everyday pet problems. “We pride ourselves on developing unique and innovative products that meet the needs of both retailers and consumers,” says Terry Hannaford, CEO of the St. Marys, Ont., Canada-based company.

Hannaford adds that Omega Paw is a forward thinking company, striving to develop products that fill the gaps in the pet industry. “We were the first company that we know of to use the ‘superfood’ quinoa in a hard edible chew bone,” he says.

The company also works closely with its customers to meet their needs, ensuring that they are more than satisfied. That includes using multiple types of manufacturing as well as continuously developing new products that are on trend in the pet industry. Currently Omega Paw manufactures products in a number of different categories such as: soft dog treats, hard long lasting dog chew bones, cat treats, litter boxes, litter accessories, feeding accessories, grooming accessories, dog health care, dog toys, cat toys, cat furniture, cat scratchers and more.

Pet Care Systems
Pet Care Systems was founded in 1994, with a mission to create a litter that would be safer for pets, people and the environment without sacrificing performance. Nearly 20 years later, the philosophy and goals have not changed, says Mark Hughes, national sales and petcaresystemsmarketing manager for the Detroit Lakes, Mich.-based company. He says that philosophy is summed up in six simple words: “Happy cat. Happy family. Happy planet.” Through a patented process Pet Care Systems Swheat Scoop’s natural enzymes work continuously to eliminate litter box odors on contact.

Swheat Scoop’s does more than stop odors. It helps protect the environment because it is biodegradable, chemical- and clay-free. “Swheat Scoop is so earth friendly, it can even be used as compost in ornamental (non- vegetable) gardens once the waste has been scooped away,” says Hughes.

J.I. Rodale founded Rodale in 1930. He knew that there was a direct relationship between the declining health of America’s soil and the health of America’s people, a revolutionary view in those days.  Coining the term “organic,” Rodale went on to publish internationally recognized brands that readers trust.

“More than just a publisher, we exist to inspire people to improve their lives,” says Dick Terlaak Poot, senior national marketing director for the Emmaus, Pa.-based company. “Health is the new status symbol for female boomers. Partnering with FMI for over 20 years, the 2012 ‘Shopping for Health’ annual survey’s #1 takeaway is that shoppers are paying more attention to nutrition.”

He adds that Rodale’s products and retail promotions are prepared and produced with retailers and consumers in mind.  This includes $1,000 Grocery Giveaways, $1 Temporary Price Reductions.

ShurTech Brands
ShurTech Brands market do-it-yourself tapes, office and housewares products under the Duck, FrogTape, Painter’s Mate Green, Caremail, Easy Liner and Shurtape brands. While the product lines differ in function, there is consistency across all ShurTech Brand products in the solution they offer to consumers.

“These products make a job or task in the household or workplace easier to accomplish and allow for a better, more creative outcome,” says Melanie Canning, manager of marketing communications for the Avon, Ohio-based company.

ShurTech also places great importance on promotion, particularly with its flagship product, Duck brand duct tape. Over the past 13 years its tuck at Prom promotion has encouraged consumers to display their creativity with the product for a chance to win a college scholarship.

Whink Products Co.
Whink Products Co. began as a post-WWII consumer products company and an employer of returning veterans. The original owners started the company as a powdered detergent manufacturer and migrated to specialty cleaners to better develop a brand identity.

“Our claim to fame is our quality, our variety and our integrated closed-loop manufacturing system.  We do what we say, when we say it and we continually bring new products to market,” says Steve Throssel, president and CEO for the Eldora, Iowa-based company.

Throssel attributes much of Whink’s success to its employees’ small-town work ethic and sense of community, which affects the way the company does business. For example, Whink has no effluent and zero VOC emissions and its plastic scrap is internally recycled and used.  “We are a sustainable industry in a rapidly shrinking world,” says Throssel.

Worlds Best Cat Litter
World’s Best Cat Litter, a Kent Pet Group brand, strives to bring innovative products to the market while meeting the unmet needs of consumers. Products are scientifically developed by the company’s research and development facility, are patented and unique to the market, says Jean Broders, brand manager.

“We take ingredients and process them in a unique way that allows our litter to work better than other litters on the market,” she says. “We conduct qualitative and quantitative research on a regular basis to make sure we have validation before we decide to launch a new product.”

World’s Best Cat Litter is also dedicated to supporting shelters across the country, through its GiveLitter program. Over the past several years, the Muscatine, Iowa-based company has donated more than 230,000 pounds of World’s Best Cat Litter to various shelters.

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