This week we attended the annual PLMA Private label conference and trade show in Chicago. More than 2,800 exhibitors and thousands of attendees from around the world braved chilly November winds beneath bright Midwestern skies as they entered the show hall to partake of the latest developments in the private label & store brands world.
This year’s PLMA show was a mixture of both “tried & true” and “something new.” Longtime exhibitors displayed their established products and categories but incrementally added new flavors and combinations. New exhibitors brought excitement with innovative approaches to store brands. Among the thousands of products and hundreds of categories on display, we found several key trends that stood out at the show:
1. PLMA is evolving, but is still dominated by established “center store” products and categories:
· An evolution to newer forms and flavors is occurring as retailers expand their private label strategies and product lines to “elevate” their product profiles and bring new delightful products and flavors to consumers. PLMA exhibitors, in turn, are freshening and evolving their product ranges to better serve these retailers.
· That said, the aisles and booths at PLMA are still largely represented by well-known and veteran “center store” categories and products packaged in cans, bottles and stand-up pouches. There are also frozen products in trays and pouches and numerous offering in refrigerated gourmet and specialty products, dairy and beverages.
2. Expansion of “free-from,” plant-based and clean-label products:
· As PLMA evolves, there is a definite expansion of “free-from” products such as gluten-free, dairy-free and allergen friendly.
· Plant-based products are also expanding across many categories including beverages, frozen, dry-mix products, powders and the like.
· In the general heading of “clean label” or natural, many booths featured products displaying logos for USDA Organic, Non-GMO, Fair trade and 3rd party certifications such as GFCO.
3. Premium private label brands were featured in the “Idea Supermarket” pavilion at the show:
· Albertson’s – “Signature Select” line
· Aldi (US) – “Specialty Selected” line
· Aldi (UK) – “Mamia” brand baby & toddler foods
· Asda (UK) – “Scratch Cook” premium spices & herbs
· Carrefour (FR) – Premium baby & toddler line curated by noted chef Ghislaine Arabian
· Lidl (US) – “Preferred Selection”
· Migros (CH) – “Migros Selection” line
· Wakefern – “Wholesome Pantry” line
· Walmart – “Sam’s Choice Italia” line of premium pastas and sauces.
· Whole Foods – “Whole Foods” brand artisanal pasta, olives, frozen entrees
4. Seasonal and Limited Time Offer products:
· Ahold – “Limited Time Originals”
· Marks & Spencer (UK) – “Summer Seasonals”
· Metro (CA) – “Winter Seasons” food line, including the highly anticipated “Ugly Sweater” decorated sugar cookies
5. Cooking up Sales in Home Baking:
In the UK, the USA and other countries, the wild success of “The Great British Baking Show” (whose obsessive viewers include this writer and his family), has measurably lifted interest in baking and sales of baking products. Several of these products have found private label product lines, which were featured at the show:
· Auchan (FR) – Line of baking and decorating products
· Morrison’s (UK) – Line of baking and frosting products
· Kroger – “Cocinaware” line of cookware specifically for Mexican cuisine, and “Chef Style” brand of blenders, slow cookers and other cookware
· Meijer – “Grand Gourmet” line of cooking utensils
6. Flavors of the World:
· Sainsbury’s (UK) – “Sainsbury’s” Line of Thai inspired products
· Topco – “Culinary Tours” line in a diverse range of products from pasta sauces to gelato
7. eCommerce brands on display:
· Amazon – “Wickedly Prime”
· Boxed – “Prince & Spring”
· Thrive Market – “Thrive Tribe”
8. International Exhibitor Representation:
· Italy – Major presence with pavilion and 75+ exhibitors
· Canada – Major presence with pavilion and 50+ exhibitors
· Also, pavilions from: France, China, UK, Turkey, Mexico, Greece, Chile, Peru
9. Natural & Organic – Definitely present at the show, but not the star of the show:
· A large percentage of PLMA exhibitors now have natural & organic products, which represents an evolution of product offerings v. prior years. In general, the natural and organic products are sub-sets of larger, more prominent, conventional food portfolios.
· In many or most instances, exhibitors market organic product lines using imagery and descriptions which communicate: “yes, we can do this product in an organic form.” However, one rarely sees what might be called the “banner of organic” such as: “our company is all organic and nothing but organic.” Organic is a valuable product contributor but not a mission, and organic fits as an available alternative within an otherwise non-organic range of products.
· This role speaks to the mission of a private label manufacturer, which is to serve the retail customer. If the customer wants organic, the manufacturer makes organic. If the customer wants non-organic, the manufacturer makes non-organic. The manufacturer is “agnostic” regarding organic (“Yea” v. “Nay”), but is fiercely dedicated to a different mission, namely; serving the client customer with highest quality, customer service, responsiveness, flexibility, competitive pricing, efficiency and 100% on-time-in-full performance.
The private label manufacturing world is evolving in tandem with retailers. Those retailers, in turn, are bringing out new store brand products, brands and category opportunities to serve the needs of their consumers. This change is happening incrementally, built on a base of well-known categories, products and packaging forms. In many cases, private label manufacturers are marketing new products side-by-side with veteran products unchanged for years, if not decades (e.g. multi-serve lasagna packaged in aluminum trays). The private label world mirrors and emulates the growth and development of branded categories and products. As brands evolve and innovate with new categories and products, private label store brands are there to bring additional value to shoppers and to enhance consumer loyalty to the retailer and its mission. In the end, consumers and the trade both benefit from this robust combination of brands, categories and product offerings.
CLARK DRIFTMIER is Managing Director of Strobus Consulting (www.strobusconsulting.com) which provides clients with new product development and go-to-market business development strategies. He has been a food entrepreneur and start-up specialist for nearly 3 decades. Clark’s new product and management initiatives include more than 350 products in 32 food categories, with combined sales of nearly $2 billion. A published author of articles on natural and organic foods, Clark has also spoken at numerous conferences and has served on several national and regional not-for-profit boards. He and his family live in Northern California.