The theme of this year’s Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) trade show in Chicago is “Consumers Are Back in Charge!,” and that mantra was evident throughout the show floor as suppliers of all sizes and types exhibited innovative products and ideas available to existing and potential retail partners. The strength of store brands, which have been outpacing national brands in growth across several categories, has been buoyed by inflation but sustained by continual improvements in quality, variety and packaging, among other attributes. As PLMA President Peggy Davies declared in her opening remarks on Nov. 14: “Store brands are no longer copycats. Our industry is now cutting edge in category after category.”
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Similar to other food retailing trade shows held this year, common overarching trends in private label include plant-based foods and packaging, sustainable sourcing, permissible indulgence, flavor and, of course, value. Distilling it down a bit more – and to Davies’ point – below are some examples of cutting-edge, category-leading innovations that garnered attention during PLMA’s 2022 trade show.
Thinking out of the box in private label sometimes means actually thinking out of the box or traditional product format. This year’s PLMA show spotlighted a variety of foods available in different formats and packaging, like bottles of liquid spices, tiny cubes of plant-based cheeses, single-ingredient blender-less smoothie cubes and party-ready wine in a pouch.
Sure, supply chains have been a flashpoint over the past two years because of shortages and glitches, but opportunities with supply chains also abound, namely in the sourcing of ingredients in a transparent, sustainable way. Pacific Ridge Corp. (also known as Pacridge), a company offering sonic milling, unique farming and seed cleaning for regenerative agriculture, introduced itself to the industry during PLMA, sharing details about its breakthrough technologies to process plant-based ingredients and its seed-to-plate transparent traceability. FarmersDirectCoffee is another example of a supplier that works with retail customers to invite consumers on the seed-to-cup journey of coffee, via an integrated operation and open source blockchain. Columbia Grain, which has long provided commercial grains, beans and pulses to retailers for their store brands, is another vertically integrated seed-to-package supplier that recently added new capabilities to create custom retail packages li ke stand-up resealable pouches.
Store brands are setting themselves apart from the branded competition with increasingly sophisticated packaging, a long cry from the generics of old. In addition to visually impactful graphics and high-quality materials, suppliers at PLMA showed off other package innovations, like EEASY’s new easy-open lid. Anyone who’s struggled with a jar of pasta or salsa will appreciate the simplicity of pushing down on a button on the lid and twisting to remove the cap, thanks to a vacuum release design. The ErgoOpener, a tool that helps open private label water bottles, is another example.
The recent success of premium private label brands, like Meijer’s Frederick by Meijer line, Ahold Delhaize’s Taste of Inspirations portfolio and Thrive Market’s F.A.E. private-label beauty brand, among many others, is the apparent tip of the iceberg when it comes to the future of higher-end private label offerings. The PLMA exhibit halls, from the international pavilion to the bustling wine and spirts area to the “Idea Supermarket” and new products expo, were lined with supplier displays touting upscale items from vibrant juices to authentic Hispanic bites of Oaxaca cheese to bottles of spicy raw honey.
Caroline Davidson, director, agency and channel partnership for Chicago-based data tech company SPINS, echoed the significance of the pace of private label innovations at a key moment in time when inflation is fused with shoppers’ higher expectations for value, quality and choice. “If someone is going to switch, now is the time to win them over. That’s where innovations, at shows like this, come in as we decide, ‘What new areas do we go into? What ethnic diversities do we put out? What plant-based products do we put out?’” she said, adding, that innovation is a good long-term strategy in categories that continue to grow.
Stand Up Barrier Pouches PLMA's 2022 Annual Private Label Trade Show takes place Nov. 13-15 at Chicago's Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.