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Exclusive Feature: Foxtrot and Private Brand Disruptors

September cover story goes inside Foxtrot’s private brands as it looks to shake up the convenience channel and highlights other fellow disruptors.
Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
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Foxtrot, a regional chain of boutique markets that began six years ago, is widely considered a disruptor in retail. The company is aiming to “redefine convenience for a modern consumer,” and the retailer is certainly one to take notice.

This year, Foxtrot announced it would be adding 50 stores over the next two years, growing from a dozen locations in Chicago, Dallas and Washington, D.C., into New York, Austin, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles and Houston. The retailer also launched a national online gift box service with curated craft items, including its private brand products.

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Mitch Madoff

And consider the private brands — disrupting the fast food era of convenience chains with an eye on trendy cafe foods and premium packaged goods in fun, bright packaging. To achieve a store brand approach of this magnitude, Foxtrot hired Mitch Madoff in the spring of 2021. Madoff is the former vice president of exclusive brands at Whole Foods Market, and will lead Foxtrot’s private label and supply chain. He was added alongside the announcement of Tae Strain, a chef at acclaimed David Chang restaurant Momofuku, to be its culinary lead for exclusive prepared items and more.

Madoff discussed with Store Brands his strategy for Foxtrot’s private label program, as the company builds from its $42 million funding round in February, and begins to quadruple its store count.

“It’s been an exciting and busy first few months,” Madoff said about his early days on the job. “I’m happy to be part of a company that’s rapidly growing and expanding. We’re agile and nimble across all departments, and it’s been rewarding to oversee the private label division as both a developer and leader during this time of growth."

a table topped with plates of food on a plate

So far, the store brand products stepping up during this time lean into desserts, a go-to among the convenience store set that Foxtrot is disrupting. Foxtrot’s namesake brand includes six original flavors of ice cream including Roasted Banana & Caramel, Extreme Cookie Dough Sprinkle, Chocolate Hazelnut Chunk, Big Riff Coffee, Mint Sprinkle Brownie, and Strawberry Cheesecake Crumble. 

Additionally, the company teamed with Los Angeles-based CoolHaus for exclusive dual-branded Foxtrot and CoolHaus ice cream sandwiches and novelty bars. The retailer even has bundles to buy its own brand ice cream treats alongside a bottle of wine (the chain proudly touts a selection of more than 200 bottles) and carries a private brand wine under the Kid Sister label.

Madoff said the ice cream flavors have been very successful, and they’re continuing to look to collaborate with local chefs and small producers and suppliers to bring new offerings into its private brand mix. The company, for example, also partnered with Dolcezza Gelato in Washington, D.C., and Pretty Cool Ice Cream in Chicago. In coffee, Foxtrot partnered with Metric in Chicago for its own whole bean blend.

“Expanding into ice cream has given us credibility to explore other novelties and frozen treats,” said Madoff. “Above all, we love food and we always approach private label with the goal of uncovering and creating delicious, high-quality items we know our customers will enjoy.”

Other Foxtrot brand indulgent treats include scratch-made brownies, gummy candies in hip packages, chocolate mixes, cookies and cream pies.

The breadth of private brand products extends into snacks too, with extremely modern and slick-looking packaged chips in flavors like Spicy Dill Pickle, Back Porch BBQ and Sea Salt. The company has a line of granola as well. Madoff describes the assortment as taking customers along a food journey that’s nostalgic and aimed to help them uncover new trends. The packaging has fun animated characters and perhaps a kid-like, nostalgic feel.

“Our customers are curious and open to new trends and flavor profiles,” he said. “We develop products that are craveable and delicious. Our goal is to create an experience that they didn’t even realize they were missing before."

“We’re also expanding our private label brands outside of food. We will have more to come on that soon.”
Mitch Madoff , Foxtrot

In reference to the company’s swift growth and plans ahead, Madoff said scale is the key. 

“Scale will make things easier. The larger we get, the faster we’ll be able to move and we’ll continue to streamline our supply chain,” he said. “Growth supports exactly what we’re trying to achieve, allowing our suppliers and the up-and-coming brands we work with to grow with us as well. A lot of our partners have taken a leap of faith to work with us and they continue to grow and develop alongside us.”

From its own brand suppliers, Foxtrot is looking to work with emerging producers, and ones that spark new ideas and take risks, he said. The suppliers should align with the Foxtrot mission: “People who enjoy creating delicious, high-quality food with an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.

The latest from Foxtrot is its Foxtrot Anywhere nationwide shipping program. The program is framed as curated gift boxes with a mix of its top-selling products and items that fit certain themes such as a Pasta Night box. The program gets the Foxtrot products out to consumers nationwide as it continues to grow into new markets. Additionally, Foxtrot has been evolving its culinary program that inspires its grab-and-go food items that are a core of the store, taking great care within its recipe department, Madoff said, and sourcing to revamp the prepared foods and cafe menu. 

“We’ll continue to introduce new items and new collaborations across our current categories throughout the year, and you can expect some exciting new items and partnerships tied to the holiday season,” he said. “We’re also expanding our private label brands outside of food. We will have more to come on that soon.” 

Fellow Disruptors

food on a table

HelloFresh. The New York-based meal-kit company announced late in the summer that it would be offering a mix of private label pantry items as part of its move into becoming a full-service online grocer. The company told Store Brands that its HelloFresh Market service, an add-on to its meal-kit delivery, will include fresh produce, snack foods, dessert items, packaged spice blends, grocery essentials and ready-to-heat meals. The new market offerings will include a mix of private label products from HelloFresh as well as partnerships with branded companies such as Intelligentsia Coffee, Annie’s, Vive Wellness Shots, Epicurean Butter and Pillsbury.

Loblaw. The Canadian retailer can also be looked at as a legendary disrupter with its No Name brand, which to this day stands out with its cheeky marketing and “lack of branding,” although it’s branding without branding (it’s all very meta). The brand relies on its black and yellow colors and that’s it. For example, go to the website for No Name and all it reads is, “website” in black lettering against bright yellow. The products carry the same mantra, only they stand for high quality, as the retailer introduced two years ago its Simple Check symbol on the No Name packages, signifying that the products are made without 10 ingredients including synthetic colors, artificial flavors and monosodium glutamate.

a group of items on a table

Imperfect Foods. The e-commerce company founded on the idea of delivering produce deemed imperfect by brick-and-mortar retailers added to its disruption by using imperfect produce to develop store brand products, including namesake cooking oils, quinoa, grains, and even bath and body products like facial oil, avocado honey body butter, and shampoo. The San Francisco-based company recently generated $95 million in a round of financing to build out its private brands.

Martha Hale, chief merchandising officer at the company, previously told Store Brandsduring a Q&A: “When it took off in 2019, our private label program was focused on food rescue buys and as we began to expand, we evolved into what we offer today. To us, private label is where companies gain their distinction from other companies. We knew that our private label should be about storytelling but also that each item has to taste good and delight the customer as well. From our chocolate-covered pretzel pieces to our dried mango, the main ingredients have a story that helps drive our mission."

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Walmart. Strange to call a global leader like Walmart a disruptor, but the mass merchant does have a few tricks up its sleeve, including its entry into streaming devices that will challenge Roku and Amazon Fire Stick. Walmart also will launch its first-ever store brand insulin product, disrupting the pharmacy industry. 

In electronics, Walmart introduced Onn in 2010 and eventually consolidated its store brand electronics under the brand in 2019. This year, it branched out with an Onn streaming device. Leigh Stidham, spokesperson for Walmart, told Store Brands that the brand and product is meant to be “an industry-disruptive entertainment brand to better serve customers and create a simplified shopping experience through thoughtful product design, elevated and compelling packaging design and simplified communications about product attributes, all at affordable prices.”

Also this year, Walmart rolled out ReliOn NovoLog, a private brand first in diabetes care. The store brand analog insulin vial and FlexPens is said to save consumers between 58% and 75% more money compared to branded packages.

Aldi, Trader Joe's, Lidl. Perhaps the original disruptors, with stores that are 90%, 85% and 80% private label, respectively, the three grocers continue to elevate products, branding and assortment at a major value, arguably getting retailers to step up private brand programs over the years.