Fearless Leaders


Since its inauguration in 2006, the Private Label Hall of Fame program has recognized 40 deserving individuals for their efforts in driving innovation and growth of North American store brands. This year, the program’s 10th, the New York-based Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) and Store Brands are pleased to add five more pioneers to the list of honorees.

Together, we solicited nominations from a wide range of executives involved in the manufacturing, marketing and/or distribution of store brand goods. The 2015 Private Label Hall of Fame inductees are profiled in the pages that follow. Additionally, the inductees will be honored during PLMA’s Annual Meeting & Leadership Conference, set to take place March 19–22 at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Selection criteria

Qualified nominees for the Private Label Hall of Fame are career private label professionals who have contributed to the growth of store brands in the consumer marketplace in one or more of the following ways:

  • ■ Have served as a leader in store brand development and innovation.
  • ■ Have advanced the growth of store brands through the creative use of marketing, merchandising and promotions.
  • ■ Have contributed significantly to store brand technology in terms of manufacturing, packaging, label design and/or quality assurance.
  • ■ Have served as a champion of store brands within their own companies, business communities and the consumer marketplace.

Believer in the brands

With strong faith in the Western Family brand and its power to help small retailers provide value to their customers, Carlbom turned the brand into a recognized regional brand in all of its distribution markets, says Ray VanWetten, vice president of sales for the Pacific Northwest division of Commerce, Calif.-based Unified Grocers, a Western Family Foods partner. He then promoted the brand through strong media campaigns that, in the end, drove incremental sales to the independent grocers that carried the label.

“Chuck had turned the private label of Western Family into a regional brand throughout all the markets that distributed that label,” he explains. “With that success, Chuck was able to promote the Western Family quality through strong media campaigns that drove incremental sales to our independent grocers that carried the label.”

Benny Cooper, who served as president of Affiliated Foods of Amarillo, Texas, for 18 years, also recalls Carlbom’s strong belief in Western Family’s brands, calling him a highly motivated and intelligent individual who helped Affiliated develop a better private brand program with these brands.

“Affiliated Foods joined his company, Western Family, in the mid-1980s,” he says. “At that time, I was highly dissatisfied with the company Affiliated Foods was using for private label. I contacted Chuck and was invited up for a meeting with his people. He was a very gracious host and very informative about his ability to take care of our private label problems.”

Carlbom said he could develop a full line of Shurfine brand products — and even develop a more attractive Shurfine label — for Affiliated Foods. He expanded the number of items under the brand and added a second brand called ShurSavings. Sales of Western Family brands grew after this change was made.

Never settled for less

During his tenure as Western Family’s CEO, Carlbom was known for his very high standards, says Ric Larsen, president and CEO of DeJarnett Sales, a Gladstone, Ore.-based broker that focuses on sales execution for Western Family and its members. And the fact that he never sacrificed quality for price — and made sure all additional fundamentals were met — ensured only the best products for Western Family’s brands.

“He was totally dedicated to building a brand around quality products — at the time, this was seen as a contrarian view,” says Ron King, CEO of Western Family, noting that Carlbom was one of the first store brand executives to think this way, seeing suppliers as true partners in delivering a top-notch experience for consumers.

And he had a high tolerance for risk, Larsen states, pushing people to think outside the box. Carlbom also recruited top talent and “inserted” a legacy of productive and talented managers into the industry. Additionally, he took a great deal of time to mentor key managers in his organization and industry.

And Carlbom didn’t limit his mentoring to those in the workforce. In the early 1990s, he led the creation of the Food Industry Leadership Center (FILC) at Portland State University. Since then, the FILC has produced 15 to 30 graduates per year who end up in leadership positions at firms throughout the food industry, says Scott Dawson, dean of the Orfalea College of Business at California Polytechnic State University, who previously served as the dean of Portland State University’s School of Business.

Customer first — always

And Dillon always believed in putting the customer first and meeting his or her needs, says Nick Hahn, former director of corporate brands for Kroger and fellow Private Label Hall of Fame member.

Perhaps the best example of this shopper-centric approach is Kroger’s Customer 1st Strategy, a program that “truly puts the customer at the center of how Kroger’s business is run,” the retailer said. Developed by Dillon in partnership with Rodney McMullen, then vice chairman and currently CEO, the strategy focuses on four keys that enhance Kroger’s connection with customers: people, products, prices and the shopping experience.

“For Dave, Customer 1st — which truly put our customers at the center of how Kroger runs its business — was more than a successful business strategy. It was a philosophy that he believed and lived through his actions every day. And as a result, he inspired thousands of our associates during his many years of service to Kroger and Dillon Companies,” says McMullen. “He understood that Kroger’s greatest asset is the trust that our customers, associates and shareholders have in our company.”

The strategy has been a tremendous success, deepening customer loyalty and resulting in 39 consecutive quarters — nearly 10 years — of positive identical store sales growth during Dillon’s tenure.

Advocate for Kroger brands

And when it came to store brands, Dillon was highly involved.

“Dave was a strong supporter of the Kroger corporate brand program,” Hahn says. “During my time at Kroger, we had an annual event called the Outstanding Supplier Dinner, at which we honored the ‘best of the best’ of our Kroger corporate brand suppliers.”

According to Carol Spieckerman, president of retail consulting firm newmarketbuilders, Dillon helped Kroger take a “thoughtful approach” to store brands, right down to making up to 40 percent of its own-brand products in its own plants. This vertically integrated strategy runs counter to that of many of Kroger’s competitors, which rely more heavily on outside contractors.

“All of these efforts were boosted by Kroger’s ongoing innovations and investments in workforce management, data analytics and technology,” she explains.

According to Hahn, Dillon always was on the Outstanding Supplier Dinner program, gladly attending, interacting with suppliers and — after the dinner ended — staying to be part of the pictures taken with each of the recognized suppliers.

“Over the seven-plus years that I have been retired, I have gotten a number of positive comments from suppliers concerning Dave’s participation — and what it meant to them,” he states.

And under Dillon’s leadership, Kroger managed to expand its relevance into higher-end food offerings and steal market share from retailers such as Whole Foods. It did so even as it grew more affordable private brands, Spieckerman notes.

“Dillon left Kroger in terrific shape and on a very high note,” she points out. “The momentum shows no signs of slowing down, and that’s saying a lot, given the incredible competition Kroger continues to face on the high and low ends — and everywhere in between.”

A new sourcing philosophy

Joe Coulombe founded Trader Joe’s in 1967, serving as CEO until 1988. And John Shields, who served as CEO from 1988 through 2001, masterminded Trader Joe’s super-streamlined distribution system, which keeps costs super low and efficiently gets products from the warehouse to stores in a matter of days. But Rauch, who served in several positions at Trader Joe’s for more than three decades — including president of Trader Joe’s East from 1995 through 2006 and president of Trader Joe’s Co. from 2006 through 2008, according to his LinkedIn profile — was responsible for creating the retailer’s buying philosophy, making him the “father” of the retailer’s store brand program, says Kim Greenfeld, founder of food consultancy Camp Verde Solutions, who reported to Rauch during her 17 years at Trader Joe’s.

When Rauch joined Trader Joe’s as private label coordinator in 1977, the retailer already was known for offering great values under its private brands. But its private label assortment was small, with few items outside the wine and cheese categories, Rauch said in a January 2014 interview on PLMALive, a video broadcast produced by the New York-based Private Label Manufacturers Association. His job was to develop the same great private label reputation in other categories that the retailer already had in wine. However, he had to do so without vertical integration, which Coulombe was against.

So Rauch decided to develop a completely upfront relationship with suppliers holding excess capacity, he said in the interview. By always paying its suppliers on time and staying true to its promises — and limiting options from product type to product type — Trader Joe’s grew its purchasing capacity and saw its sales soar. When Rauch saw this buying philosophy create success in one category, it gave him the courage to use it across the store, helping to develop the expansive, high-penetration own-brand program for which the retailer is known today.

Additionally, Rauch is known for setting “the standard for unacceptable ingredients,” Greenfeld says, which says that if an 8-year-old cannot pronounce an ingredient or know what purpose it serves, then it should not be in a food product.

Go east, young man!

Rauch’s big thinking at Trader Joe’s didn’t stop with creating the chain’s unique private label philosophy — he next was tasked with growing the retailer from a nine-store Southern California chain to a nationwide wonder.

Rauch developed and executed the business plan for expanding Trader Joe’s nationally, moving from California to Boston in 1996 to open the Trader Joe’s East office and help bring the retailer eastward, according to Today, the retailer has more than 400 stores across the nation, its website states.

And the private label innovation continued even after the move. One fond memory Greenfeld recalls comes from when, after joining Rauch in 1995 as the second employee at Trader Joe’s East, she was given the “onerous task” of recreating all of Trader Joe’s perishable items from out west.

“We knew that we could transship dry grocery and frozen items, but, due to the shelf-life constraints, had to find local vendors for all perishable items,” she states. “Looking back, I am in awe of what we were able to accomplish with a small crew and vendors who, for some wacky reason, believed in us. This is all thanks to Doug.”

Bringing value to consumers

But in the private label world, Reed is most well known for his current role of president, CEO and chairman of TreeHouse Foods, a manufacturer of many goods for retailers’ store brand programs, including powdered creamer, soup, salad dressing, sauces, drink mixes, skillet meals and single-cup hot beverages, among others. In this position, Reed has been a strong advocate for creating quality products to build quality brands.

“Although private label has been around for a number of years, Sam, through TreeHouse Foods, helped to pioneer the change from private label being a generic alternative to a brand,” says Dennis Riordan, chief financial officer and executive vice president, TreeHouse Foods, “to private label being a brand unto itself.”

TreeHouse Foods certainly was not the first public company to focus on store brands, Riordan points out. However, it was the first one to proactively promote the private label industry on a public platform.

Harry Overly, chief customer officer of TreeHouse Foods’ Bay Valley Foods operating unit, states that Reed has been “iconic and instrumental” in supporting the store brand industry in two significant ways: by maintaining an unwavering commitment to his customers, and by recognizing the potential of store brands to connect with the patrons of TreeHouse Foods’ customers.

The roots that grew into the foundation of TreeHouse came from Reed’s combining high-quality products with an insights-driven product development strategy to drive customers’ loyalty through every store brand tier. Added to that equation was, of course, supply chain efficiency.

“Sam’s strategy has always been ‘one truck, one invoice,’” Riordan adds, “and this was the underlying reason for us to aggressively promote a common data system and an integrated go-to-market strategy for our customers. This helped drive down costs and provide retailers with the most cost-effective way to expand their store brand programs.”

A born leader

And Reed invests as much time and care internally with his staff as he does externally with his customers.

“Sam has and continues to practice an all-encompassing leadership style that not only supports the value of his customers, but also [supports] that of his peers and employees,” Overly explains. “‘Inspiring’ is an understatement when describing how Sam views the potential of the store brand industry and his own organization.”

With both his intellectual curiosity and his tremendous experience as a business leader, Reed is not afraid to dig into a challenge, as well as mentor and lead his organization and team members to recognize their potential for success, Overly explains.

“The success of building TreeHouse into a multi-billion-dollar private label leader within 10 years is an exhilarating reflection of his drive to succeed and delight his customers,” he says.

Always an advocate

As PLMA’s events grew in terms of both size and number, Rosen always was at the center, serving as the key inside executive who made sure the entire calendar of events and activities was executed professionally and successfully, Sharoff states.

“This included budget planning annually and supervising financial controls to ensure efficiency and productivity,” he says. “She was always on-site, whether the program was in the U.S. or overseas, to give every event the hands-on management needed. This meant close daily coordination between executive offices in New York and international offices in Amsterdam and, eventually, Shanghai.”

The result, Sharoff offers, was a model of association management that, in turn, furthered the store brand industry. During Rosen’s tenure at PLMA, the association grew from 200 members to more than 3,000; the number of trade shows increased from one to three (including two international shows — one in Amsterdam and one in Shanghai); and the number of employees grew from three in New York to more than 100 internationally.

“Myra quietly, generously and actively supported the organization through its infancy into adulthood,” states Peggy Davies, vice president, Vegetable Business Unit and industrial sales for McCain Foods and chair of Women Impacting Storebrand Excellence. “Throughout my over 20-year involvement with PLMA, including two terms as board chair, Myra’s support was continually and constantly focused with the PLMA staff and members of the board, enabling those who invested their time and talents to develop their best thoughts, which, when actioned, developed a strong, faithful and diverse cadre of manufacturers, suppliers and brokers.”

Davies praises Rosen for her “awesome events,” which felt like “parties” for industry members.

“Myra always went above and beyond the basic support necessary and with great enthusiasm about the industry, thus creating a sense of community by making people feel excited to be a part of it,” she states.

Humble heart, open ears

While it could be easy for someone so talented and respected to have her success go to her head, Rosen always was grounded, friendly and receptive to others’ thoughts and ideas.

“She could be counted on for her sound advice and excellent direction, no matter how wacky or far-fetched the idea seemed at the moment,” Davies noted. “Plus, Myra’s calm demeanor, laughter and humor many, many times, in the midst of chaos, enabled the team to keep calm and carry on.”

Sharoff points out that those who have been inducted into the Private Label Hall of Fame share one trait: Whether the person was the CEO of a large company or a day-to-day sales manager or buyer, his or her actions helped store brands to grow from their “stepchild” status of the 1970s to their leadership position in today’s retail market. And Rosen is no different.

“Myra’s work at PLMA helped everyone every day to push the transition along — one step at a time, but always inevitably ahead,” he says.

Reed is not afraid to dig into a challenge, as well as mentor and lead his organization and team members to recognize their potential for success.