EMBRACING PREMIUM IN CPG
Tops offers several lines of private brands within its consumer packaged goods portfolio. The anchor brand is the mainstream TOPS brand, which features mostly national brand equivalent or better products and accounts for about 80% of sales.
“It is our No. 1 brand,” Hanson says. “To me, it’s important to protect that name because that’s also the name on the building.”
Tops has paid loads of attention to the brand in the last three years. In 2016, it began a major reformulation of the TOPS line to simplify product ingredients and offer cleaner labels and to improve quality and packaging. The three-year project touched about 2,200 products. Tops also introduced about 250 new products during that time.
Three years might seem like a long time, but it wasn’t, Colgan says, considering that many products were completely overhauled from packaging to ingredients to flavors. The goal was to create a more modern packaging design and to rid products of undesirable ingredients and make them more nutritious without sacrificing taste.
While Tops doesn’t offer a separate premium line, it’s steadily introducing more premium products with premium packaging under the TOPS line and will continue to do so.
In the ice cream sector, the retailer recently introduced a premium ice cream line that has become its best-selling line. The all-natural ice cream is made by a local company and features several distinct flavors, including Dirt Pile (chocolate ice cream with chocolate chunks and swirls of chocolate cookie crumbs), Rainbow Unicorn (bubblegum ice cream in fun colors) and Coconut Dream (sweet coconut ice cream with fudge flakes and fudge-coated almonds).
“Our ice cream was kind of run of the mill before,” Curci says. “The new line is much more innovative.”
Last year Tops debuted a premium line of frozen pizzas made in Italy under the TOPS line. The wood-fired pizzas feature a hand-made thin and airy crust and contain 100% natural ingredients and contain no artificial colors and preservatives. Priced at $4.99, they are selling well. Also imported from Italy, Tops recently introduced three varieties of gelato bars.
The retailer also partners with Topco Associates LLC, a retail group food purchasing organization that offers an assortment of private brands, to sell Topco’s Full Circle organic line and its premium Culinary Tours line.
Tops has had ongoing success with Full Circle, which Hanson says continues to experience double-digit growth with no signs of slowing down. Tops and Topco are consistently communicating on potential new products for the line and adding to it. Tops also recently added a website, topsorganic.com, for consumers to purchase Full Circle and other natural and organic products online.
Tops added Culinary Tours to its mix about two years ago. In some categories, the retailer doesn’t have the volume to justify introducing its own line of niche premium products, but Culinary Tours has filled that void. The store brand’s “taste of the world” products cross an array of categories, including sweet snacks; frozen appetizers, entrees and sides; condiments; pasta; and sauces.
“We really see the need for premium indulgent products,” says Nicky Walsh, director of business development for Daymon, a Stamford, Conn.-based company that specializes in building successful private brands programs for its retail partners. Although an employee of Daymon, Walsh has worked exclusively with Tops for the past 11 years and is responsible for all facets of private brands.
Walsh says Tops is willing to take chances on new products like these. “Many of them have done extremely well,” she adds.
Tops also offers a value line of staple products that it recently changed its name from ValuTime to That’s Smart. The retailer also sells Topco’s TopCare line, which features health and beauty products, and recently switched from offering its own line of household products to offering Topco’s Simply Done line of products, which includes plastic bags and wraps; disposable tableware; cleaning supplies and laundry care; household paper supplies; and home and kitchen supplies.
“These changes allow us to offer a wider breadth of products than we did before,” Hanson says. “The customer adoption rate has been very good.”