Welcome to the club — the Private Label Hall of Fame. The Private Label Manufacturers Association and Store Brands selected five industry officials to join the Private Label Hall of Fame, an elite group of people who have made a major difference helping the private label industry grow into what it is today.
While the awards ceremony has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, looking to reconvene in October during the Washington Conference, the March issue of Store Brands still shines a light on the honorable five.
This year, Jeff Needham of Perrigo, John Stanton of Saint Joseph’s University, Bill Bishop of Brick Meets Click, Peter Berlinski of Private Label Magazine and Private Label International, and Dieter Schwarz of Lidl are being recognized for their service to the industry and the initiatives they have implemented.
More than 65 individuals have been named to the Hall of Fame since its start in 2006. Qualified nominees should be career private label professionals who have contributed to the growth of store brands in the consumer marketplace in several ways.
That includes having served as a leader in store brand product development and innovation; helped advanced the growth of store brands through creative marketing, merchandising and promotions; and have contributed significantly to store brand technology in terms of manufacturing, packaging, label design and quality assurance. Also, people can be nominated if they have served as a champion of store brands within their own companies and business communities, as well as the consumer marketplace.
Peter Berlinski, former editor in chief, Private Label Magazine (now Store Brands) and Private Label International
“My dad happily took his work home with him and showed our family exactly what he was writing about and how it worked.”
That is how Michael Berlinski, the son of Hall of Fame honoree, the late Peter Berlinski, remembers some of his dad’s interaction with the private label category years ago. Not only did Peter Berlinski serve as a great father to his three children, but he took the time to show them what he did at work and used that knowledge to make his family more aware of alternatives when eating at home or shopping for groceries.
“Private label and store brands were a very big part of our lives,” said Michael. “My father would tell us about the projects he was working on at work and the many companies he was working with. We came to know the trends in the industry before most people would know. We would buy a lot of store brand and private label products. They were a big part of our pantry at home.”
Of course, Peter Berlinski learned about the category from his years as the influential editor in chief of Private Label Magazine — now known as Store Brands magazine — and Private Label International magazine. During his tenure at the publications, Berlinski helped to keep the growing private label/store brand industry aware of the various trends and topics that helped to drive sales and build profits from the category.
He became one of the founders of the Private Label Hall of Fame in 2006 when he called up executives at the Private Label Manufacturers Association and suggested starting the hall. He also was extremely involved with the founding of the Women’s Foodservice Forum. Later, Berlinski became a freelance journalist, contributing many articles to various magazines about the private label industry.
“He wanted to be involved, and he was extremely proud of his work with the Women’s Foodservice Forum and its role in helping women reach their full potential,” Michael Berlinski said. “I think he really wanted to help other people succeed.”
Peter Berlinski died in April 2019 at the age of 72. He grew up in Bloomfield, N.J., before moving to Clifton, N.J., in 1970. A 1964 graduate of Seton Hall Prep High School, he continued his education at Seton Hall University receiving a degree in English. Afterwards he honorably served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
“How would my father want to be remembered? Well, professionally, I think he would want to be remembered as a person who was extremely committed to his work and his job,” Michael Berlinski said. “As for the private label and store brand categories, I think he always treated what he did as more than a job. The food category and private label meant a lot more to him than just doing his job. It became his passion.
“I also remember him as a great dad, who did wonderful things for his family and loved to cook and taught us how to cook and how methodical he was in cooking."
Bill Bishop, chief architect and co-founder of Brick Meets Click
Today, there seems to be a retail thought leader around every corner, but Bill Bishop was one of the first — and one with integrity and objectivity.
“I’ve really tried to do my homework to keep me right at the top of the pack,” said Bishop, who currently is chief architect at Brick Meets Click. “Everybody has some experience with grocery, and in today’s world it’s awfully easy to have an opinion. I still work really hard to be sure that we do our studies, and know what we’re talking about.”
As the founder and leader of Willard Bishop and now Brick Meets Click, his goals have been the same. When he enters a subject to study in retail, he must go deep into that area, be clear with the results (as retailers hate jargon, he said), and do it honestly and objectively. His research over the years in private label included several projects with Daymon, FMI and a few at Topco that he’s very proud of. Over a two-year period, he worked with Topco to establish best practices in merchandising for their private label products based on extensive research. Another project with Topco studied sales of private label products at Albertsons’ Jewel-Osco banner to compare with Topco’s private label velocities and growth.
He said that was at a time when private labels were considered generics, and he’s amazed at the evolution of private brands today, noting how far hard discounters like Aldi, Lidl and Trader Joe’s have come. “One of the things that I think amazed people with Aldi was how quickly they moved completely into what we call ‘clean products.’” Bishop also praised Kroger’s Simple Truth and how private brands are leveraging “lifestyle branding.”
Bishop first got into retail when he attended Cornell University in the 1960s and got involved with its Department of Food Marketing, studying early computer modeling of supermarket site selection. After college, while in the U.S. army, he routinely would check in with the National Association of Food Chains to entertain himself, which later led him to joining the Supermarket Institute for five years while it transitioned into the Food Marketing Institute (it is now FMI — the Food Industry Association). In 1976, he started Willard Bishop, and for three decades would be one of the industry’s preeminent thought leaders.
In 2012, he started Brick Meets Click, again ahead of the curve, to study the tremendous impact digital would have on retailing. He calls this new company a “demanding hobby,” as he is slowing down and working with his son David Bishop, a partner in the company. Bill Bishop joked that he and his son may be the only father-son duo interviewed on the PLMA’s videocasts. Bishop has presented at PLMA over the years, as well, most recently on the impact of digital on private brands.
He’s tremendously honored by this induction, and perhaps more importantly, he said his wife liked it.
“I’ve been in the grocery business for virtually my entire career,” he said. “So to be recognized by an organization as important as the PLMA is a big deal for me. It’s a wonderful recognition."
Jeff Needham, president of consumer self-care Americas, Perrigo
One of his many admirers said recently that Jeff Needham has been involved with private label before there was private label. While that may be a stretch, it really is not that far from the truth.
In reality, Needham, who is retiring this month, has spent the last 36 years working for Perrigo, a publicly-owned company that is one of the nation’s largest private label manufacturers of OTC products, including pain relief, cough/cold, allergy, nicotine replacement and digestive health items. “I came to Perrigo from Amway and was one of the first marketing people that Perrigo hired,” he said. “They wanted to invest in this market, to take private label from what it was to what it is today.”
Needham, who is president of Perrigo’s consumer self-care-America division and a company executive vice president, said that when he started in the business, store brands were essentially a controlled-manufacturing business. “People at Perrigo realized that they needed to treat store brands like a true brand if they wanted to compete on shelves with national brands,” he said. “So, our job was to help retailers understand the market and give them the tools to help them compete with the national brands. We realized that to be successful, we had to win on store shelves. And to make that happen we needed to do a better job of marketing our products.”
Among other things, Perrigo colleagues will remember Needham for how he helped them grow at the company. “In my 17 years with the company, Jeff has always been our rock of knowledge within Perrigo and our ambassador to senior management to our customers,” said Troy Pelak, a vice president of regional sales at the company. “From his early development in the store brand OTC industry with educating customers on the benefits of national brand alternative products, to navigating the sometimes-confusing FDA regulatory approval process- es, to heading up CHPA on behalf of all OTC manufacturers — store brands and national brands — Jeff has always been the greatest source of knowledge. He has been a trusted advisor by all. Pelak continued: “Many times, customers will call him simply asking for advice or his opinion on a certain topic. He helped pave the way for store brand OTC products over 36 years ago when store brand share started in the low single digits and now enjoys store brand shares consistently in the upper 20’s to near 30% of total sales for retailers.”
How would he liked to be remembered? “One of the things I am most proud of in my career is what we have done with store brands in so many different categories here,” Needham said. “I am also very proud of the strategic relationships we have built with retailers over the years. To be successful with this category, we knew we needed the commitment of the retailers. They know they need private label to grow their business, and we plan to grow with them."
Dieter Schwarz, chairman and CEO, Lidl
Lidl is the second-largest discounter in its home country of Germany, just behind rival Aldi, and a giant in Europe and globally, running more than 11,000 stores in 32 countries. The store prides itself on stocking its stores with more than 90% private brand and has helped make Dieter Schwarz, chairman and CEO of Lidl, and his Schwarz Group more than $100 billion in revenue.
Dieter Schwarz is the face behind this retail chain of considerable importance to private label around the world, and he joins such global retail leaders as David Nichols of Loblaws, Terry Leahy of Tesco and Theo Albrecht of Aldi in the Private Label Hall of Fame.
Lidl opened its first store in 1973 with Schwarz; four years later he would become Lidl’s CEO, ushering in further expansion and a culture of smaller footprint stores, with around 1,500 quality products stocked, notably its Preferred Selection own brand. In 2017, Lidl would enter the United States, operating around 75 stores primarily on the East Coast, with expectations to reach 100 by 2020. The U.S. stores are a reimagined Lidl, nearly twice the size of its European counterparts, carrying a much deeper assortment of products, but as it finds its way is most definitely having an impact on the store brands industry stateside.
Lidl seems particularly popular in the U.K., where it has more than 700 stores. The Schwarz Group also owns the hypermarket chain Kaufland.
As for Schwarz himself, he is almost famously private. At 80, he lives in Germany and a story in The Daily Mail said there are only two photos of him that exist and that he’s called “the phantom” in his hometown of Heilbronn, Germany. He’s also famously giving, donating hundreds of millions of dollars through the Dieter Schwarz Foundation to support health, science and educational initiatives locally.
John Stanton, professor of food marketing, St. Joseph’s University
You may want to call John Stanton a visionary. Way back in the mid 1980s, Stanton, along with fellow Saint Joseph’s University professor Rich George, wrote a book called “21 Trends in Food Consumption for the 21st Century.” One of those major trends, they forecasted, would not only be the rise of private label products but also the fact that there would be more variety and better quality from products in the category.
“Since that time, I like to think that I have been an extremely strong advocate for the category,” said Stanton, who is a professor of food marketing at Philadelphia-based Saint Joseph’s. “I realize the important role that private label plays in the [mass retail] industry and how important that we help to build the category up even further.”
Stanton joined the Saint Joseph’s food marketing department about 35 years ago after running the Institute for Food Nutrition & Health at nearby Temple University. Since then, he has become one of the most widely known and widely admired experts of food marketing across the country and has been much sought out for speeches and columns throughout his tenure.
“I see the benefits of private label,” he said. “I see how it can offer consumers a legitimate choice when they go shopping. I would like to be remembered as a person who always believed that private label should be a viable alternative for consumers, as any branded product.”
But Stanton also has words for the private label industry. While he is extremely impressed with how far the category has come, he strongly suggests that suppliers do all they can to help retailers transition to a greater percentage of private label products and, eventually, sales.
“Instead of focusing on coming up with products that are identical to brand product, private label suppliers need to become the product research arms of the retailers they work with,” he said. “They need to make it clear that retailers can call on them for new ideas, research and development — and even packaging. They need to be an adjunct of the retailer.”
Joe Bivona, executive director of the Academy of Food Marketing and the Food Marketing Educational Foundation at Saint Joseph’s, called Stanton an industry leader. “John is both the cornerstone and keystone of our food marketing program,” Bivona said. “With his knowledge and passion, he has made the program what it is, the premier food marketing program throughout the U.S. He is the glue to this program.
“He has spoken to many, many retailers and suppliers and consulted with many others. He has done a spectacular job getting them through this tough business environment, which includes private label.”