The best store brand supplier-partners contribute much more to the supplier-retailer partnership than products, packaging or services. They go beyond their supplier peers in critical areas of performance, potentially benefitting both their retailer customers and shoppers.
This year, Private Label => Store Brands invited retailers to weigh in on the store brand suppliers they believe exceed expectations in one or more of 10 important achievement categories. Based on those nominations, we performed our own research to determine the suppliers that truly deserve recognition in our fourth annual Supplier Pacesetters Awards program. Read on to learn more about these peerless partners.
Quality Assurance/ Quality Control
Winner: Bascom Family Farms
With seven generations of maple farming and production experience, Bascom Family Farms knows a thing or two about maple syrup and maple sugar. And the Brattleboro, Vt.-based company prides itself on providing its retailer partners with consistently high-quality private label products.
In fact, Bascom Family Farms segregates syrup purchased from its independent farmers into five grades, Arnold Coombs, the companys director of sales and marketing, explains. Those grades – Grade A Light Amber, Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, Grade B and Commercial Grade – can be segregated into as many as seven additional subgrades.
"When we are blending this pure maple syrup to package, our team has the options to obtain the best maple flavor possible," he says. "Its a skill that takes time to learn, and we have a few masters of flavor on our team."
Enhancing those capabilities are a conscientious quality assurance staff and a new quality assurance lab with the latest equipment, Coombs notes.
"The consumers of our retailer partners products get the best maple syrup available, which drives additional sales," he says, adding that Bascom Family Farms is "honored to be an award winner" and "proud of our team for the achievement."
Partnership Relationship with Retailers
Winner: First Quality
First Quality – a Great Neck, N.Y.-based supplier of private label bottled water and absorbent-technology/paper products that cross the feminine care, adult care, infant care and household care categories – boasts a cornerstone comprising four elements: a commitment to quality, a commitment to service, a commitment to integrity and a commitment to sustainability. Although the company takes each of those commitments very seriously, its commitment to service likely is what makes First Quality such a great partner. The companys employees truly listen to retailer partners to bring meaningful innovative products and support services to market.
In addition to delivering to retailers "products that perform well at a fair price," First Quality provides category information and consumer insights that help its retail partners build sales, profits and banner loyalty, notes a company spokesperson.
"It is a great honor to be recognized in this area," the spokesperson says. "The companys focus over 20 years has been private brands, which, as such, requires a special commitment to building lasting relationships."
Merchandising and/or Marketing Support for Store Brand Products
Winner: Associated Hygienic Products
Associated Hygienic Products (AHP), Duluth, Ga., is well-known for its research and development efforts, which allow the company to manufacture innovative private label diapers and training pants boasting performance that rivals that of the national brands. But the company also is a standout when it comes to providing its retail partners with marketing and merchandising support.
On the marketing side, AHP has worked with its own social media department to support retailer efforts here. And the company has a wealth of expertise in the category, allowing it to provide meaningful insight and counsel on the merchandising front.
This honor marks AHPs fourth Supplier Pacesetter Award and its first within this achievement category. Although Montreal-based Domtar Corp. acquired AHP in 2013, the acquisition should only enhance what the company is able to deliver to its private label retail customers.
R&D/Concept Development/ Product Innovation
Winner: Select Store Brands
Its one thing to create a me-too product; its quite another to come up with a unique offering. And repeat-winner Select Store Brands knows a thing or two about doing the latter – the Ontario, Calif.-headquartered supplier of vegetable products, sauces, salsas, hummus, dips, soups and more has the technical and culinary expertise to innovate in the name of great taste.
"The Select Store Brands research and development group, along with our culinary guys, are simply the best in class," says Bobby Ray, vice president, retail for the company. "Not only the unprecedented number of new items developed this year for select retailers, but the wow effect of the quality of each of the items keep our phones ringing."
Ray notes that Select Store brands is working hard to fill the gap between what consumers expect food retailers to sell and what consumers desire them to sell – a gap that the Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., pointed to recently.
"At the end of the day," he says, "Select Store Brands R&D/innovation team is working to improve the consumers perspective; it really is all about the food. You Provide the Store, We Provide the Sizzle is not just a tagline to us. Your [Supplier] Pacesetter Award validates this."
Winner: WS Packaging
On its websites homepage, Green Bay, Wis.-based WS Packaging gets straight to the point. "We produce innovative labels and packaging solutions that help brand owners bring their products to market," the company informs browsers. The key word, of course, is innovative.
"WS Packaging is a true single-source solution for packaging end users," explains Mark Moorehead, corporate director, marketing. "We set ourselves apart from other package printing firms and converters with a commitment to deliver solutions valued by our customers. And we do it with innovation that comes from understanding their business and the challenges and opportunities they face daily."
WS packaging offers, in-house, "a full range of printing techniques, complex constructions, innovative materials and a broad variety of finishing and packaging systems," Moorehead notes. Whats more, it boasts dedicated research and development and research and technology teams that uncover new ways to combine current processes "with new materials and ideas to drive innovation." And with 22 manufacturing facilities in the United States and Mexico, WS Packaging also is able to source manufacturing close to the customer.
"Our goal at WS Packaging is to develop packaging and decoration solutions that help complete the brand strategy for store brands," he adds. "Were extremely honored to receive the Supplier Pacesetter Award in light of recognition from the retail community."
Responsible Ingredient or Raw Material Sourcing
Winner: Clearwater Paper
This year marks Clearwater Papers fourth Supplier Pacesetter Award in the same category – the only supplier company to achieve such a feat. And the Spokane, Wash.-based supplier of store brand paper products is more than deserving of the recognition.
"Four years ago, Clearwater Paper made a commitment to align its pulp purchasing with responsible suppliers, domestic and international, who were Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) chain-of-custody certified," explains Bruce Woodlief, Clearwater Papers director of marketing. "Today, Clearwater Paper is recognized as a leader in chain-of-custody fiber certification for private label tissue product offerings to the retail industry."
During the past five years, many of the companys partners have been looking for ways to enhance their paper product offerings to meet growing consumer demand for products with "credible claims of environmental sustainability," he adds, explaining that the FSC program is the third-party gold standard certification program and has proved to be a value-added attribute for store brands. Moreover, many national brands have not yet embraced such certification.
"We are delighted to be recognized four years straight with this award from Private Label => Store Brands magazine," Woodlief says. "We look forward to continued work with our customers in building awareness about well-managed, sustainable fiber sourcing."
Environmentally Responsible Manufacturing Practices
Winner: Musco Family Olive Co.
For Musco Family Olive Co., Tracy, Calif., sustainability is no buzzword. The company has fully integrated sustainability into its corporate culture, explains Felix Musco, CEO.
From a one-of-a-kind RENEWS biomass plant (the companys renewable energy and wastewater system, which cleanly burns 15 tons of olive pits daily, creates steam by evaporating salty process water and soon will supply the manufacturing plant with power) to a dedicated team that meets weekly to talk about usage of resources, Musco Family Olive has an unwavering commitment to environmental responsibility. And the company continues to work on continuous improvement here.
"Our commitment is deep, and were very excited to announce that weve recently hired a sustainability coordinator who will bring the latest ideas, best practices and integration processes of eco-initiatives to our team," Musco says, "as well as keep us tightly on track for continued success in the future. ... Our goal of becoming a zero-waste plant is squarely in our sights! It will take a lot of work, a lot of coordination and some time, but we expect this to be the next huge milestone in our journey."
The olive suppliers efforts stand to benefit its retailer partners as well, Dan Kelly, Musco Family Olives vice president of sales, suggests.
"Retailers are seeking partners who are part of the solution," he explains. "Leaders in sustainable practices, like us, tell their stories and share this information with retailers. Shoppers care about the choices they have at the shelf. Working together, we can provide information for consumers, build trust and, ultimately, enhance shoppers commitment and loyalty to their favorite retailers and their private label brands."
This year marks Musco Family Olives third straight win in the same category.
"Recognition from our peers, our partners, our customers and our friends is the heartfelt biofuel that keeps us moving forward!" says Dennis Leikam, the companys environmental manager.
Manufacturing Facility Expansion or Retrofit
Winner: Blount Fine Foods
A store brand suppliers ability to respond quickly to increased product demand or demand for new kinds of products is critical to its retailer partners. Fall River, Mass.-based Blount Fine Foods understands this reality, and recently invested in several plant expansions with retailer needs in mind.
The expansions, Blount says, have allowed the company to create more "picking" operations, elevating its logistics capacity to meet retail customers freshness needs. Blount also improved its packaging automation allowing for packaging innovations such as smaller cups and cups that are easier to handle when hot.
"With all of the improvements, we now have the ability to offer more flexible and unique programs for our retailers, including the ability to offer a select rotation of flavors and seasonal items, as well as the ability to shift in and out different sizes," a company spokesperson explains.
Whats more, retailers now may maximize sales per foot of shelf space by optimizing the balance of branded products such as Blounts Legal Sea Foods and Panera Bread products with retailers private label offerings – all from one vendor – and save on freight and overhead.
"Recognition like this is an honor and is made possible by the hard work and dedication of members of Team Blount, as well as the trust and spirit of partnership shown everyday by our customers," the spokesperson adds.
Winner: Red Gold
You wont find it written on its products cans, bottles or jars, but the phrase "social responsibility" is very important to Red Gold Inc., a supplier of branded and store brand ketchup and other tomato-based products. The Elwood, Ind., company has "a longstanding tradition of employee involvement and giving back to local communities," notes Tim Ingle, vice president, human resources and corporate strategy.
Red Golds social responsibility efforts include its annual Red Gold Run to Crush Hunger, which aims to fight hunger in local communities (the second annual event took place on Oct. 12 in Elwood). In addition to addressing hunger, Ingle notes, Red Gold supports activities that encourage good nutrition and health and wellness. The company also is an active supporter of organizations such as the YMCA and Habitat for Humanity, has supported disaster relief via the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, and works with Midwest farmers to support sustainable farming initiatives. And Red Golds employees raise money each year for giving projects of their own choice, too, he says.
"Red Gold also has received national recognition for its involvement and support of migrant children education and its commitment to exceptional housing for migrant families," Ingles adds. "Red Gold received the 2011 National Plate of Bounty award from the national Seasonal Migrant Association in Washington, D.C."
Employees actively support Red Golds "large enough to serve, and small enough to remember" portion of its mission and guiding principles, he adds.
Logistics/Supply Chain Optimization
When it comes to logistics, CaseStack, Santa Monica, Calif., is well-versed in helping retailers and their supplier partners reduce costs and boost efficiencies. The company has administered, designed and implemented consolidation programs for some of the top United States-based retailers for 14 years, says Colby Beland, the companys vice president of sales and marketing.
For retailers, CaseStacks collaborative consolidation program eliminates supplier minimums, reduces inventory levels, reduces the number of trucks arriving at distribution centers, improves warehouse efficiencies, improves supplier on-time deliveries, enhances in-stock levels, reduces logistics costs and much more, he explains. The supplier also benefits – getting improved on-time performance, in-stock rates and sustainability and reduced damages/shortages and logistics costs.
"Retail-driven consolidation programs are truly the win-win solution for both the retailer and supplier," Beland says. "Every retailer should allocate the resources necessary to establish a consolidation program that will benefit them and their suppliers."
CaseStack has the knowledge, experience and infrastructure to efficiently support a true collaborative consolidation program, he adds.
"We are honored to have been selected as the 2013 Supplier Pacesetter Award winner in the Logistics/[Supply Chain] Optimization category," Beland says. "Knowing that the nominations are solicited from the retailer community is a testament to CaseStacks outstanding reputation among retailers of all sizes."