Plugging in Private Brands

Plugging in Private Brands: Tech leaders impacting private label

The cover story of our January/February issue: A list of leaders and technology companies giving private brands a digital boost in a variety of ways.
Zachary Russell
Associate Editor
Zachary Russell profile picture

Retailer own brands continue to grow and become stronger brands in their own right, and technology in many facets plays a key role plugging in that charge. But in what areas and who are some of the names and faces providing this jolt? Store Brands put out a call for submissions and settled on these leaders at various technology companies, sharing who they are and how they are stepping up for store brands.

We call them “Store Brands Leaders in Tech,” a first roundup of its kind for the publication. These are private brand point people at technology companies that touch e-commerce, aid in personalization, help optimize the supply chain, provide data analytics and more.

Retail is just scratching the surface of how technology can be used to leverage private brands, and here are some players to keep an eye on:

Molly McFarland headshot

Molly McFarland, co-founder and chief revenue officer, AdAdapted


McFarland began AdAdapted a decade ago with co-founder Mike Pedersen, growing the outfit to
more than 65 employees. It’s with her expertise in mobile advertising and add-to-list solutions where she can help private brands meet shoppers in the right place at the right time. She understands that private label products are a great source of revenue for retailers, so she works with them to understand the AdAdapted platform to make it easier for consumers to see private products via mobile and add them to a mobile shopping list.

Via AdAdpated, private brand leaders can uncover which products are seeing popularity increases
versus decreases, get a real-time read on purchase intent and predict in-store sales, see how product categories are changing and optimize ad budgets. One example, McFarland has been instrumental in bringing this technology to life for store brands, as she was the driving force behind AdAdapted’s recent partnership with Buzzfeed’s Tasty, introducing a unique Add-to-Bag service from the Tasty app for brands, enabling consumers to directly select items for pickup or delivery at Walmart stores nationwide.

Shekar Raman headshot

Shekar Raman, CEO and founder, Birdzi


For a retailer partner of Birdzi’s, a personalization campaign resulted in a 38.2% increase in categories being shopped, including its private label items. Raman and the AI-powered platform he founded is a driving force in personalization and retail. Inspired by his 11-year-old daughter, Raman is passionate about building data-driven technologies that leverage machine learning to help retailers and private brands elevate the customer experience.

And he’s got a dizzyingly impressive resume: Raman began his career working on the Human Genome Project at the department of human genetics, University of Pennsylvania, developing algorithms for protein modeling. He was part of some of the pioneering groups in bioInformatics
at Penn and at the department of human genetics, UNLV, where he applied speech recognition techniques to identify and classify genetic sequences. Raman continued onto AT&T Bell Labs, working in the speech recognition and later moved on to systems engineering, architecting and implementing infrastructure solutions for a large Fortune 500 company working in both consulting
and management roles.

Raman has a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Electronics and Communications from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. He went to Graduate School at Villanova University where he obtained a MS in Electrical Engineering with a focus on Digital Signal Processing and Pattern Recognition. Birdzi and Raman now can help grocers promote their own brands by utilizing
search results, featuring brands in weekly promotions and incorporating personalized wellness.

Allan Peretz headshot

Allan Peretz, president, BOLD Strategies


Peretz has spent time on the branded and private brand supplier side, having worked with First Quality Consumer Products, a private brand manufacturer of paper products and more, where he
helped lead the Walmart relationship, and 14 years with Procter & Gamble, helping lead the brand’s direct-to-consumer eCommerce strategy.

It’s a knowledge base that helps him drive a multi-million e-commerce firm today, leading the consolidation of more than 25 different DTC eCommerce efforts across the United States, China,
Germany and other major markets. For retailers and their store brands, he finds ways to help them grow on the digital shelf.

Diane Keng headshot

Diane Keng, CEO, Breinify


Keng, a member of the 30 Under 30 Forbes list for enterprise technology, runs the AI and predictive personalization platform Breinify, helping retailers and their private label brands enable data science in marketing campaigns, looking to drive up online sales and reaction rates. Prior to Breinify, Keng was at Apple and Symantec and frequently speaks on the intersection of AI, personal data, privacy and the future of smarter products.

By using Breinify’s platform, customers have achieved results such as $125M in new revenue, 20 times more page visits, and more than 105% in CRM growth in the last year, according to the company. Breinify’s platform is powered by proprietary AI, which blends traditional machine learning and complex algorithms. It makes intelligent decisions for individual consumers, across digital marketing channels with measurable results within months. In 2021, Breinify expanded partnerships with over 80% of existing customers and continues to grow. Breinify, San Francisco, recently raised an $11 million oversubscribed seed round.

Alice Fang headshot

Alice Fang, VP of U.S. retail analytics, Catalina


Fang and her team have built from scratch a suite of analytics tools for the private label space, and central to it is Catalina’s Private Brand Dashboard — a data analytics platform that shows a real-time national overview of store brand sales, number of shoppers, trips, dollars spent per trip and sales penetration.

The board details shopper migration and the balance of new, consistent and lapsed private brand shoppers, and it tracks private brand sales down to the UPC level. One example of Fang’s work, her team discovered that Asian American private brand shoppers seek out more organic foods and African American consumers are six times more likely to avoid products with gluten than Hispanic consumers. Two years ago, this level of granularity didn’t exist, per the company. Fang has restructured and now manages the company’s analytics group, and with a background in mathematical and statistical modeling, she is a thought leader in marketing campaign design, measurement methodology and ROI Optimization.

Fang has integrated insights and dashboards into Catalina’s HUB360 to help retailers plan smarter, target better and optimize faster including shopper insights for Meijer and Walgreens. In 2017, she won Catalina’s MVP Award and earned the President’s Award for custom projects while at Nielsen’s Spectra Marketing, where she oversaw the company’s loyalty marketing and point-of-sale data analysis.

Michael Hung headshot

Michael Hung, CEO, CBX Software


Overseeing two businesses that help drive private brands, CBX Cloud and TradeBeyond, Hung and CBX Software help retailers and their own brands streamline product development, sourcing and supplier management. CBX Cloud is built for tier-one retailers and brands that are focused on expanding private label merchandise assortments and scaling direct import sourcing with suppliers in order to compress supply chain time to market, run leaner, drive higher top-
line growth, and widen margins.

For Trade Beyond, the platform is an online portal and app where retailers, especially those with private brands, suppliers and factories from all around the world connect, source, extend innovation, and bring private label products to market. Members work virtually in real-time changing how retail manages product development and sourcing. By collaborating with potential retailers and working partner on TradeBeyond, private labels can expedite their product development, marketization and deal-making processes.

As CBX Software’s CEO, Hung holds overall responsibility for the company’s strategy and key business initiatives. With about 30 years of IT Industry experience, he has focused on developing software and solutions that streamline business processes for leading retail, private label brands, manufacturing and financial services organizations. Prior to CBX, he consulted for a range of clients and industries with Lotus Consulting, now part of IBM and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Business Administration, from Carnegie Mellon University.

Wayne Bennett headshot

Wayne Bennett, SVP of retail, ECRM


Brandon Leong, SVP of marketing and growth, RangeMe


Combined, ECRM and RangeMe have created private brand sourcing campaigns for retailers such as CVS, Kroger, Lidl, Petco, PetSmart, Walgreens and Walmart — and Bennett and Leong have been there to see it through in leadership positions.

Brandon Leong headshot

To help its retailer partners source, the two technology platforms integrated to build out virtual meeting spaces that enabled suppliers and retail buyers engage in growing store brand assortments.

At ECRM, Bennett developed and implemented ECRM business solutions to help large national food, drug and mass market retailers achieve category growth goals. He’s been in the industry a long time, including as the group publisher of Drug Store News for 21 years, a publication of EnsembleIQ, the owner of Store Brands.

Leong offers more of a blend of CPG industry experience and time working with high-growth technology start-ups. He has held senior marketing roles for over a decade, most recently at the retail analytics company Quri and, before that, Aria Systems. At RangeMe, Leong leads a marketing team that oversees the platform that streamlines product discovery for more than 15,000 category buyers over 200,000 product suppliers.

Katie Hotze headshot

Katie Hotze, CEO and founder, Grocery Shopii


Founding Grocery Shopii in 2019, Hotze has made the Charlotte-based startup a player in leveraging machine learning to fuel online grocery shopping. On the private brand side, she helps map private brand products into shoppable recipe content that is integrated with the retailer’s basket.

The tech is a white-label platform that floods the shopping experience with recipes sourced from and including private brands as well as food bloggers, all which can be added to a shopper’s cart instantly. Promoting private label within shoppable recipe content generates significant growth opportunities for retailers as they push higher margin product while reducing the total cost of each recipe for the shopper, the company said. It also gives the retailer power to fill carts with store brand products that may be overlooked by shoppers.

Hotze makes all this happen with more than 20 years of experience in digital marketing, data analytics and strategy. She has been named a RIS Top 10 Women in Grocery Tech, a publication of EnsembleIQ.

Yasen Dimitrov headshot

Yasen Dimitrov, co-founder and chief analytics officer, Intelligence Node


Dimitrov works with retailers around the globe to help them see and understand pricing on competitive store brand items, driving the Intelligence Node Product Matching solution that dynamically compares own brand product matches via machine learning and a patented engine at Intelligence Node.

Dimitrov developed the design of the product-matching solution, which is providing some of the largest global retailers with a scalable process of creating and dynamically maintaining private brand matches among competitors and across categories. For example, the solution in apparel uses
image analytics to understand clothing patterns, designs, even collar and sleeve size, to create a similar match to a competitor’s product.

Dimitrov helped found the company that maps more than 1 billion unique products across 190,000 brands for more than 1,400 categories across 100-plus languages every minute. Intelligence Node has worked with retailers like Lidl, John Lewis and Li & Fung. Previously, he was a practice leader at the Boston Consulting Group in the London office, where he was responsible for delivering strategic planning projects to leading financial institutions.

Frank Pica headshot

Frank Pica, CEO and co-founder,


Pica, co-founder and CEO of, has a deep knowledge of AI, having been a founding member of AI marketing platform LockerDome. He previously served as advisor to web-based 3D and AR solution provider for eCommerce at Vertebrae Inc, which was acquired by Snapchat.

With Native, he and his team use AI-powered solutions to democratize consumer data, allowing private brands to better understand their consumer — and ultimately better optimize product development, consumer experience, marketing and more.

With Native’s AI solutions, private label brands can learn more about their customers and competitively market to optimize SKU rationalization, product quality and price to strengthen their overall strategy. Native also leverages the latest in smart QR code technology to gain an in-depth understanding of a consumer’s identity and how they interact with the product. QR codes create a digital footprint at the point of scan that helps brands track their success against different variables and provide customers a more personalized experience that creates higher margins and cost-savings.

Andrew Criezis headshot

Andrew Criezis, SVP and general manager of small and medium business operations, NielsenIQ


As a leader behind NielsenIQ’s small and medium business operations (SMB), leading the consumer behavior-tracking company’s private label data activity, Criezis and NeilsenIQ aim
to give clients a forward-looking view into ever-changing customer behaviors to optimize retail performance.

Criezis is an expert in CPG, retail and brand analytics and revenue generation, which manifests as SMB NielsenIQ’s platform Byzzer. The platform uses product coding for private label data to
enable private label brands to measure performance in specific retailers as well as across channels. Buzzer aims to provide transparency to look at branded items and compare side by side with private label counterparts. The system was launched in 2020 with Criezis as its chief product officer, showcasing his experience.

Paul Woodward headshot

Paul Woodward, senior director of retail brand solutions, Oracle


Woodward is no stranger to private label. In 1995, he founded the world’s first private label management solution with British chain Tesco, and now at Oracle provides retailers with a complete and integrated suite of business applications, cloud services and more to empower commerce and store brands.

For 27 years, Woodward has led Oracle’s private label initiatives in the United Kingdom, including market development, product design, consulting and more. Today, Oracle’s solution is used by major grocery retailers in collaboration with 250,000 suppliers annually, spanning 90% of private label products in the U.K. Woodward has worked with some of the very best in the private label market, and from these collaborations, Oracle has developed a technology platform to support the product development lifecycle, labeling compliance, environmental assessments, ethical practices, quality and incident management.

The company called the solution that Woodward founded the “most successful private label management solution for nearly three decades.”

Sean Byrnes headshot

Sean Byrnes, co-founder and CEO, Outlier


Led by CEO and co-founder Byrnes, Oakland-based aims to help marketers, data analysts and supply chain operators across several sectors, including retail, identify unexpected
changes across business data. Using advanced AI and machine learning algorithms, Outlier enables data storytelling by automatically providing customers with contextual information on behavioral data changes, related data and potential impact.

The company’s resume includes private label success with a private label home brand. The retailer’s bath and beauty marketing team was notified by Outlier when candle sales exceeded the expected sales volume. The AI platform automatically found this insight and helped direct the marketing team toward a specific category of offerings that could bring in new revenue. As a result, the brand was able to quickly launch marketing campaigns to promote candles and leverage this positive change in customer behavior.

James Butcher headshot

James Butcher, CEO, Solutions for Retail Brands (S4RB)


Butcher joined Solutions for Retail Brands (S4RB) in 2012 and has transformed the way that retail private brand teams work with their suppliers. S4RB clients include major players in private label such as ASDA, Walmart, Walgreens-Boots and more. S4RB’s platform enables data-driven and people-centric tools to align suppliers with brand strategy to achieve change and private brand transformation.

Butcher has been an advocate of supplier engagement, empowering suppliers to work with retail private label teams as ‘one,’ which S4RB calls a ‘win-win’ relationship that ensures more efficient, consistent success for private label brands compared to more traditional supplier relationship management methods.

Melissa Zavislak

Melissa Zavislak, senior director of retail and destinations, Shopkick


Shopkick’s retail operations are led by Zavislak, who joined the company last year to serve as senior director of retail and destinations. Prior to joining Shopkick, she spent six years in private
label at Niagara Bottling. Shopkick is a leading shopping rewards app that uses a pay-for-performance model that is designed to deliver high ROI while driving traffic, product engagement and sales, with high-profile clients such as Kraft-Heinz, Barilla, Kellogg’s and Unilever.

Shopkick is a mobile advertising platform that can boost private label sales without eroding brand margins. As a leading omnichannel retail marketing solution that drives incremental foot traffic, brand engagement, and sales throughout the entire shopping journey, Shopkick can help retailers convert short-term trials of private brand products into long-term customer loyalty by establishing strategies to cement new consumer shopping habits in the digital & physical world. Zavislak is responsible for amplifying Shopkick’s partnership strategy across the channels.

Sonia Parekh headshot

Sonia Parekh, head of client engagement, Symphony RetailAI


Parekh has served as Symphony RetailAI’s vice president of client engagement since 2019, helping clients use a data-driven approach to improving private brand strategy, customer analytics and more. The company is a leading provider of AI-powered growth management solutions for retailers and CPG manufacturers, including private label, working with more than 1,200 organizations worldwide including 15 of the top 25 grocery retailers.

Parekh has more than 25 years of experience in retail, management consulting and technology, and has served in executive roles with Deloitte, Kalypso, Boomerang Commerce and more. She directly supports the own brands team at a major national grocery chain to identify private label opportunities to guide the launch of new own brand offerings.

Using Symphony RetailAI’s technology, Parekh helps the team measure the impact of new private label items, gain insights into shopper loyalty for own brands versus national brands, learn which shoppers buy one or the other exclusively, and which shoppers are likely to consider switching from national brands to own brands.

Julie Companey headshot

Julie Companey, director of client sales, enterprise sales, grocery channel, Vericast


Companey leads Vericast’s private label strategy, working with retail clients on growing market share by promoting the quality, assortment and diversity of private brands, along with expanding
private brand marketing to incorporate traditional and digital media.

Vericast, a marketing solutions firm, works with over 70,000 brands and businesses using award-winning technologies. Companey has more than 25 years of experience in the grocery channel
industry, including 15 years working for data and media suppliers to grocery, drug, mass and dollar channels. Using her experience, Companey recommends retailers capitalize on private brand growth by promoting private brands in weekly print and digital circulars, coupons, direct mail and digital media efforts that help drive in-store or online traffic.

She also shares with grocery retailers the trends in coupon redemption and new product launches that have been successful for retailers who incorporate an omnichannel private brand media plan.