Private Label Week day 1 keynote: Bill Simon says the economy needs private brands

Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
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Retailers and private label manufacturers are expected to play a big part when it comes to refueling the United States economy, according to Bill Simon, former president and CEO of Walmart U.S., during his morning keynote address for the first day of PLMA Live! Presents Private Label Week.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on unforeseen strain to the U.S. economy, Simon stressed the importance of a consumer-driven economy to get things back on track, and as retailers go, consumers go.

Bill Simon

“You have to recover, and you have to do well, in order for the consumer to do well,” Simon said. “It’s a big responsibility. It really is. How you go, is going to be how the consumer goes, and how the consumer goes is going to be how our national economy goes.”

Simon did say that private brands have “been on a tear,” and that he was glad to be speaking to the “best of the best,” but he suggested some areas of focus as retailers and manufacturers look to build back the economy.

For one, he said manufacturers and retailers, if they’re in a position to do so, should add capacity, add jobs and take risks. “You’re a consumer trend and a job machine,” he said.

He noted that taking risks comes with failure, noting that in his career he was part of a well-documented failure in the rollout of Crystal Pepsi. But successes too, such as Walmart’s $4 generic prescription programs that helped lower the cost of medicines.

Simon also said that private brands are more on-trend than branded products because consumers are moving away from buying brands as a badge. He said the industry is in a strong position to succeed.

From the perspective of his Walmart experience, Simon commented on the rise of e-commerce during the pandemic. COVID-19 has accelerated online shopping and he expects it to stick, but that he’s always seen e-commerce eventually representing around 20% of retail and believes that remains the magic number. This will change by category, too, but it’s just happening sooner so manufacturers are best to understand packaging and fulfillment as e-commerce progresses.

The first day of Private Label Week was dedicated to home and household products and included sessions from PLMA hosts showcasing some key new private brands in the category. 

In one on-demand session, citing statistics from Nielsen, it was noted that in the middle of 2020, bath and shower wipes were up 180% in dollar sales, year over year. The session also highlighted three key products to enter the category: Kirkland Signature’s moist flushable wipes that use 100% plant-based materials; Target’s Ever Spring household clean line of cleaning products made with traceable clean ingredients; and Berkeley Jensen’s laundry detergent. The session played retailer ads dedicated to the new products.


Another session, a virtual representation of PLMA’s Idea Supermarket, highlighted new products including the Simply Great disposable foil line from Weis Markets. With cooking and baking up during the pandemic, it’s a quick clean-up option.

Other products showcased were: Natural Grocers’ line of organic pet stain removers, detergents and cleaners. The lineup of products are all in eco-conscious packaging as well.

Smart & Final’s First Street brand of in-wash scent boosters, as well as its other liquid detergents in large sizes and value prizes, all under First Street, and Williams Sonoma's luxury dish and hand soaps. 

In addition to those household reports, the first day of the virtual event included a closer look at paper, plastic, foils and wraps, and kitchenware and pet products. All sessions are on-demand for attendees of the show at