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03/15/2022

Q&A: PLMA gears up for Global event

Store Brands sat down with PLMA vice president Anthony Aloia to discuss the state of the industry leading to the PLMA Global online event, taking place March 28-31.
Zachary Russell
Associate Editor
Zachary Russell profile picture

Following the pandemic-related cancellations of both its Chicago and Amsterdam trade shows, the Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) is gearing up to host its PLMA Global event. The virtual trade show will feature buyers and exhibitors from both shows, giving the private label industry a unique networking opportunity.

Members participate in PLMA Global via a digital booth that showcases their products, promotional videos, downloadable files, company details, and more. Video conferencing tools, a meeting scheduler, and other digital features allow exhibitors to fully engage in a virtual environment. 

“The platform will support the connection between PLMA member-exhibitors and store brand buyers representing leading supermarkets, drug chains, mass merchandisers, supercenters, specialty retailers, dollar stores, club stores, convenience stores and other formats,” said Peggy Davies, president of PLMA.

In preparation for the March 28-31 virtual event, Store Brands spoke with Anthony Aloia, corporate vice president of PLMA, about what PLMA Global has to offer this year.

Q: Anthony, let's start here: Why PLMA Global?

 

The simple answer is Covid-19. However, the deeper reason for PLMA Global is because right in front of us, store brands may very well be looking at an historic period of opportunity for growth, one that requires more intensive and more frequent conversation among retailers and all of their store supply partners.

The pandemic has produced a confluence of challenging conditions that will dictate consumer behavior and shopping habits over the next decade, if not longer, and retailers who strategically emphasize their own brands will have a competitive advantage in building consumer loyalty and thriving.

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Anthony Aloia headshot
Anthony Aloia, VP of PLMA

As the world endured lockdowns, employees worked from home, and governments were forced into unprecedented monetary policies, the demand for goods and services surged. Today, supply chains are strained, and brick-and-mortar store shelves are seeing the effects with out of stocks. 

Inflation is at a 40-year high and consumers are watching home energy prices go through the roof. Nationwide economic challenges – such as inflation -- almost always favor store brands as shoppers double-down in their search for maximum value without sacrificing quality as they provide for their families.

Quality, innovation and the cost of goods will always be attributes that retailers prize in their store brand supplier partners, but right now product availability, continuity and on-time delivery are at the top of the list.

Q: What other marketplace factors add value to participation in PLMA Global?

 

Another reason for a steady and direct line of communication between retailers and suppliers – the kind we will be providing at PLMA Global -- is the expansion of online shopping. It’s the new normal for many consumers today, compelling retailers and suppliers to adapt accordingly by developing an array of new home delivery services and curbside pick-up solutions. In addition, many new eCommerce companies are crowding the retail landscape and going to market with a private label first strategy. 

Our online show is the perfect place where agile suppliers and innovative retailers can partner together and develop successful store brand programs across all product categories and continue to gain/build market share. 

And to be sure, store brands are on the right track for growth. We just received the first 2022 numbers from our partner, IRI. Store brand sales picked up in January where they left off at the end of last year, as the products grew by 4.2% in dollar volume across all U.S. retailing channels compared to the same period in 2021. The increase was nearly equal to national brands’ sales improvement of 4.4%, according to data exclusively provided to PLMA by IRI. 

Last year was a roller coaster ride for store brands. Sales were up, then down, but they finished strong, with gains averaging in the 5% range over the last five months. So, following the outlier numbers in 2020, when private label grew a record 12%, store brands appear to be back on track.

In 2018 and 2019, for example, store brands annual improvements in dollar sales were 5% and 6.2%, respectively. IRI Unify, which provides PLMA members and retailers with comprehensive monthly updates on store brand sales at plma.com, tells us that store brands now represent a $200 billion piece of business in the U.S.

With that kind of growth, PLMA Global is the right event at the right time to bring all players in the private brands industry together – existing partners, prospective ones and former ones.

Q: Can you tell us what else you're emphasizing at the online show?

 

To promote PLMA Global, we are putting a bullseye on product attributes, as they are more important than ever to consumers. It’s something we are stressing on the platform format where exhibitors can specify any number of product attributes they can deliver for their retailer customers.

A recent Hartman Group report found that U.S. consumers show a widespread, culturally driven reduced reliance on “brand” as an important factor in product selection in favor of increased attention given to attributes (e.g., ingredients, other information). This new attribute-driven selection process can be used by brands to construct a deeper loyalty once consumers have vetted a brand for the set of attributes they seek. Hartman sees this process encouraging shoppers to return to the same brand because they know it will consistently deliver on their expectations.

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grocery shopping

What does all this mean for store brands? In a nutshell, a way for suppliers to differentiate themselves and put their best foot forward with buyers. Retailers know that what’s inside and what's not inside their store brand product – both food and non-food – can give it an edge in today’s crowded marketplace.

Increasingly, today’s well-informed consumers have their eyes peeled on product profiles featuring vague acronyms such as GMO, HFCS, ABV as well as those heralding more familiar attributes such as vegan, vegetarian, clean, plant-based, sustainable, sugar-free, low-fat, and more. 

Not to mention their growing interest in diverse taste and ingredients. And when it comes to packaging, shoppers are drawn to features such as stackable, easy closure, aseptic, single pack, clear graphics, biodegradable and more.

Shoppers want consumer goods that meet their very specific health and wellness needs and aspirations, a trend that was exacerbated by the pandemic experience, and they’re finding and purchasing these goods by searching for very specific product attributes. One survey found that nearly half of U.S. consumers adhere to a particular diet.

Product searches – whether online or in the store -- are only going to get more specific. Consumers today are long on information and short on time. They’re poised to purchase products with the tap of a finger—as long as they can easily tell that it’s exactly what they’re looking for.

Q: More specifically, how does PLMA Global serve today's retailers and suppliers?

 

The exhibitors participating in PLMA Global represent thousands of diverse products from food, snacks, beverages to health and beauty, household, and pet. These are experienced private label companies from the U.S. and Canada, Europe, and Asia. 

Our online platform will emphasize product attributes throughout the discovery process and the search functionality has been modified to include sourcing for exhibitors by keywords, attributes, as I have mentioned, and social concerns. Retailers must continue to adjust to consumer demand for more health and dietetic products and action on social matters like sustainability. 

Aggregated search queries from our previously held Private Label Week Program revealed retail buyers focused on product attributes, such as vegan or gluten-free or organics as well as social concerns such as eco-friendly packaging.

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online grocery shopping

Q: What are some of the most important platform features?

 

We want to provide buyers the necessary tools to streamline the online sourcing process and to maximize their time efficiently; therefore, buyers will be able to schedule video call appointments in advance with exhibiting companies. 

The PLMA Global platform, which will be available 24 hours each day, includes an appointment calendar for each individual visitor allowing for meetings to be set-up accordingly. During video calls, participants can share screens for further collaboration and send documents to each other through the platform.

The event program also calls for a show floor Preview Day for Buyers on Monday, March 28 to enable them to find and tag preferred exhibitors and schedule appointments. Exhibitors will be staffing their booths from March 29 -31. 

In addition, the video call functionality has been upgraded allowing users to invite others to participate in a group video meeting. Now entire teams of buyers and sellers can be on one secure video conference call. 

Buyers can connect directly one-on-one with online exhibitors too. Visitors and suppliers may exchange virtual business cards and communicate by e-mail messaging as well.

Q: Finally, how will exhibitors be able to showcase themselves on the platform?

 

Trade shows are all about products and people and these elements are at the very core of an online booth on the PLMA Global platform. Products are front and center of each booth, where four separate items can be featured in landscape photo configurations. Extensive product descriptions highlighting attributes and ingredients accompanies each displayed product.

Company personnel are also prominently featured within the digital space. Up to nine people may staff the booth and new for this year is the ability to upload headshots for each person. Personnel will be listed with job titles and identified as ‘online’ when logged-in to the Show. Including photos of exhibiting staff and marking who is ‘online’ and ‘offline’ makes the booth and show floor much more dynamic.

In addition, exhibitors can present within the online booth up to four corporate videos showcasing their products, company, or manufacturing capabilities as well as sharing material for download such as brochures and catalogs.

With all these features it’s no surprise that we’ve themed the show: Connecting the private label industry. We believe that during the last four days of March, our platform will become the digital hub of the retailer brands business.

 

For any questions regarding PLMA Global, contact PLMA at +1 (212) 972-3131 or [email protected].