Rising Stars in Private Label 2020

Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
Dan Ochwat profile picture

If the 45 names listed here are any indication, the private brands industry has a bright future.

In June, Store Brands put out a call for nominees to be considered for its first Rising Stars feature — think of it as a traditional 40 under 40 listing. Only we couldn’t help but go over 40 and there are a few people teetering over 40 years old, but it’s never been about age anyway. It’s about shining a light on future leaders of the industry looking to push the private brands industry further ahead. The nominees listed below work at world class retailers, agencies and private label manufacturers. Here is the first class of rising stars:


Leo Nucera, sales and marketing director, Agritalia
Agritalia’s been a leader in Italian food products in private label for more than 25 years and Nucera is fresh in his role as its sales director, taking the post over a year ago. His biggest challenge: He jumped right into seeing through a complex project that saw automatic replenishment in its U.S. supply chain system. Sticking with logistics, Nucera also has become an educational leader in the industry. Nucera and his team are working with several universities around the world to benchmark a better and cleaner solution for logistics management. “This is the best part of my job, to be on a permanent trip around the world travelling and searching for the correct answers regarding tradition and authenticity but also trying to understand what the consumer of tomorrow is interested in,” Nucera said.


Robert Bishop, senior sales development manager, own brands, Albertsons
Bishop is a key sales liaison between suppliers, the self-manufacturing team and innovation teams that create promotional plans to bring the retailer’s own brands to life. Notably, Bishop was a key figure in the development of Albertsons’ promotional management process and integrating the own brands sales planning process into a new enterprise-wide promotional planning tool. This year, he also held the reins of the very complex store brand holiday program. He said he sees Albertsons private brand business growing faster than ever due to brand consolidation opportunities in categories where national brand loyalty is low or where switching is high.


Katherine Chin, senior director, own brands sourcing, Albertsons
A true leader in the retailer’s supply chain, Chin oversees the sourcing and supply chain operations for all of own brands, more than 10,000 SKUs across 800 categories, representing a quarter of the company’s sales. This is a huge responsibility and one that was at risk when the coronavirus pandemic took shape. Chin, however, spearheaded the creation of the Own Brands Operations Command Center, establishing protocols for staff and suppliers, continuing a flow of communication and managing order amid chaos.


Elizabeth Guthrie, director, own brands innovation, Albertsons
Staring down the general merchandise, pet care and home care innovation brands for Albertsons, Guthrie is leading a team of 18 people that are responsible for a portfolio worth $900 million that produces more than 1,500 SKUs across 150 categories, and has generated a 45% bump in year-over-year sales. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, home goods have been vital — paper goods, hand sanitizers, wipes, etc., and Guthrie helped identify and set up more than 200 new suppliers for own brands in record time and helped set up more than 100 control brands all in an effort to ensure products got out to consumers and generated a significant increase in sales. “Our lifestyle brands such as Open Nature and O Organics will play a pivotal role in our growth as we identify emerging trends and consumer needs states,” she said.


Christina Hudson, sales development manager, Albertsons
In her role, Hudson helped initiate a complete overhaul of the communication process around innovation for the Albertsons’ own brands team. She worked tirelessly to ensure that the communication being shared out provided the right information for all divisions, which streamlined the on-shelf distribution process. Additionally, she developed an internal dashboard that tracks the status of all innovation from initial concept to distribution at shelf. She said she loves being on the front line of the innovation around own brands.


Jenna Huynh, product development technologist, Albertsons
While early in her career, Huynh has already demonstrated tremendous skill as a food technologist for the retailer. In one project, under very aggressive timelines, Huynh approved 45 SKUs of rice and rice-blend products that included onboarding a new supplier, which involved three manufacturing sites. The approval process included validating cooking instructions, reviewing specifications, confirming quality attributes and much more. Within the year, the new supplier went out of business and Huynh worked aggressively to ensure the products were available. She said she’s proud of the company’s initiatives toward responsible sourcing in seafood, fair trade coffee and more. “I’m looking forward to supporting future pledges related to sustainability as well.”


Jessica Sakino, sourcing manager, Albertsons
A young rising star under 30 years old, Sakino already is making a mark as an educator in the field. For one, Sakino leads the company’s 2020 Summer Internship program for the own brands sourcing department. The program could’ve been canceled during the virus but she has managed to build out a hybrid model that included work-from-home training and some socially distanced training in the office. Sakino is a mentor to new hires in the company, too, connecting with new hires, training them, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. During her time, the company’s rate of converting interns into new hires is up more than 50% over the last 3 years.


Joren Salazar, product development, Albertsons
Salazar uses his food science background to develop product prototypes within dairy manufacturing for Albertsons’ own brands, and he’s been able to scale-up new dairy and nondairy products to energize a static dairy category. At the retailer, Salazar has met —  and at times surpassed — milestones within the new product development process such as sourcing and qualifying new ingredients, developing approved prototypes, overseeing production trials, creating specifications, and approving production of several new items. And he’s seeing the products on shelves. “When I worked at a traditional food CPG company I never saw the products I worked on commercialize,” he said. “Within a year at own brands, I spent long hours scaling up over 30 of my products at our plants, which all ended up on our store shelves.”


Cristina Roure, managing director, Altex USA
One of the Rising Stars to be nominated by multiple people, Roure has helped develop private label programs at H-E-B, Trader Joe’s, Meijer, Ahold Delhaize, Sprouts Farmers Market, Costco and more. Altex USA produces a range of canned fruit, jams, tuna and frozen goods, among other categories. Roure described Altex as one of the most reliable allies in the food and private brand industry, and she’s looking forward venturing further into e-commerce, digital resources, AI, food retailing and how food is changing worldwide. “More than ever, how food is grown, how food is consumed, who is consuming it and how much food waste is generated, are questions that will need to be answered along the supply chain cycles,” she said. “We need to work closer to develop healthy, sustainable, efficient and functional products so consumers can benefit from all these changes. My goal is to be part of this change.”


Erin Shulman, Amazon private brands senior product manager, Amazon
Over the last few years, Shulman has been driving store brands in e-commerce, recently with Thrive Market, where she sourced and managed private brands for the platform and now with Amazon. Looking ahead, she said Amazon is always looking for ways to develop new private brands products to innovate on behalf of its customers. “I think you’ll see us continue to grow our private brands across consumable categories,” she said. “We’ll continue to listen to customer feedback to hear what they like, what they don’t like, and where we can improve the customer experience even further. In the store brands industry, I’m most excited about driving category growth through new product innovation. My passion is learning which specific attributes best serve our customers and developing high quality products that will gain their trust and loyalty.”


Michael Collins, regional retail sales manager, Atalanta
Collins has been working in private brands for more than 10 years with Wakefern Food’s in-house brokerage and now as a sales manager at Atalanta helping launch store brand items at Publix, Winn Dixie, The Fresh Market and Ingles Markets. He recently launched imported private label deli products at retailers amid the rise in tariffs, including a get of the “king of cheese,” a store brand version of Parmigiano Reggiano to more 2,000 stores in the southeast. “I take great pride in partnering with retailers to bring international delicacies to supermarket shelves under trusted store brands,” Collins said. “As private label brands continue to gain market share, my organization is continuously seeking opportunities to partner with retailers to supply unique products from over 60 countries and is striving to be a part of every food experience.”


Salvatore Russo Tiesi, general manager and director, Bono USA
Growing up, Russo Tiesi helped out his Sicilian-born father’s family Italian food importing business, and right out of college had a drive to make the Bono Extra Virgin Olive Oil product into a top-selling, premium EVOO in the United States. He got the brand into Whole Foods, Sprouts Farmers Market and more, and banked it into seven regional retailers and two national retailers for private label. The product is in 5,000 stores in all 50 states and the private label business went from nothing to more than $10 million a year annually, seeing sales grow by 25% year over year. Russo Tiesi said he fully expects Bono’s private brand sales to steadily increase, too. “Consumers are looking for all-natural, clean products,” he said. “Due to their high-quality, traceability and great value, Italian food products’ sales continue to surge in supermarkets across the United States. As someone who aims to provide guidance and understands the supply chain from start to finish, I’m proud to be an integral resource for retailers nationwide.”


Katie Burkhardt, senior manager, brand and marketing strategy, Daymon
Burkhardt said she is excited by store brands that invest in a distinct identity and benefits-driven messaging. This is not a surprise, knowing that her role is to look closely at how store brands measure up against national brands and to provide expertise to retailers on how to structure and market their private brands and portfolios. Recently, she did just that for an international retailer with more than 15 brands, across multiple banners and a shifting business strategy. Burkhardt delivered an assessment of the entire private brand program, the development of a new portfolio architecture — including recommendations for brand additions and consolidations, and the creation of thorough brand manuals for each of the brands.


Joelle Dove, senior business manager and account lead, Daymon
For the past four years, Dove has been accelerating private brand growth at Big Lots, a retailer that has made very clear strides in its private brand portfolio over those four years. In fact, over the last two, the retailer has seen double-digit growth in its store brands business. For Big Lots, Dove implemented and leads a mutually agreed upon strategic roadmap to grow the private brand business, introducing strategic pillars and objectives that are reviewed quarterly. When asked what excites her about the industry, Dove encapsulated it nicely: “I am excited by private brands' ability to create differentiation for retailers. To me, more than anything else a retailer could sell on their shelves, private brand is a promise from the retailer to the customer saying, ‘I want good for you and your family through our brand.’”


Lacy Dowers, senior manager of business analysis, Daymon
Climbing the ladder at Daymon for 14 years, from customer service to her current role in business insight, Dowers has worked with every Daymon customer field (28 in all). Her passion lies in analytics. She understands that driving efficiencies the correct way will not only save time but create more accurate output. “We know private brand is no longer a black-and-white label located on the bottom of store shelves,” she said. “Its image has changed and innovation is taking place. Now consumers are looking at store brands and not seeing generic, but instead viewing it as another brand on shelf. Same quality, lower price.”


Sarah Fair, senior director of account management, Daymon
Part of the Daymon Creative Services team, Fair has helped modernize the agency’s capabilities and services, helping its retail clients get products to market faster and helping retailers and manufacturers control costs. In fact, her understanding of design has seen a 37% increase in speed to market, and on the packaging side, her efforts helped Daymon’s partners save more than 25% in packaging costs, compared year over year. Fair said Daymon will continue to use its experience to help clients forge new paths for private brands, “getting the right products with the right branding in consumer hands faster.”


Lindsey Lombard, director of marketing, Daymon
Celebrating 15 years with Daymon, Lombard has partnered with best-in-class retailers such as Harris Teeter, Wegmans and CVS Pharmacy to develop holistic marketing programs. In one case she managed a portfolio of more than 3,000 SKUs that underwent a massive redesign, navigating the shift from old to new that saw a sales lift as high as 15% in some product cases. She also notably helped develop the first Ambassador Program for Harris Teeter, inviting associates to sample items and empower them to be advocates for store brands in-store and engage with shoppers. Lombard calls herself “a bit of an evangelist” for the store brands industry and she has her sights on the future, where AI and predictive analytics are impacting recipe building and shopping cart management. She wants to make sure as retail in general moves to a more digital platform that store brands aren’t left in the dust.


Danielle McCormick, account manager, Daymon
McCormick assumed responsibility for Daymon’s packaging management business just over a year ago and has already generated impressive results, seeing the division exceed revenue targets by 23%. McCormick understands shifts in purchasing trends, new printing technologies and strategies and helped launch new services for clients like sample boxes, store kits for in-store merchandising support, custom-cut pressure sensitive labels, in-store displays, sustainable solutions, and international sourcing. McCormick offered contemporary solutions for common packaging problems, delivering the largest revenue volume for the department in four years and doubled new business revenue versus 2018.


Andrew Moberly, director of category strategy for fresh, Daymon
Moberly has dedicated his career to private brands, first as a business manager at Ahold Delhaize and then Wegmans. At Daymon, he oversees the execution of the fresh category and his expertise is well known, often getting him meetings with senior-level executives in the industry. Moberly’s expertise runs deep, too, spanning the supply chain complexities to best practices for in-store execution. To share his knowledge, he developed the Daymon Fresh Expert program to train associates, training more than 100 associates in the last three years on fresh meat to seafood harvesting to produce picking seasons.


Kerry Oelze, senior analyst for insights, Daymon
An analytics master, internally at Daymon, Oelze is a key point of contact for everyone in the organization when it comes to the agency’s proprietary private brand dashboard portal. She manages one-on-one training sessions and educates associates on the portal, which is designed as a place for all Daymon associates to go for quick business answers on brands and more. The portal has more than 300 dashboards on retailers, with insights and benchmarks, a store brand haven of information. Her work fuels Daymon field teams daily. Oelze said she’s most excited that the store brand industry offers “many data-generating avenues, and it’s prime for analysis and visualization.” She added: “Translating data into visualizations that provide quick insights helps all Daymon associates and supports innovation and growth for all Daymon customers.”


Cassie Peltzer, sourcing manager for fresh, Daymon
An expert in sourcing for the fresh category, Peltzer provides high-quality sourcing solutions for Daymon’s retail partners. She served a pivotal role in building Daymon’s proprietary Supplier Database, reviewing the mechanics of the database, and helping to lay out the right vision for the platform. “I see Daymon’s private brand business offering more digital and e-commerce oriented services in the future,” she said. “For private brands, there needs to be engagement with consumers in other ways so that when they do step into a store or order online, they are seeking out unique, differentiated private brand products that delight and excite the consumer.”


Jean Ryan, senior director, brand strategy and design, Daymon
Ryan’s strengths in both brand strategy and design helped lead to a newly created role for her and she used those skills to help develop a strategic planning approach that has helped dozens of retailers engineer a plan and successfully drive their private brand growth. The process drove stronger brand connections with consumers, and a 15% average sales growth. Ryan said that as part of its 50th anniversary, Daymon has been doing a lot of reflecting on how much private brands have changed and where the industry will go. “One of the big things we’ve learned in shaping this space is that it can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to private brands — every retailer is different, and their programs should reflect this.”


Brittney Pickering, national private brands sales manager, Gold Medal Bakery
A high-quality bread manufacturer for more than 100 years, Gold Medal takes pride in its private label offerings. Pickering said the private brands are more popular than ever and she expects that trend to continue. At Gold Medal, she actually created a role within her team to be the liaison of the company’s private brand program and its mutual larger goals. “Private brands are no longer just a price play,” she said. “They are evolving. The opportunity to truly engage and use private brands to help customers increase loyalty is exciting.”


Jackie Rogoz, private brand manager, Key Food Stores Co-Op
Over the last two years, Key Food has grown the private brand business by more than 800 items, creating a banner-agnostic private label brand for the full Key Food family of supermarkets. Going forward, that number will expand, especially in the organics assortment. Rogoz has been right there during this growth, modernizing the 80-year-old store brand into its new Urban Meadow form. Her passion for the industry is being part of the constant progression and dynamic challenges, she said. “The most exciting part of our industry is being able to participate in every step of creating a new item — from finding the right vendor to partner with, to creating the packaging, and finally seeing the product in our stores,” Rogoz said. “We began a big marketing push to promote and gain consumer awareness about Urban Meadow being available in our family of supermarkets. The best is yet to come for our store brand.”


Jennifer Vierra, brand marketing manager, Musco Family Olive
In 2019, Vierra stepped into a vacancy at the brand marketing manager position, representing the only one for the family-run company helping to drive its private label olives business and its branded table olives, which makes up more than half the market. Her colleagues at the Tracy, Calif.-based company describe her as vibrant, full of passion, the hardest worker in the room.


Apolline Rillet, retail division manager, Overseas Food Trading
Rillet has built strong relationships with key private label buyers during her time at Overseas, including Kroger, Whole Foods, H-E-B, Sprouts and more. She’s working several categories, too, candy, snacks, holiday and bulk buys. Rillet has become an optimistic leader at the company and across the industry — continually adding to her network of manufacturers globally and how to drive them efficiently.


Colleen Purcell-Kangas, vice president, Purcell International
Another rising star to be nominated by more than one nominator, Purcell, though young, has been involved in the industry for two decades and has deep understanding from logistics to manufacturing. She’s clearly an expert at sourcing — having helped one company develop a line of store brand soups with innovative, healthy ingredients like organic hearts of palm while sourcing directly from the farm and hitting price points without compromise. For another project, she helped a retailer struggling to source pineapple find a quick solution and save money in the process. In categories like tuna, she’s been ahead of offering sustainable solutions.


Gabriel Markowitz, business development account manager, Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services
Markowitz has created several private brand wines for retailers that are on shelves now in top-flight stores. The wines are crafted from Northern California grapes and his innate understanding of trends in the industry has helped create some great wines for retailers and strengthen partnerships to grow further. In one varietal in particular, he’s been able to reach customers of all size to educate & expand opportunities for Méthode Champenoise Sparkling Wine, and he’s established himself as a leader in the Domestic Sparkling market. He has been the bridge for clients seeking to provide these high-quality bubbles to their consumers.


Manveer Sandhu, director of winemaking, Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services
Having risen in the ranks from lab manager to the head of winemaking, Sandhu has put a lot of time in to learn every level of the craft of winemaking, across every department. In his role now, he oversees the team in all aspects of production and is preparing to fill the shoes of the director of the department who is retiring. Sandhu has been stepping up to the challenge admirably.


Brian Albert, senior category manager for private label, Sprouts Farmers Market
In his role, Albert is constantly looking to innovate and improve the retailer’s own brands. He’s involved in sourcing, product development, package design, category management and distribution of those products. Recently he saw through the rollout of Sprouts’ second-through-fourth quarter seasonal product program that included 30 items worth an incremental $3 million. “I love Sprouts and I’m delighted with the innovation we introduce in our stores,” he said. “Whether the items are plant based, organic, gluten free, or any other differentiating trait, our customers and team members often respond with rave reviews.”


Tom Lombardo, category manager for private label, Sprouts Farmers Market
Lombardo brings to the retailer a vast knowledge of key suppliers in the industry and he’s quick to research new private brand suppliers that are capable of producing to the level of the health foods store’s standards. Recently, Lombardo helped develop a new packaged line of private label chocolates, candies and nuts. Part of this process was creating and implementing new packaging, new product standards and an in-depth pricing assessment. “With national brands, we are limited to the assortment they created,” he said. “With private label, we can tweak the taste, texture, appearance, aroma, and many other factors to create products that specifically target Sprouts customers, and, ideally become their favorites.”


Jake Tavello, vice president of stores, Stew Leonard’s
As the nephew of Stew Leonard Jr., Tavello has been around the beloved grocer since the age of 15 — and putting in the work to learn. He’s worked in every department across all Stew Leonard stores. His hands have tossed pizza dough, roasted coffee and cut open a 200-lb. swordfish. While in college, he also spent two summers learning all about store operations. As a full-time team member for four short years, Tavello has been rising through the ranks, including time as a store director at various locations before reaching the role of vice president of stores in June. Tavello has helped drive store openings for a grocer that is more than 60% store brands, and he said that he sees private brands only growing as they seek out the trendiest. “I’m most excited about continuing to offer ‘clean’ products like our Simply Mariana sauce, which is imported from Italy and made with simple ingredients, as well as our Naked line of antibiotic and hormone free meat,” he said.


Emily Krakowski, director of sales and marketing, SunTree Snack Foods
At the nuts and snacks company, Krakowski consistently works to come up with new platforms and ideas for snacking concepts. Recently, for a retailer partner, she helped create a special lineup of flavored almonds. That project required working through labeling parameters, requests and a quick commercialization timeline that she was able to hit on all marks. Josh Sowell, senior vice president and COO of the company, said Krawkowksi is diligent, hard working, creative and insatiable for results. “She takes our own company's interest into mind, but more importantly looks to raise the water level across the retailers with all parties in mind,” he said.


Brittany LaSota, quality assurance manager for regulatory and nutrition, Topco Associates
Leading the regulatory team on all aspects of product labeling for more than 20,000 products procured by Topco, LaSota is a resource for Topco members and suppliers on regulatory, nutrition and quality questions. She keenly interprets regulatory changes and her insights help Topco daily in their businesses. LaSota loves seeing products get developed and ensures the product and packaging is compliant. “If you asked one of my family members, they’d probably tell you I get way too excited when I go to a store and see products that I helped develop on-shelf,” she said, “but I’m proud of the work I do and I am always happy to show it off.”


Parth Patel, program manager, pharmacy, Topco Associates
Parth has spent his career in retail operations and the supply chain, including time spent as a small business owner where he said he witnessed the control that national brands had over retail operations. In his role now, he’s bringing a new way of thinking to develop insights and analytics reporting to how Topco serves insights to its members. In one example, he formulated data into scorecards for members and delivered it right to their inboxes, providing them a glimpse at how various members were executing programs, demonstrating insights they’d never seen before. Topco members appreciated the insight into how they benchmarked against their peers and it became a key part of Topco’s health and wellness programs. “I find it very rewarding to know that my efforts empower regional retailers who service the needs of their communities by providing affordable products,” he said.


Linda Phan, category manager for dairy and frozen, Topco Associates
Phan has been a leader of several own brand projects at Topco, but one that stands out is her work spearheading a line of pizzas under the Crav’n Flavor launch in less than 18 months and seeing it rise to become the most successful frozen pizza program for the company. It’s a brand that thrives on innovation, in pizza flavors or unique frozen appetizers, and Phan knows it. She said it takes her passion for food and the smarts of a category management background to bring innovative products to market. “For own brands to prosper in the ever-changing competitive landscape,” she said, “versatility in approach, product offerings, and execution will be more crucial than ever.”


Josh Rizzo, senior manager of category insights, Topco Associates
Hyper-focused on the business outcome at hand, Rizzo’s command of data enables him to boil down complex information from multiple sources into actionable recommendations for own brand products and retail at large. Recently he played a major role in the expansion of the Crav’n Flavor brand into new grocery categories, using insights for initial scoping of the project to creating a new way to forecast volume potential for each member using the assortment. Rizzo said he loves using data and insights to tell a story that results in improving the overall shopping experience for consumers.


Lisa Smith, business improvement manager, Topco Associates
Smith is a creative thinker with a knack for influencing and inspiring others at Topco. She recently moved into a new role that saw her manage the Topco Product Transparency Initiative, overseeing 10 distinct teams, each tasked with developing a new approach to providing product transparency to Topco associates, members and consumers. She said the program ultimately enabled shoppers to make an informed shopping decision both online by filtering through claims and in-store by reading shelf tags with wellness claims. “Consumers who have specific dietary requirements, or those simply looking to nurture their body with a new lifestyle choice, can shop with ease and efficiency,” she said. “I believe these types of shopping enhancements are more essential than ever before, establishing consumer loyalty and maintaining trust with retailers, while also providing a bit of joy in discovering new products that may add flavor to the daily routine.”


Amber Soucek, senior program analyst, Topco Associates
Prior to Topco, Soucek spent 15 years in the healthcare industry, treating patients with ailments and seeing their struggles firsthand. At Topco, she is part of a team developing products and strategies that help prevent illness, such as executing the Topco flu-shot program. But she adds that Topco has another powerful tool: food. “The work I do helps to make the most commonly sought-after items like organic, plant based, and gluten free, easily accessible and affordable to the majority of consumers,” she said, adding that high prices and being uneducated about the foods are what keep people from eating healthier items. “Learning which items are better for you and how to cook with new, different ingredients can be intimidating, so I am currently working on an exciting project to provide shoppers greater access to dietitians who can help them learn how to eat specifically for their own health conditions, and how to cook new and healthier foods,” she said.


Farrah Tatone, program manager for pharmacy, Topco Associates
With four promotions under her belt in seven years, Tatone is the definition of a riser. In her recent role, she helped lead the Topco Direct Generics Initiative to grow program participants by 275% and saw year-over-year sales increase by nearly 10% during tough coronavirus pandemic conditions. Tatone is driven to continue to help, too. “Given the current state of the economy and the unemployment rate at an all-time high, more consumers will continue moving towards private brand labels, and this presents Topco and its members with an opportunity to thrive,” she said. “Most importantly, because of the work we do, families and communities across the country will have the ability to make ends meet with quality products at affordable prices.”


Seth Nieman, product manager for own brands, Wakefern Food
Nieman leads the center store portfolio of own brands for Wakefern, supporting all of the $17 billion company’s  banners and doing it with exceptional attention to detail. He played an integral role in launching the Bowl & Basket and Paperbird lines, a program that took private brands to new heights at the company. His unyielding commitment to the own brands division and his leading efforts helped further steer the overall own brands portfolio to reach its goal of 25% own brand penetration in-store.


Glenn Figenholtz, group vice president/general merchandise manager for grocery and household, Walgreens
Well-respected within Walgreens, Figenholtz has experience in several departments at the retailer, notably helping accelerate store brand growth and proprietary packaging for the Delish nut line, a private brand cookie assortment and its own brand water. He also led the merchandising and marketing work stream for the Walgreens and Rite Aid integration. In his current role in the grocery and household department, he is driving Walgreens to be a convenience retailer of choice for communities across America, and he loves the white space that own brands present. “Knowing who our customers are and what they want are key to meeting these needs,” he said. “Our category and product development team does an unbelievable job in turning those insights into customer solutions that drive long term loyalty for Walgreens.”


Stefanie Kruse, vice president of digital commerce and omnichannel, Walgreens
Bringing the digital and the physical together, Kruse powers Walgreens’ own brands and national brands into the omnichannel universe. For example, she has driven such initiatives as a national same-day delivery partnership with Postmates and similar programs through Walgreens drive-thru. Kruse said consumers today are more willing than ever to test and trust store brands. “From a digital standpoint — particularly as online shopping is now being widely embraced — this is exciting because it allows us to be more relevant and value oriented in an increasingly competitive marketplace. We can also use our owned brands to test, learn, and experiment, which allows us to add value for consumers in new ways.”


Luke Rauch, vice president of commercial strategy, Walgreens
Rauch oversees Walgreens owned brand commercialization efforts, strategic supplier partnerships, and category and assortment strategy and execution. He’s responsible for the overall strategy for the merchandising organization across the company’s more than 9,200 stores. “I am passionate about offering a stronger and unique value to customers through our store brands portfolio,” Rauch said. “Not just in the traditional sense of price, where private label is just seen as a ‘cheaper’ alternative, but how do we genuinely develop and market new products to improve consumers’ lives, while at the same time not breaking their bank account. During these challenging times more than ever — COVID, joblessness, etc. — private label value will play an even more pronounced role in people’s lives.”


Gregory Heward, chief executive officer, WSD Labs USA
The only CEO on the rising stars list, he may have already risen, but the company leader younger than 40 years old is seeing private brands excel in teeth whitening solutions and hand sanitizer products for the company. For teeth-whitening products, the category is expected to pass $7.4 billion over the next four years and WSD’s retail clients are growing exponentially. “With economic uncertainty on the forefront of people’s minds, offering teeth whitening solutions that give the end user the feeling of youth, health and confidence is incredibly rewarding.” Heward said. “More than ever, people want to take control of their lives through brand ownership and we are proud to be able to offer a low investment, high quality product with an outstanding ROI.”