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Rising Stars in Private Label 2021

From chefs to analysts to product managers, meet who’s growing private brands.
Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
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Last year, Store Brands initiated its first list of Rising Stars, somewhat taking a cue from the traditional “40 under 40” lists that publications often do, but the spirit isn’t about a number but about who’s growing private label, where and how.

The list of leaders here work at retailers, manufacturers and more, impacting store brands in a variety of ways, touching on food development and food science, how brands are marketed, and almost all impacted how the private brands navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Here’s a list of Rising Stars for 2021:

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Daniel Brinckerhoff, senior analyst, strategic sourcing, Albertsons
As the pandemic disrupted the supply chain, Brinckerhoff worked hard to keep Albertsons in stock, tirelessly making calls to suppliers to secure own brands products for hand sanitizer, baby wipes and PPE. He’s a leader within sourcing, handling general merchandise and personal care items for the Own Brands team and plays a critical role in securing competitive pricing and first-to-market innovation.

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Ashley Edwards, product manager, Albertsons
Edwards managed key categories that were impacted by COVID-19, such as vitamins as consumers became more active in preventive care. Edwards fought to keep product stocked and launched products and solutions in stores for people who couldn’t find solutions elsewhere.


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Shea Friesen, senior manager,  Own Brands marketing, Albertsons
Driving store brand success at the retailer through innovative marketing, Friesen played an integral part in the clever Signature Select Soleil summer program — #siptothebeat — leveraging tie-ins with Spotify, Pinterest, Facebook and Buzzfeed to expand the reach. She’s also an own brands champion for Debi Lilly Design, Signature Select products and more.


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Kelsey Guttchen, associate sourcing manager, Albertsons
Responsible for more than $1 billion in spend and working with more than 100 suppliers across the dairy and refrigerated categories, Guttchen serves an instrumental role within the supply network. Among her many roles, she works closely with the self-manufacturing team, optimizing the source or supply in dairy across seven self-owned manufacturing plants and works with teams to source innovation for private brand rollouts in the categories.

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Madison Miller, product manager, Albertsons
Connecting all segments of the Own Brands organization, Miller single-handedly built a repository and training hub for associates and cross-functional partners to engage with and learn from. It’s a one-stop shop for team members to access learning and development modules. She’s also an essential participant in strategy around the meat and seafood department.

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Jeff Stewart, senior product manager, Own Brands, Albertsons
With Albertsons for just over a year, Stewart’s already created new tools for the Own Brands product management team, helping identify product opportunity gaps in private brands and how to forecast new item opportunities. Stewart’s also leading long-term portfolio strategies for paper and pet products.


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Tyler Young, sales manager, AWG Brands, Associated Wholesale Grocers
Rising to a sales manager role in just three short years at the company, Young took on responsibility for one of AWG’s highest priority external ad groups and has thrived. He brought to the project great initiative and inquiry, working to find the best solution for both AWG, AWG Brands, and the retailers he serves. He’s got his hands in many projects, driving the Meals for the Hungry program and led the company in retail acceptance of AWG’s Always Save bakery program.

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Jessica Barada, senior manager, client services, Daymon
Barada’s contributions to Daymon have led to significant expansion in the agency’s client portfolio. Over the past year, she’s been dedicated to integrated national coverage assignments, and analytical and forecasting services. She’s been the point person for working with the associations PLMA and NACDS, and is involved in mentorship programs.

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Matthew Clauson, director, client insights, Daymon 
Clauson leads a team of more than 10 associates, bringing private  brand industry insights to its manufacturer partners and leads  the creation of Daymon’s custom research. During the pandemic he generated timely insights on private label and also conducted three projects with real-time consumer sentiments on private brands.

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Sarah Diamond, associate marketing manager, retail transformation, Daymon
Joining a month before the pandemic began, Diamond stepped right into a role supporting the company’s strategic advisory team to disseminate thought leadership around the pandemic. She also assisted the company’s public relations, supporting the writing of 50 media opportunities, 737,000 impressions and a 26% increase in media placement conversions.

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Reese Hanford, senior business manager, Daymon
A fast riser, Hanford was elevated to his role overseeing the fresh and paper categories in 2021. There, he co-led the creation of an innovation program and is managing one of the largest growth areas for the company.


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Rebecca Pak, business manager, Daymon
Pak has a background in bioscience, bringing a fresh perspective to the food industry. She currently is responsible for coffee and beverage categories, where she’s seeking innovation and emerging manufacturers for the private brand space. In less than a year, she’s presented more than 200 new item proposals for her clients.

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Ripki Patel, senior business manager, Daymon
In her role, Patel manages a multi-million dollar store brand portfolio that supports more than 90 private brands. She’s a data mastermind for the company, and her primary responsibility is to drive a critical link of complexities for a strategic private brand cooperative client partner that has more than 45 retailer members across the country; her work impacts more than 200 business manager associates that are embedded at more than 25 co-op retailer member partners.

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John Politi, senior manager, client services, Daymon
Following a career in foodservice and four years at Price Chopper in store operations, Politi has quickly adapted to private brands and has made immediate impact for eight of Daymon’s center store supplier relationships across North America. Politi’s clients in aggregate outperformed the market by 6.5% and maintained a steady hand on the volatility of the supply chain.

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Autumn Underwood, photography manager, Daymon
Underwood handles a unique role at Daymon, operating as the head of the photography studio required for packaging and marketing materials for the company’s clients, as well as custom photography for clients, recipe videos for private brand websites, and more. She had to create new safety protocols and workflows during COVID-19 and has worked with food banks to donate thousands of pounds of unused perishable and non-perishable items from photo shoots.

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Joey Valdez, senior client manager, Daymon
With 10 years of experience as a frozen foods category buyer in foodservice,  Valdez has transitioned smoothly at Daymon, managing one of the company’s biggest areas of business and seeing solid year-over-year growth in his position. He’s now been promoted to spearhead initiatives across all categories for the company’s largest client.

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Travis Wells, business manager, Daymon
With Daymon for two years, Wells transitioned to the company from nine years working in foodservice. He now manages retail categories that experienced extreme spikes in demand and faced massive supply chain issues from the pandemic. He worked tirelessly with top suppliers and retailers to review key metrics and drive actions that resulted in product being available. Wells also regularly volunteers at his local food bank, homeless shelters and the Boys and Girls Club.

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Collin Wolhar, director, research and development, DiscoverFresh Foods (formerly Duke Foods)
Wolhar began on the second shift of the QA team at Duke Foods, recently rebranding as DiscoverFresh Foods, and has quickly risen the ranks. He earned his food scientist certification while working full time and he’s been a major cog in the development of private brand programs for Lidl, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Kroger and more. An example of attention to detail and flavor, Wolhar spent hundreds of hours on a store brand spinach artichoke dip, perfecting the recipe with outside partners and lab teams.

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Karla Bayona, business development manager, H-E-B
Bayona’s been with H-E-B for eight years after an internship in global sourcing. Recently, she championed a unique line of Iced Tea, Lemonade and Hydration Liquid Water Enhancers in private label, working through a very aggressive timeline. Bayona’s nominator said throughout the process she reiterated H-E-B’s core value proposition and represented the consumer’s voice as if it was her own.

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Angela Montalvo, business development assistant, H-E-B
A recent graduate of the University of Texas, where she studied nutrition and advertising, Montalvo brings unique experience to her role at H-E-B. Like Bayona above, she recently brought several new innovations to the H-E-B store brand program in beverages, driving a line of Iced Tea, Lemonade and Hydration Liquid Water Enhancers. Montalvo helped design packaging, optimize flavor selection and more. Her nominator said, despite her short tenure, she understands the importance of competitive pricing, eye-catching graphics and a compelling value proposition.

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Javier Crespo, director of culinary,The Perfect Bite Co.
Be it Keto-friendly foods, vegetables with bacon, stove-top sauces or skillet meals, Crespo is delivering high-quality products for the frozen category. He’s a chef leading a team of innovators that bring restaurant quality to the frozen section, listening to buyers’ questions and asks and delivering flavor and results.

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Amanda Kennedy, senior manager, brand and marketing strategy, Rouses Markets
Taking on the marketing of Rouses store brands, over the past 18 months, Kennedy has enhanced the design of the store brand labels and researches each product in the portfolio to find a fitting vision to promote them. She’s also developed a strong social media platform for the brands that integrate elements from the marketing and in-store signage program. She rolled out several programs within a tight, eight-week timeline.

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Becca McKenzie, own brands marketing specialist, SpartanNash
Just three years out of receiving a marketing degree from Western Michigan University, McKenzie is making a mark in private brands at SpartanNash, particularly though engaging social and digital marketing programs. She’s also driving cause marketing and opportunities for nonprofit organizations served by the retailer’s Our Family brand.

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Christopher Coradini, category manager, grocery, Own Brands, Wakefern Food
Coradini has launched several categories such as private label baby food in ShopRite, piloted a virtual workshop in the summer on Mexican foods that set the tone for future workshops, manages one of the more successful categories in own brands in salty snacks (up 200% in sales) and helped debut Paperbird Blue, a new household item. In less than 2 years at Wakefern, Coradini is driving major impact in private label at Wakefern.

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Rebecca Montemarano, lead innovation category manager, Own Brands, Wakefern Food
With the private brand team for nearly two years at Wakefern, Montemarano has already moved up into a lead innovation category manager role, helping to get first-to-market own brands on shelves. From September 2020 to May 2021, she helped launch 120 SKUs, generating $5.3 million in sales. Montemarano dedicates herself to innovating, such as learning about restaurant trends in different states, and having meaningful talks with suppliers to uncover exciting ideas.

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Dana Ponczek, senior product development manager II, private brands consumables, Walmart
Ponczek brings to Walmart years of experience as a formulation chemist within the CPG industry, making her, as her nominator said, the “go to” expert in the categories she covers. Ponczek has brought new products to market across OTC, Rx, household and personal care, recently introducing the first store brand insulin for the underinsured customer. She’s also developed private brand categories that haven’t existed previously at Walmart within weight management and performance nutrition and helped new suppliers grow during the pandemic while in charge of PPE items like isopropyl alcohol, disposable gloves and face masks.


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Alan Adato, merchandising and procurement manager, Yesway/Allsup’s
Nominated twice, by two different colleagues, Adato doesn’t quite fit the age profile of a rising star, but he switched careers into food later in life and has only been with Yesway for less than three years. And, in the last 18 months, Adato has launched more than 400 own brand SKUs, working with suppliers of all sizes to bolster the Yesway and newly acquired Allsup’s private brand items. He’s billed as one of the hardest workers in the company, sourcing new own brands and even taking on additional projects such as working with Amazon Lockers.