'Store Brands' names winners of 2017 Best Of...Awards

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'Store Brands' names winners of 2017 Best Of...Awards

By Lawrence Aylward and Carolyn Schierhorn - 11/15/2017

The winning retailers of our “2017 Store Brands Best Of…Awards” reflect the major trends occurring in private brands, from innovation to exclusivity. The winners, whether they are being honored for products, marketing or services, have distinguished themselves.

This year’s recipients represent an array of retailers from across the U.S. They were selected for their respective awards by the Store Brands editorial staff — which based selections on a number of criteria and feedback from industry professionals — for their achievements in the last year (September 2016 through September 2017.

The recipients received their awards on Nov. 13 at a special reception during the Private Label Manufacturer Association’s Private Label Trade Show in Rosemont, Ill.

Without further ado, here are the winners of our “2017 Store Brands Best Of…Awards.”

Store Brands Retail Executive of the Year: Chandra Holt — Sam’s Club

Chandra Holt and members of her private brands team literally combed the globe in 2016 — from visiting olive and tomato farms in Italy to wine orchards in France and to a smokehouse in East Texas — to procure the best ingredients and processing methods to transform Sam’s Club’s store brands.

As vice president of private brands, Holt led the transformation. In April, Sam’s Club and Holt announced the program’s revitalization, which included streamlining 21 previous Sam’s Club private brands, including Simply Right, Bakers & Chefs and Daily Chef into one — Member’s Mark — a 20-year-old brand that Holt says has maintained strong equity.

The line’s overhaul will touch about 1,200 products in food, beverage and general merchandise by the end of 2018. It includes 600 new products — 300 introduced in late 2016 and 2017 and 300 in 2018 — and enhancements to 600 others.

For her efforts, Holt is our Store Brands Retail Executive of the Year.

“It is a huge honor,” says Holt, who joined Sam’s Club in August 2015. “Serving our members with exceptional private brand offerings is very important to me. So knowing that others recognize the behind-the-scenes hard work is a great tribute to my team and our supplier partners.”

There are three- to five-year goals for Member’s Mark. One of them — achieving a 20 percent penetration rate — has already been met.

“The accomplishments my team delivered are some of the biggest highlights of my career so far,” the 37-year-old Holt said. “I know I will always look back and be very proud of how the private label team transformed the Sam’s Club shopping experience for our members.”

Holt says much of the success of the Member’s Mark strategy can be attributed to the unwavering support from senior leadership, including Sam’s Club CEO John Furner, who Holt says funded a new private label team and empowered her and the team to do what needed to be done to change the club warehouse chain’s private brand business.

“Our strategy was created by listening to our members and keeping the members as our focal point, which kept us on track,” Holt says. “We also had great support from our supplier partners.”

Holt was recently promoted to senior vice president of Sam’s Club’s grocery, beverage and tobacco division. Many of the new Member’s Mark items are purchased by buyers in her division.

“You can bet I’ll keep the Member’s Mark momentum going in my new role,” Holt says.

Store Brands Top Innovation Award: Lidl — Preferred Selection

Lidl arrived in the United States in June and has opened 40 stores. The Germany-based retailer, which operates more than 10,000 stores in 28 European countries, offers a 90 percent assortment of private brands — anchored by its Preferred Selection private brand — which is the recipient of the Store Brands Top Innovation Award.

The premium line of products, which includes about 160 SKUs, extends across a number of categories including fresh and packaged meats, charcuterie, cheeses, chocolates, snacks and more. The products are innovative, if not exclusive, the very two things driving differentiation in private brands today. Lidl’s fresh meats include Irish Hereford steaks and packaged meats include prosciutto crudo dry-cured ham. Lidl’s vast line of imported cheeses include manchego and Dutch gouda. Many products in the line have already been honored with awards in U.S. food competitions.

“Preferred Selection allows Lidl to showcase the incredible food diversity and expertise we have gained over decades of operation across Europe,” says Will Harwood, director of communications for Lidl, which has U.S. operations based in Arlington, Va. “Preferred Selection consists predominately of authentic specialty food products sourced from iconic European countries, including Italy, France, Spain and Germany to name a few.”

Harwood says Lidl has a system where it has the flexibility to integrate a country of origin flag directly over the Preferred Selection logo.

“The packaging designs also honor the authentic style and artwork one would typically find on premium products in that country of origin,” he adds. “This not only brings a fun international aspect to the shopping experience in our stores, but also helps shoppers who are looking for products that can elevate recipes or broaden their experience with food.”

One of Lidl’s calling cards is its low prices. Products in the Preferred Selection line are offered at an excellent value.

“We are extremely proud of the incredible partnerships we have developed with local suppliers in all the countries in which we operate,” Harwood says. “We do this by employing an expert network of locally based buyers in each country where Lidl is located. These food experts will travel throughout their countries to meet suppliers, stress test products and ultimately source the best products around. Having these deeply established supplier relationships is part of what helps us deliver our Preferred Selection items at prices significantly lower than anything one typically finds in the market.”

Best New Food Product or Line: Trader Joe's — Cauliflower Pizza Crust

Many consumers today relish cooking at home and freely experiment, often sharing their creations on social media. But modern-day foodies who are innovative in the kitchen also prioritize convenience. Sometimes making a meal component from scratch is just too complicated, difficult or time-consuming.

For those desiring to prepare a homemade gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan pizza, a cauliflower crust is a delicious alternative to a typical flour-based crust. But making a cauliflower crust can be a huge challenge to amateur chefs.

Fortunately, Monrovia, Calif-based Trader Joe’s has come to the rescue with its frozen private brand Cauliflower Pizza Crust, made primarily with cauliflower and corn flour. The product comes in two varieties — organic and gluten-free — in recognition of the two major food trends.

“People are freaking out over this new product,” wrote Julie Pennell in her popular lifestyle blog.

Pennell emphasized in her blog, “Shoppers began noticing the frozen cauliflower crust in stores [the weekend of May 12-13] and have already taken to Instagram to share how much they love it.”

Besides cauliflower and corn flour, the gluten-free product contains water, cornstarch, potato starch, olive oil and sea salt, so it is inherently vegan. Another of the product’s appealing traits is that it is relatively low in calories, Trader Joe’s states on its website. If the frozen crust is divided equally into six slices, each would have 80 calories before the addition of toppings.

For providing a great solution for shoppers who prioritize health and wellness and want to cook but don’t have a lot of time, we have selected Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Pizza Crust as recipient of our Best New
Food Product or Line.

By using plant-based rather than animal-based ingredients, the product resonates with flexitarian consumers who are trying to reduce their meat and dairy consumption as well as with vegans and vegetarians. Similar to the meal kit trend, the Cauliflower Pizza Crust allows less-experienced cooks to easily prepare a delicious hot meal at home.

Priced at $3.99 each, the 10.6-ounce frozen crusts are also inexpensive. Most important, the product satisfies the desire of millennial and other young consumers to engage in the co-creation of something new and different.

Best new Organic Food Product or Line: ShopRite — Wholesome Pantry Organic

Organic is growing in private brands, and Keasbey, N.J.-based retailer ShopRite is helping to lead that growth.

Late last year, ShopRite rolled out Wholesome Pantry Organic, a growing line of USDA-certified organic products that extends across several categories. Loren Weinstein, director of private label/branding at ShopRite, which operates more than 270 stores in the eastern U.S., says the retailer is committed to the brand and growing it based on consumers’ needs.

“There is really no limit on the items we want to add to the brand,” Weinstein says.

For its efforts, ShopRite is the recipient of our Best New Organic Food Product or Line.

Products in the Wholesome Pantry Organic line include everything from pasta sauce to banana chips. As part of Wholesome Pantry, ShopRite also introduced a free-from line that includes products void of 110 ingredients and contains no artificial additives, flavors or preservatives.

Since launching, the company has introduced over 210 products as part of the line. The retailer says the new line has been one of the fastest-growing private brand lines launched in its 70-year history.

“One of the most rewarding elements of the launch of this brand has been the enthusiastic response we’ve received from our customers,” Weinstein says. “Whether they are contacting us directly to talk about their favorite Wholesome Pantry purchases, or engaging with us on social media about Wholesome Pantry recipes or other promotions, they’re excited about the line, and also at the prospect of having greater access to value-driven organic and better-for you options.”

Wholesome Pantry was in the works for two years. Weinstein says ShopRite’s store brand decision makers went to the drawing board to come up with not only organic and free-from products that hit on current taste trends, but products that also delivered on quality and value.

Best New Free-From Food or Line: The Kroger Co. — Simple Truth Low Cow Lite Ice Cream

“Once we tasted the final sample, we knew it was a winner,” says Kristal Howard, head of corporate communications and media relations for Cincinnati-based The Kroger Co.

Howard is talking about Kroger’s Simple Truth Low Cow Lite Ice Cream, which the retailer rolled out in June. The ice cream is not only low calorie (240 to 280 calories per pint), it’s high in protein (24 grams per pint). It also contains 75 percent less fat and 55 percent fewer calories than regular ice cream. It is non-GMO, gluten free and made with no artificial ingredients or preservatives.

“Our customers want to have their cake and eat it too,” Howard says.

Simple Truth is Kroger’s private brand line of organic and natural products, which debuted in 2012 and is a $1.7 billion brand. Flavors in the Simple Truth Low Cow Lite Ice Cream line include birthday cake, chocolate, lemon cake, mint chocolate chip, sea salt caramel and vanilla bean.

“We know our customers expect it all: clean label, nutritional benefits and taste — all at an amazing value,” Howard adds.

Kroger’s customers — and consumers in general — also want and expect innovative private-branded products, and Simple Truth Low Cow Lite Ice Cream is just that. Kroger’s product is the recipient of our Best New Free-From Food or Line.

Simple Truth Low Cow Lite Ice Cream has been compared to national brand Halo Top Ice Cream, which is also low in calories and high in protein. But Kroger’s private brand sells for $3.99 a pint, at least $1 less than Halo Top.

“Customers are surprised by the creaminess and the bold flavors from a low-calorie, high-protein ice cream,” Howard says. “This ice cream has done just that, and our customers are reacting very positively to it.”

The packaging is fun and eye-catching — far from the old days of private brand packaging.

“We wanted to create an eye-catching, memorable package with a lot of personality and make it fun,” Howard says.

Best New Fresh-Prepared Foods: H-E-B — True Texas BBQ

At many grocery retailers, takeaway fresh-prepared foods served from hot or cold bars have evolved into “grocerants” with made-to-order meals and in-store seating. But only a few supermarket chains have created destination restaurants. San Antonio, Texas-based H-E-B, known for its locally made private brand products, has done just that with its new in-store True Texas BBQ fast-casual restaurants.

Launched last year, True Texas BBQ quickly earned rave customer reviews on Yelp in a state known for its barbecue connoisseurs.

“The food was absolutely amazing,” wrote a young mom in Killeen, Texas. “I didn’t expect BBQ from a supermarket to be good,” acknowledged a woman in Austin, Texas. “Honestly, [it’s] better than some of the area BBQ restaurants. The brisket macaroni and cheese is divine.”

In nine H-E-B stores so far, the True Texas BBQ restaurants include plenty of seating, with décor reflecting the vibe of the locale. Though there is variation from one location to another, the menus typically feature barbecued brisket, smoked turkey breast, St. Louis ribs, sauced pulled pork and sauced chopped brisket — sold by the half pound; “Texas-sized” baked potatoes with a variety of meat toppings; Texas sides such as coleslaw, potato salad, brisket beans, creamed corn and green beans; and a selection of sandwiches.

Customers normally order their food and pick up their meals at the counter. But in August, a True Texas BBQ restaurant opened as part of a new 118,000-square-foot H-E-B store in San Antonio and became the first H-E-B-owned entity to offer drive-thru service. This location is also the first True Texas BBQ to offer a Tex-Mex breakfast of different types of tacos with fillings ranging from egg and BBQ sausage to brisket hash.

We’re honoring H-E-B for Best New Fresh and Fresh-Prepared Foods for several reasons.

Launching a new barbecue chain in Texas — and a popular one at that — requires moxie as well as the skill and recipes to pull it off. H-E-B has not only earned customer accolades for True Texas BBQ, but also for its new drive-thru, something few grocery retailers have attempted

The chain understands that contemporary consumers prioritize convenience and choices as well as great food.

Best New Beverage Product or Line: Target — Simply Balanced Organic and Fair Trade Flavored Herbal Tea

Rich in antioxidants, long enjoyed for promoting relaxation and conversation as well as good health, herbal tea delivered in tea bags is comfortably familiar. Yet Minneapolis-based Target Corp.’s private brand Simply Balanced Organic and Fair Trade Flavored Herbal Tea also breaks new ground.

Launched in fall 2016, the product line addresses the wellness, environmental and social responsibility concerns of contemporary consumers while also providing a broad assortment of flavors: Breakfast Blend, Chai, Green, Peach Honey, Orange Spice, Mint, After Dinner, Snooze & Snuggle and Voice Tamer.

“We want to help our guests who are interested in leading a more wellness-focused life do so, which is why we offer a selection of natural, organic and sustainable products that are accessible and affordable,” notes a Target spokeswoman. “We created the Simply Balanced Organic and Fair Trade Herbal Tea assortment — requiring both USDA organic and Fair Trade certifications — to provide guests more responsibly sourced, great-tasting and affordable products.”

Because the private brand tea assortment is notably on-trend, innovative, delicious, convenient and an excellent value, we have chosen Target’s Simply Balanced Organic and Fair Trade Flavored Herbal Tea as the Best New Beverage Product or Line.

The herbal tea assortment is Fair Trade certified, which means that farmers and others involved in the harvesting and production of the line make a fair price for the product, that national and international labor protections are adhered to, and that workplace safety and environmental sustainability are enforced priorities. On top of that, the product line’s organic certification assures consumers that the tea is non-GMO and meets rigorous pesticide restrictions.

What’s more, the line’s varied assortment ensures that there is something for every herbal tea lover. The top sellers, according to Target, include Breakfast Blend, Green, Peach Honey, Mint, and Snooze & Snuggle. New flavors will be added to the line in 2018. The tea is manufactured by Mother Parker’s Tea & Coffee.

As the Target spokeswoman explains, “Guests who purchase Simply Balanced Organic and Fair Trade Flavored Herbal Teas are looking for simple goodness and delicious ways to eat well, including eco-friendly, organic, ethical and functional products that positively impact their bodies and the environment.”

Best New Store Brand Non-Food Product or Line: Walgreens Boots Alliance — Botanics

When it comes to beauty care, Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens Boots Alliance is differentiating its products to appeal to different consumers. That includes Botanics, which is being rolled out across Walgreens stores this year. Promoted as “harnessing the power of plants,” the Botanics brand targets the growing number of consumers who care about whether synthetic or natural ingredients are present in the personal care products they use. Within the brand, there are several lines, identifiable by color coding on the packaging, including 100% Organic with Rosewater (green), All Bright with Hibiscus (pink), Hydration Burst with Clary Sage (blue), and Radiant Youth with Gingko (purple).

The variety of fragrances and formulations satisfies consumer expectations for personalized, customizable products. All of the skincare products in the brand are cruelty-free, meaning that they are not tested on animals; many are USDA certified-organic, indicating that they are non-GMO and meet various stringent sustainability criteria; and some are vegan, meaning that no animal-derived substances, even beeswax, are used in their formulation.

We have chosen Walgreens Boots Alliance’s Botanics brand as the Best Store Brand Non-Food Product or Line because of its innovation, which reflects its response to many different trends simultaneously: natural and organic; the rise of veganism and the flexitarian movement, in which people strive to consume more plant-derived products; and clean-label simplicity in ingredient decks and packaging design. The different color-coded lines within the brand further target different demographic groups, from young adults to aging consumers.

The Botanics brand, in addition, has garnered excellent online reviews. For example, the Botanics 100% Organic with Rosehips Nourishing Facial Oil for All Skin Types earned 4.5 out 5 stars. As one woman commented, “I absolutely love this organic facial oil and use it first thing in the morning after my shower and last at night after washing my face. I was skeptical at first [about] using an oil, thinking it would ‘break out’ my skin. However, that is definitely not the case here. It moisturizes my skin and gives it a lovely glow that lasts.

Best Store Brand Marketing Campaign: Stop & Shop, Giant and Hannaford — Limited Time Originals Program

Although it is not uncommon for U.S. supermarkets to offer seasonal store brand items and many chains have come to understand the power of scarcity marketing to drive demand, few retailers can match the success of Ahold Delhaize’s Limited Time Originals Program, which is available at Quincy, Mass.-based Stop & Shop stores and the retailer’s other U.S. banners.

Every six weeks throughout the year, the Limited Time Originals Program focuses on a different flavor or two and features 30 to 60 unique store brand items in that flavor profile. In October, Pumpkin- and HoneyCrisp Apple-flavored products were showcased. Before that, the highlighted flavors included Salted Caramel, Limoncello, Toasted Coconut, Twisted Chocolate and Hot.

“The idea for Limited Time Originals came from asking ourselves how to bring excitement to our customers,” explains Juan C. De Paoli, senior vice president for own brands at Ahold Delhaize’s Retail Business Services. “We believe in the motto: ‘Perfecting the expected and inspiring with the unexpected.’ ”

The Limoncello program, for example, ran in mid-summer and included a wide assortment of private brand products such as Limoncello Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Limoncello Ice Cream Sandwiches, Limoncello Artisan Bread, Limoncello Risotto and, of course, Limoncello Lemonade.

Fittingly, the Twisted Chocolate program was in full swing around Valentine’s Day and included Twisted Chocolate Soda, Twisted Chocolate Real Premium Ice Cream, and Twisted Chocolate Flake and Granola Cereal, among other items.

“Everybody does seasonal flavors. But we decided to take it to the next level and create a whole program of flavors that in some cases are proprietary to us,” De Paoli says. “It’s about bringing innovation and differentiation to our customers and really inspiring them with these flavors, with things they don’t expect to find in our stores.”

Because of the program’s originality, ambitiousness and effectiveness in developing and championing unique store brand products, we have named Limited Time Originals as the Best Store Brand Marketing Campaign.

The Limited Time Originals Program was tested in 2014 and rolled out officially in 2015. In the past year and a half, the program has become what it is today, running 52 weeks a year and switching out flavors every six weeks.

“Sales from the program have exceeded our expectations,” De Paoli adds. “The intent was to drive differentiation, innovation and customer satisfaction. The Limited Time Originals Program also has had a halo effect that has carried across the rest of the private brands in our stores.” 

Best Store Brand Shopper Marketing Campaign: Southeastern Grocers LLC/Winn-Dixie — Kid Connoisseur Contest

As any parent knows, kids exert tremendous influence on family food purchases, especially in their favorite categories such as ice cream, cookies and snack chips. Because children can be picky eaters and are candid in their comments, their feedback is invaluable to retailers that are developing and marketing kid-friendly store brand food items. Youngsters also tend to be creative, resourceful and entertaining.

Leveraging the honesty and spontaneity that children would bring to product tasting, Jacksonville, Fla.-based Southeastern Grocers’ Winn-Dixie banner held a Kid Connoisseur Contest this past July that coincided with this year’s rolling out of three new tiered store brands — Prestige, SE Grocers and SE Grocers Essentials — as well as the revamping of more than 2,200 private brand items. The contest involved parents (or the kids themselves) making 30- to 60-second videos of 5- to 12-year-old children individually tasting and reviewing private brand items from Winn-Dixie and, in some cases, comparing them side-by-side to national brand equivalents.

“In our journey to reinvent our private brand, we needed to make sure that we satisfied our criteria of being as good as or better than the national brand in terms of taste,” explains Adam Kirk, vice president of local marketing, events and trade planning for Southeastern Grocers. “Talking as a team, we asked ourselves, ‘Who are the most demanding customers that we have?’ A lot of us have kids, so we agreed that the people who make the decisions in the house in terms of what they will and won’t eat are the children.”

The company decided that a kids’ taste test was just what was needed to get really frank feedback across a number of product categories. Kirk says he was impressed with the originality of the videos and how well-spoken the children were.

“It’s tough being in front of a camera and remembering what you want to say and being as eloquent as you can be, and these kids were truly amazing,” he emphasizes.

Southeastern Grocers chose five winners, one from each of the main metropolitan areas where Winn-Dixie operates: Birmingham, Ala.; New Orleans; Jacksonville; Fort Meyers, Fla.; and Tampa, Fla. Honored during a presentation at the local store, each winner received a $200 Winn-Dixie gift card and the opportunity to be interviewed by local media.

While a number of the Kid Connoisseurs shared moving stories, one 7-year-old boy named Drizzt’an, the winner from New Orleans, really stood out, according to Kirk. The boy decided to spend his entire $200 gift card, a little bit at a time, on lunches to give to homeless people he encounters on his way to school. “We were blown away,” Kirk says. “What he did is truly inspiring.”

We have chosen Winn-Dixie’s Kid Connoisseurs Contest as the Best Store Brand Shopper Marketing Campaign for its originality and its success at engaging both parents and children in a creative activity that dramatically raised awareness of private brands.

Best Store Brand Merchandising Idea: Hy-Vee — Misfits

Hy-Vee could have just placed the ugly produce in corners of its stores with signs touting the produce selling for “30 percent off.” But the West Des Moines, Iowa-based retailer did much more than that, which has resulted in its Misfits program being a major success for the retailer, consumers and the environment.

Late last year Hy-Vee teamed with Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Robinson Fresh for Misfits, an initiative to sell misshapen fresh fruits and vegetables at a reduced price to reduce food waste. But rather than take an indistinct approach to the program, Hy-Vee implemented a well-planned and creative merchandising program for Misfits.

The vegetables and fruits, ranging from cucumbers and squash to apples and tomatoes, were placed in large wooden boxes with “The Misfits” ingrained in large black type on the boxes. Large colorful and creative signs behind the boxes carried specific messages such as “Imperfect product is perfectly delicious and nutritious,” “The ugly truth. 6 billion pounds of fresh produce goes unused each year” and “Food rescue starts with you!”

Hy-Vee is having fun with the initiative, and consumers can easily see the Misfits section in stores. Consumers have also responded. To date, Hy-Vee’s 240 stores in eight states have sold nearly 2 million pounds of the cosmetically challenged produce — food that otherwise would have ended up in landfills.

For its efforts, Hy-Vee is recipient of our Best Store Brand Merchandising Idea.

John Griesenbrock, Hy-Vee’s vice president of produce/health markets, says Hy-Vee wanted to tell a story through the merchandising of Misfits.

“I don’t think people realize how much food goes to waste,” Griesenbrock says. “So this volume of food-waste diversion is an encouraging sign that Hy-Vee’s focus on educating consumers about food waste issues around the world is having a positive effect.”

The produce comprising Misfits doesn’t taste any different than the pretty produce, Griesenbrock says.

“It’s a little misshapen, maybe a little discolored or odd shaped or a little smaller,” he adds. “But there is nothing wrong with it.”

Griesenbrock is also pleased that consumers — especially those on a strict budget and those who need governmental assistance — can purchase the Misfits produce for an average of 30 percent less than normal.

Best Use of Digital or Social Media to Promote Store Brands: Aldi — Hello Healthy

Last January, Aldi proposed a New Year’s resolution for the year. The German grocer, with U.S. operations based in Batavia, Ill., resolved to help Americans eat healthier by rolling out its “Hello, Healthy” initiative.

Aldi conducted a survey of more than 1,000 consumers and found that 56 percent of New Year’s resolutions are based around healthier eating, weight loss or fitness. But Aldi also found that 91 percent of Americans who make such resolutions fail to maintain them through the year, mainly due to a lack of planning and the perceived high costs associated with healthy food.

So, in addition to Aldi expanding its fresh produce and organic offerings at its 1,600 stores in 35 states as part of the “Hello Healthy” campaign, the retailer also implemented an online resource — ALDI.us/hellohealthy. From January through March, visitors to the website could find weekly meal plans, new recipes, videos, and tips on how to help them plan healthy meals and save money by using the retailer’s products as ingredients. For its efforts in educating consumers about healthy eating and promoting its store brands in the process, Aldi is the recipient of our Best Use of Digital or Social Media to Promote Store Brands.

“We want to be an ally in healthy living for our shoppers,” says Liz Ruggles, Aldi’s spokeswoman. “Aldi is always looking for ways to improve and expand its offerings so healthy choices are easy to find and are easy on [consumers’] budgets.”

While Aldi is not trying to become a health food store, it is trying to appease its customers who want better-for-you options with affordable private brands. “Hello Healthy,” with its educational digital component, was a resourceful vehicle to do just that.

Best New Store Brand Packaging Innovation: Tops Friendly Markets — Compostable Coffee Pods

As part of Tops Friendly Markets reformulation of its Tops brand of private-branded products late last year, the Williamsville, N.Y.-based grocer introduced its own line of 100 percent compostable single-serve coffee pods under the Tops Coffee House Creations brand label. The compostable coffee pods, which come in 11 flavors, are selling out.

“The response from Tops’ customers has been resounding,” says Nicky Walsh, director of business development of private brands for Tops Friendly Markets/Daymon. “In just 11 months, Tops has sold just under 6 million pods.”

Tops teamed with one of the world’s largest coffee groups, Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA, on the project. Massimo has been in business for more than 35 years.

Made of 100 percent renewable sources, the compostable single-serve pods help to divert food waste from landfills and incinerators to composting that turns it back into nutrients that help improve the soil for farmers and gardeners, according to Tops. Even the coffee ring is made up of coffee bean skins or “chaff” that previously used to go to waste. Tests of the compostable pods in municipal composting showed that they can break down in as few as five weeks in well-managed composting systems.

Tops Friendly Markets is the recipient of our Best New Store Brand Packaging Innovation for the compostable single-serve coffee pods.

“We don’t have the chance very often to be the first to market with something because a lot of companies are working on similar things. But this is one of those chances,” says Diane Colgan, Tops’ senior vice president of marketing and decision report. “The ability to do this is phenomenal for us.”

Since the product launched, Tops has been educating consumers with on-going ad promotions, social media posts and in-store displays.

“As the first retailer in the United States to launch a 100 percent compostable pod, Tops wanted to ensure that its coffee enthusiasts could see from the moment they picked up the package that not only were they going to be enjoying a 100 percent pure Arabica premium coffee, but also could feel good about the important environmental impact they were making with each cup they brewed,” Walsh says.

Leadership in Sustainability/Food and Beverage: The Kroger Co. — Sustainability Lives Here

Last April, in honor of Earth Day, The Kroger Co. launched Sustainability Lives Here, a program involving events and customer engagement to help highlight easy, earth-friendly and sustainable living practices.

A website dedicated to the program, SustainabilityLivesHere.com, features an in-depth look at Kroger’s sustainable supply chain initiatives; recipes using eco-friendly products to create healthy dishes; advice to consumers on how to make small changes in how they shop, prepare and store food so they throw away less; and, at the time, more than $60 in digital coupons targeted toward eco-friendly certifications like Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, as well as organic and natural products.

The program aligns with Kroger’s corporate sustainability focus, which includes goals for zero waste across company stores and zero hunger in the communities that Kroger serves.

We are recognizing Kroger for its Leadership in Sustainability/Food and Beverage.

“Sustainability Lives Here is a customer engagement and awareness initiative that highlights easy, earth-friendly practices that each of us can do,” says Kristal Howard, head of corporate communications and media relations for Cincinnati-based Kroger. “At Kroger, we are fortunate to have many leaders and associates who are passionate about taking care of our planet, as well as external partners who are committed to sustainability. We all work together to give our customers more ways to make sustainable choices when they shop with Kroger.”

Kroger’s goal to be zero waste by 2020 includes diverting waste from landfills, reducing packaging, recycling plastic bags and donating safe, perishable foods to food banks.

“Kroger has made significant progress on its journey to zero waste. Company-wide, we achieved a 78 percent diversion rate in 2016, up from 70 percent in 2015,” Howard says, noting that Kroger uses the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of “zero waste” as 90 percent diversion from landfills. “Our associates are the key to our success, so we continue to raise awareness and drive engagement among our people to reduce waste in our stores, manufacturing plants, distribution centers and other facilities.”

On a website, sustainability.kroger.com, a progress update gives consumers insight into Kroger’s sustainable efforts, such as its goal to transition to a 100 percent cage-free egg supply chain by 2025.

“Today, our customers want to know the source of their food and feel good about their choices,” Howard says. “They are also more focused on the environmental and social impacts of the food they eat. As one of the world’s largest food retailers, Kroger fosters sustainability and transparency in its supply chain. We set ambitious goals and targets, share our progress and stories along the way, and keep an open dialogue. By developing and supporting more transparency in our supply chain, we believe we positively affect communities far beyond the walls of our stores.”

Leadership in Sustainability/Non-Foods: Roche Bros. Supermarkets — ECOgrade bag

Wellesley, Mass.-based Roche Bros. understands that the grocery bags a retailer gives its customers are an important part of its brand. Last spring, the chain handed a customer its 5 millionth Roche Bros.-branded ECOgrade bag, a non-plastic grocery bag made from organic material and minerals. The bags, manufactured by GXT Green Inc., are photodegradable, meaning they will begin to degrade in 20 days and will fully degrade within 240 days from exposure to sunlight.

“The checkout is the finale of the customer’s experience in the store, and often top of mind when they reflect on their visit,” says Dena Kowaloff, director of marketing for Roche Bros. “It is important we leave them with a good final impression of Roche Bros. each time they shop with us. A high-quality shopping bag that holds the food securely without tearing is critical in getting the food safely into their kitchen, and a bag that has the environmental benefits we see with the ECOgrade products also reinforces the message that Roche Bros. cares about the communities where it operates.”

Roche Bros. began using the ECOgrade bags in 2016. Jeff Dinneen, who recently retired as facilities manager at Roche Bros., led the effort to find a sustainable and environmentally friendly grocery bag.

“Jeff, a passionate environmentalist, learned about the ECOgrade bags and presented the idea to Roche Bros., and [the company was] happy to try the program,” Kowaloff says. “Pleased with the results, we have steadily increased our use of the bags over time. Not only are the bags environmentally friendly and affordable, the vendor GXT Green is also headquartered near us in Massachusetts so it is local as well.”

For its use of the ECOgrade bag, we are honoring Roche Bros. for its Leadership in Sustainability — Non-Food.

Kowaloff says most customers who shop at Roche Bros. didn’t notice the switch to the ECOgrade bags, which she says Roche Bros. counted as an endorsement.

“Given that we were able to change the bags to provide an option with superior sustainability and the same high-quality checkout experience for our customers, we count that as a win,” she adds. “Those that have noticed the change or heard about the program have been quite complementary.”

Kowaloff says Roche Bros. consistently looks to improve its operations on an ongoing basis, including opportunities to reduce environmental impact and employ more sustainable materials.

Leadership in Social Responsibility: Wegmans Food Markets

Under the leadership of the late Robert Wegman, Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets grew into one of the largest private companies in the United States, not to mention one of the most popular regional retailers for its private brands. Wegman, who died in 2006, led the retailer for nearly 50 years. He was the son of Wegmans Food Markets co-founder Walter Wegman.

But Robert Wegman’s legacy is rooted in his altruism as much as it is in being an admired leader in the supermarket industry. His philosophy on living life — “Never think about yourself; always help others,” he said — has permeated the retailer’s operations.

Wegmans Food Markets is known for its continuous efforts to feed the hungry, reduce food waste and recycle. In a consumer poll conducted last spring, Wegmans Food Markets was ranked as the top company in America for its corporate social responsibility efforts.

For its good intentions, we are recognizing Wegmans Food Markets for its Leadership in Social Responsibility.

“Empowerment and leading by example are key,” says Jack Depeters, Wegmans’ senior vice president of store operations. “Robert Wegman’s philosophy has been guiding our company for many years. He led by example, and we model our actions after his. Our people are empowered to do the right thing; to make decisions that will best serve the customer, our fellow employees and the communities where we have stores.”

Wegmans Food Markets donates day-old bread, not-quite-perfect produce, yogurt that is close to date and other items daily to over 300 local food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens near its stores.

“It’s only possible through our people,” Depeters says. “We want the neighborhoods where we have stores to be healthy and vibrant. Our stores are empowered to help with programs that feed the hungry, help young people succeed and promote healthy eating and activity.”

In 2016, Wegmans Food Markets launched a zero waste pilot program at one store because it saw the opportunity to reduce the waste coming from its stores.

“For food waste, we saw an opportunity to improve what we were already doing and reduce food waste at the source by using more of the food in our stores, increasing local food donations, and improving composting programs,” says Jason Wadsworth, the retailer’s sustainability manager. “Similarly, we saw an opportunity to improve our recycling rate through existing programs by assigning ownership, educating our employees on the importance of these programs, and better communicating our progress and success.”

At the start of its one-store pilot for zero waste, the average recycling rate at the store was 63 percent (material not sent to landfill), and the retailer set a goal of reaching 80 percent by year’s end.

“We surpassed that goal, and for 2017 we’re aiming for 90 percent at the pilot store,” Wadsworth says. “We’re also rolling out the zero waste program to nine additional stores throughout the next two years. … Simply put, reducing waste is the right thing to do for our company, our customers, our people and the environment.” SB