Supply chain, healthy eating, reconciliation bill highlight Washington Conference

The Private Label Manufacturers Association held its two-day Washington Conference virtually this week.
Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
Dan Ochwat profile picture

A troubled supply chain, impacts from the impending reconciliation bill and an update from the FDA labeling were just a few areas discussed during the Private Label Manufacturers Association’s two-day Washington Conference.

For the second year, PLMA held a virtual conference, bringing together policy leaders, experts in Washington, D.C., and its members, over the course of nine sessions moderated by Erik Winborn, founder of Winborn Solutions.

Peggy Davies, president of PLMA, presented an update regarding PLMA and its need to move the in-person Private Label Trade Show to Jan. 30. The association reiterated the show will have the same attractions planned such as speakers, panel presentations, a new product expo, The Idea Supermarket and its Salute to Excellence Awards.

Additionally, the World of Private Label Trade Show is scheduled to be an in-person event Dec. 14-15 in Amsterdam.

Dennie Gordon with pink hair looking at the camera
Peggy Davies

Davies said 1 in 4 products in the United States is a store brand product, a huge milestone, and the association provided numbers from Nielsen that showed after six months in 2021, store brand sales are down 5% vs. a year ago, when the pandemic boom had store brand sales up 12%. In 2021, however, there are some categories seeing large increases such as private label bakery items up 17% in sales, and deli, produce, pet products, and health and beauty products all showing positive gains in 2021.

The trade show in January will feature hot categories as well, such as the plant-based foods area, which generated $7 billion in sales last year, per PLMA, as well as areas highlighting free-from foods, private label beauty care, CBD topicals, housewares and more.

Davies also said that the next Washington Conference is planned to be in person on Sept. 19-21 at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill.

Day One Highlights
Sessions on the first day of the Washington Conference included a presentation from Jonathan Gold, VP of supply chain and customs policy, National Retail Foundation, discussing infrastructure requirements to support the supply chain.

Gold pointed out a big sticking point at retail continues to be trade issues and tariffs with China, as well as forced labor problems occurring at factories in China.

He said a shortage of truck drivers and empty shipping containers has been slowing down the supply chain as retail gears up for the upcoming holidays and shared a graphic from NRF’s port tracker that showed product volumes far outpacing demand. In 2021, there are nearly 26 million retail imports happening, compared with 22 million last year and a steady decline year by year from there.

He said the U.S. government and its infrastructure bill on the table is looking at ways to alleviate port congestion and overseas container availability. He said more than half of customers surveyed said they need to wait at least two weeks for products that are out of stock to be delivered.

Following Gold’s presentation, Lisa Wolski, executive tax counsel at General Electric, addressed the impending reconciliation bill or the Biden administration’s $3.5 trillion  “Build Back Better” bill and how that could impact companies via tax increases. 

Wolski’s presentation complemented political sessions early in the day from Ryan Lizza, a White House reporter and editor at Politico; Ed Goeas, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group; Helen Milby, founder and president of Helen Milby & Company; and Jon Boughtin, executive director of the NewDem Action Fund.

Day Two Highlights
Sessions on Oct. 7 included a presentation from Laura Griffin, senior policy advisor for SNAP, U.S. Department of Agriculture, who provided an overview of the SNAP service. PLMA recently reported on how SNAP users shop private brand products

Griffin said SNAP shoppers can buy any food for the household as well as seeds and plants to help produce food for the household and that the department is doing more to educate shoppers around healthier eating. Some ways she recommended retailers assisting in educating shoppers about healthier choices is hosting an in-store tour for shoppers that highlights eligible store brand products that are healthier and can be shopped using SNAP benefits, as well as using signage and the SNAP logo on shelves nearby own brand products that encourage healthier choices.

With e-commerce growing, Griffin said 5.3% of SNAP purchases are done online and it’s becoming a growing focus. 

Also discussing the growth of online shopping, a representative from the Food and Drug Administration said during a presentation that the organization is looking at updating how products are labeled or informing consumers online, as a lot of the information has been outdated.

Dr. Claudine Kavanaugh, director of the Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA, said 75% of Americans don’t meet dietary recommendations and get enough physical activity, so the organization is looking to improve healthier eating and awareness.

Kavanaugh said areas the group is focusing on includes reducing sodium intake by consumers across the food supply. She said 71% of added sodium in a consumer’s diet comes from packaged foods and foodservice, so FDA is drafting voluntary guidance around sodium levels.

The FDA is also working on labels around food allergies, foods derived from cultured animal cells and labels for plant-based milk alternatives.

In April, FDA launched its “Closer to Zero” program, too,l and for the next year will work to reduce the exposure to toxic elements in foods for babies and young children. The group is evaluating what’s harmful, sampling baby foods and drafting compliance.

The Washington Conference also addressed trade standards and intellectual property. Stevan Mitchell, director of the Office of Intellectual Property Rights, Department of Commerce International Trade Administration, and Anthony Quinn, chief of standards, Department of Commerce International Trade Administration, both presented on ways suppliers can export products and avoid barriers.