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11/12/2022

Welcome Back: An Interview With PLMA's Peggy Davies

As the PLMA show returns, association president Peggy Davies talks about recent challenges and the future.
Greg Sleter
Associate Publisher/Executive Editor
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When the lights go on at the 2022 Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) Show in Chicago, one person who will breathe a sigh of relief will be Peggy Davies, PLMA president.

In 2019, when the association last left the Windy City, no one could imagine it would be three years before the next PLMA trade show that has long been a fixture in the mid-November time frame. Now, as the private label world returns to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, it will do so to an event that was declared by PLMA to be a sell out with more than 1,300 exhibitors representing more than 2,200 exhibit booths.

For Davies and PLMA team, 2020 and 2021 presented multiple never-before-seen challenges that required them to be nimble and develop new programs and services to meet the needs of members challenged by several issues including the pandemic, supply chain disruptions and inflation, to name just a few.

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Peggy Davies PLMA

Davies, who was named acting president in June of 2020 following the passing of longtime president Brian Sharoff, was officially named president in June of 2021 and will oversee her first show in that role. Recently, Davies spoke with Store Brands about the upcoming show, the importance of its return, the challenges facing the private label marketplace and what the future holds for PLMA.

STORE BRANDS: The past two years have been full of challenges that we have not dealt with previously. What were some of the key factors that allowed PLMA to manage through some difficult circumstances?

 

PEGGY DAVIES: First, it starts with our staff here in the U.S. and in Amsterdam. Everyone was totally dedicated to doing what needed to be done for our members. First and foremost it’s the people. Those that support the organization internally and those that support us externally. Two years after the start of the pandemic, our membership was not where it was at the beginning of the pandemic.

We still have solid membership. We had a well-attended Amsterdam show (in the spring) and Chicago is shaping up in the same fashion. Our membership is returning to normal.

SB: Were there any changes in the needs of PLMA membership over the past two years?

 

PD: People were anxious for content and for topics. We did get a good response to our Lunch and Learn series. We had about 10 events and our attendance for each averaged about 300 participants.

With the idea of Lunch of Learn, we felt there was a need to add content to our schedule that was not a lot of heavy lifting for our staff but that would offer good information to the industry and was frequent. We wanted to offer something that was under the banner of professional development.

Overall, we showed the industry that we are a viable organization that has its fingers on the pulse, and we are constantly looking for ways for our member manufacturers to find new outlets for their goods

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PLMA Trade Show
SB: With no trade shows during 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic, was there any concern that the industry might not return to trade events?

 

PD: Well, you know, it’s what keeps you up at night (laughs). Absolutely. Our membership suffered a bit but now we are back in good stead with membership, and when we did Amsterdam in May, we had a full show floor. We probably could not have fit someone else in.

We had 15,000 visitors and we said people want to get back and come to these types of events. They want to spend the time and the money and energy, and we are definitely seeing the same things now for Chicago.

SB: When trade shows returned this year, what was the response from retailers and suppliers? Any hesitancy or were they looking to get out and meet people in person again?

 

PD: To be honest, there was no hesitancy. They were just ready to come back. We have continued to market the show and make people realize that we are back in person. We actually printed and mailed the trade show guide from the November 2021 show, which we moved to January of 2022, but we had to cancel because of the Omicron virus spike at that time. But the show guide is still a handy resource for companies looking for information. It is still very handy.


SB: For those headed to Chicago, what can they expect from this year’s show? What’s familiar and what’s new?

 

PD: The show will look very similar and have a few more international exhibitors than we had in 2019. Companies want to show more new things and this year we have more suppliers in new ingredients, holistic, sustainability, plant-based and also have a whole pavilion of hemp-derived CBD products. We also have wine and spirits, canned cocktails and even bourbon.

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PLMA Trade Show
SB: Current economic conditions are having a positive impact on private label as a whole. How does the current climate differ from what we have seen in previous challenging economic times?

 

PD: I think at the end of the day the industry has come a long way from 2008 in its advertising, marketing and breadth of products. There are many things that are much different than they used to be. All of that contributes, hopefully, to a business that can hold on to these gains. The national media has done an interesting job in talking about private brands. They don’t always call it by the right name, but they have done a nice job of talking about private label and bringing it to consumer’s attention.

SB: What needs to be done to better educate consumers about the private label product options available to them?

 

PD: Nobody does it better than Trader Joe’s and Costco. At some level it’s about the sampling and having the right people talking to the consumer. It’s almost a one-on-one connection. Hopefully, with people again comfortable with sampling of food products, that will probably go a long way. But it’s a constant effort and
you can’t fall asleep at the switch. It’s also a pricing situation and also availability as we’re not completely out of the woods as it pertains to supply chain challenges.

SB: There continues to be private label growth across the store, whether it’s consumables, home products, hardware, etc. Are categories beyond consumables on the radar for PLMA in an effort to expand its membership?

 

PD: We are always looking at those categories and what the best thing is for the industry as a whole. I can’t say today that at the next show we’ll have a whole lot of hardware and tools, but it would be silly of us not to continue looking at trends and see what’s happening and try to balance our show floor with things that will interest manufacturers and ultimately consumers. Today, we still have room to grow in food and nonfood, and that will still be our main focus for a bit.

SB: When looking ahead to 2023, what opportunities are there for the private label industry to continue growing and engage with a larger number of shoppers?

 

PD:It certainly seems social media is the way to connect. It’s the retailer’s brand and it’s the retailer’s responsibility to connect with consumers. We are the ones behind the scenes. They have the connections to the consumers, not the manufacturers. I’m not sure what effect a Trader Joe’s podcast had on their consumers. They did eight or 10 podcasts and it was an interesting approach to try and connect to their consumers. The most important thing is to be consistent. You can’t be there one day and then not show up for three months.

SB: For PLMA, what does the future hold and what new initiative should be watching for?

 

PD: Trade shows are all consuming and getting ready for the show takes everyone’s effort 24/7. Right now, we are focused on doing what we do well and making it the best it can be.