KULPSVILLE, Pa. -- Clemens Family Markets here chose Italy as a theme for its first specialty house brand, just as Italian food may be poised for a comeback.
The line, in all stores for two months, comprises 20 food items and 27 spices, plus canned tomatoes, olive oils, vinegars and pasta sauces. Products are priced at a 15% to 20% discount, vs. the comparable national brands.
"We'd been looking at a private label in this area for a while," said David Blaich, director of specialty foods for the 22-store suburban Philadelphia chain. "It was a matter of finding the right fit" in flavor and manufacturer.
Its widespread popularity makes Italian cuisine an obvious choice for an entry-level ethnic or specialty private-label line. Wegmans and BJ's Wholesale Club have their Italian Classics line of sauces and Rozzano Authentic Italian Foods, respectively. Giant Eagle in 2004 launched a major private-label expansion that included the introduction of Laurenti Mediterranean Specialty Foods. Big Y had planned to add an Italian line from the World Classics Trading Co. label, sourced through Topco Associates, Skokie, Ill.
For Clemens, Italian seemed safe. "You want to make sure you're going to pick something that's going to be successful right out of the chute," Blaich said.
Italian cuisine, after growing slowly for four years as a result of low-carb diets and lack of innovation, could be on the way back, with the government recommending more whole-grain consumption and the industry responding to consumer demand for authentic flavors and convenience, predicted a report by Packaged Facts.
While some retailers disguise the origin of their specialty house brands, Clemens decided to leverage its hometown familiarity with shoppers by naming the brand 213 West Main, after the street address in Lansdale, Pa., where it opened its first store in 1939. Product labels read "A Tradition of Quality" above a black-and-white photo from that time of chain co-founder James Clemens in front of the original store.
"We have a good name in the areas we serve," said Mark Clemens, James Clemens' son and company spokesman.
Clemens is promoting the line on endcaps and integrating it in-aisle. It's sampling products weekly, cross merchandising them and featuring them in the weekly circular. The chain's dietician will incorporate the products into recipe cards.
"The challenge is getting them to actually try the product. Once they've tried it, then we'll get the repeat sales," Blaich said. Shopper response to the sampling has been positive, he said. "When they pick them up, they're taking them home."
Clemens hopes to build on the line, adding barbecue and hot sauces in time for summer, Blaich said.
In other initiatives to sharpen its edge in a market that includes Safeway-owned Genuardi's, upscale Henning's Market and Wal-Mart Stores, Clemens in the past year has rolled out everyday-low prices on commonly purchased items, put health kiosks in stores, and begun building a third upscale Foodsource store.