Retailers are demonstrating that promotional programs for private label can be just as novel and lively as those for national brands. Take Spartan Stores, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based wholesale grocery co-operative, for instance. Ten of its employees competed in a fund-raising 5-K race, each dressed in giant boxes of Spartan-brand Rainbow Twist pasta. Spartan Stores tied the event into a Spartan Brand pasta promotion that was publicized, in part, on billboards with the slogan "Endless Pastabilities Make Mealtime Easy." Each entrant was asked for a $10 donation and Spartan Brand Products pledged to match all donations up to $10,000.
"As a title sponsor of the 5-K run, we saw the Pasta Box Run as a fun, extra step to help raise the awareness of Spartan Brand products, and to give back to the community that supports our retail stores," Thomas Berg, Spartan's corporate brands manager, said in a statement. Sales of boxed pasta are running 16% ahead of last year, according to Berg. Spartan also has been actively promoting its Spartan Brand Cash for Label program, which encourages consumers to redeem Spartan Brand labels to support community charities. Spartan has introduced 235 new private-label products this year, increasing its private-label line to 1,732 stockkeeping units, according to Gary Evey, company spokesman. Most of the new introductions have included no-fat or low-fat line extensions, such as granola bars, salad dressings and mayonnaise.
The company's private-label assortment includes the Spartan brand; Save Rite, an everyday low-price brand; and Supreme Selections, a deli line.
Similarly, Dillon Cos., Hutchinson, Kan., a subsidiary of the Kroger Co., Cincinnati, has been giving its private label more exposure. Last month, it ran an automated sweepstakes promotion that gave consumers who purchased any two Dillon private-label items the chance to win prizes.
The "Checkout Prizes" campaign, implemented by Catalina Marketing, St. Petersburg, Fla., featured items like Food Club saltines, Food Club toaster pastry, Kroger peanut butter, Food Club apple juice and Dillon facial tissues, according to Catalina. When these items were scanned, their Universal Product Codes triggered random-selection software, which printed out a certificate telling shoppers if they won a prize or not.
A Dillon executive told SN the program has been working out very well, though he declined to say anything further. The executive did not want to be identified.
Roche Bros. Supermarkets, Wellesley Hills, Mass., is also getting the word out about its private-label program, now three years old. A recent double-page color insert featured 50 different Roche Bros items.
"The ad highlighted the price, value and quality of our line," said Gary Pfeil, director of category management, who oversees the retailer's private-label program.
The Roche Bros. program is being expanded significantly, according to Pfeil. About 200 items were added this year, boosting the number of SKUs to 500. Another 200 to 250 SKUs will be introduced next year.
The slogan "Family Values Make the Difference" is printed on virtually all of the retailer's private-label packaging to emphasize that the business is family run.
"We're a family-owned concern. The two Roche brothers are involved in the business. It's part of the company's persona," said Pfeil.
Roche Bros.' goal is to have private label account for at least 16% of total store sales by next year, according to Pfeil.
"Sales are doing very well and we would like them to be 35% to 45% better," said Pfeil.
To show consumers just how tasty its private-label products are, Roche Bros. conducts in-store sample programs on a weekly basis.
Oshawa Group, Etobicoke, Ontario, also places heavy emphasis on in-store sampling, said Tim Carter, vice president of public affairs.
The company rotates in-store demos among all of its stores. "We have a heavy emphasis on in-store sampling," he said.
"We've been surprised about how successful it's been," Carter said. Along with a corporate brand, Oshawa's private-label line includes a generic assortment and premium selection, Our Compliments.
"We've been placing most of our emphasis on Our Compliments," said Carter.
This year, Oshawa debuted a specialty Our Compliments line to capitalize on the trend of gourmet foods.
"Nearly all of its Our Compliments products have been top sellers in their product category," said Carter.
Private-label sales at Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass., are expected to top $1 billion next year, according to industry sources. The chain introduced an additional 750 SKUs this year, increasing the number of SKUs to 4,000. Private label currently accounts for 40% of total store sales, according to the sources.
As for other retailers, Gooding's Supermarkets, Apopka, Fla., treats its 2-year-old Food Club label like any other brand, said Michael Garlich, vice president of communications.
"It's an important part of our grocery mix," Garlich said. "We always let our consumers know that it's available." Shelf signs tell consumers to compare products in the line to national brands, Garlich said.
Meanwhile, Ahold, Zaandam, Netherlands, is rolling out its 'Sensational' private-label brand to the 17 former Melmarkets/Foodtowns on Long Island, N.Y., which were converted to the Edwards banner. The stores were acquired in 1995 by Stop & Shop Cos., Quincy, Mass., which became a division of Ahold this year. Edwards Super Food Stores is based in Windsor Locks, Conn.
"We're rolling out the Sensational line, our premium private-label brand, to the Edwards stores," said Tonya Lyon, Edwards spokeswoman. The former Melmarkets/Foodtown stores, which now carry the Edwards' banner, should have the new line in place by the end of the month. The Foodtown label previously carried will be phased out. Lyon declined to comment on any other aspect of the program.
Products in the Sensational brand line include apple juice, chocolate chip cookies, pasta sauce, frozen orange juice, fruit spreads, coffee filters and frozen stuffed pasta shells.
"It's the most exciting line of products you've ever tasted!," a recent Edwards circular ad read. "All are made with the very best ingredients -- and they are only available at Edwards. They are simply Sensational!"
Private label is being given just as much visibility at A&P, Montvale, N.J. In a recent circular, A&P's Master Choice premium brand better had placement than many national brands. For instance, Master Choice bagels and corn were placed higher up in the ad than Doritos Tortilla chips and Tyson/Holly Farms chicken.
In another circular, a full page was devoted to Master Choice Italian goods. Along with pasta, items included sauces, two jars for $3; biscotti, $3.99 for an 8-ounce package; balsamic vinegar, $2.99 for a 17-ounce bottle; cappuccino, 2 for $2; imported breadsticks, $1.49 for a 4.25-ounce box, and extra-light olive oil, $4.99 for a 16.9-ounce bottle.
"Proof that Better Can Cost Less," the ad copy read.
A&P also recently ran a full-page ad for America's Choice products with a promotion called "The Freedom of Choice Sale."
The ad copy read, in part, "This Great Land is Dedicated to the Proposition That all Brands are Created Equal" and pictured the Statue of Liberty with an A&P shopping bag filled with groceries. Featured America's Choice items included cereal, napkins, pork and beans, iced tea and diapers.
Pathmark Stores, Woodbridge, N.J., is also making consumers aware of its private label. Each week, its circular promotes a Smart Meal of the week. Under the program, consumers who buy all the items listed get a savings deducted at the checkout.
One recent Smart Meal consisted of Pathmark Pizza, 2 for $3; Pathmark 12-count Ice Cream Sandwiches, 4-ounce box, $2.29; Pathmark Garden Salad, $1.49 and a 2-liter of Pepsi, 88 cents. If all products purchased together, the total cost was $4.99, a $2.67 savings than if the items were purchased individually. Another Smart Meal included Purdue rotisserie chicken with Pathmark corn on the cob and Pathmark dinner fries.
Kroger and other retailers also have been backing their private label with guarantees.
A recent Kroger newspaper ad read "Try it, Like it. . . Or Get the National Brand Free! The Kroger Brand Promise." The same ad promoted a variety of lunchtime foods, such as hot dog buns, sweet relish, mustard, ketchup and dill slices.
Also, a recent circular from Twin County Grocers, Edison, N.J., for its Foodtown banner stores encouraged consumers to take the "Foodtown challenge."
"Compare Our Quality and Price to the National Brand," the ad read."If You Can't Taste the Difference, Why Pay the Difference." The ad compared Foodtown quick or old fashioned oats -- which were offered as a buy-one-get-one-free special for an 18-ounce container -- to Quaker Quick Oats.