Private-label products are becoming the hub around which many meal-solution programs turn.
Both large chains, like Boise, Idaho-based Albertson's, and smaller, innovative stores like Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., are focusing on store brands through their meal-solution programs.
"Albertson's 'Quick Fixin' Ideas' program is an excellent example," said Donald Stuart, a partner at Wilton, Conn.-based Cannondale Associates. "It has established a meal-solutions 'brand' that is linked to its store brands, although they also use branded products. Quick Fixin' implies convenience and quality. It's a fully integrated program, with displays, recipe cards, TV advertising and promotional contests."
Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., has created a similar identification with "Make Mealtime Easy," a recipe and advertising campaign that uses Spartan products.
The program includes colored recipe cards, brochures and menu planning guides, point-of-sale material, billboards, drop-in ads that depict seasonal solution selling, weekly consumer columns and designs for its semi trucks, said Gary Evey, communications manager for the chain.
Private-label awareness and sales are up since Spartan implemented the program. "Our recipe card program has [been] proven to increase sales for the brand names highlighted on the cards," continued Evey. "A majority of our private-label products are ingredients or boxed side dishes, so they all do quite well in quick and easy recipes."
Spartan has three private-label brands -- Spartan, Save Rite and Supreme Select (for meat and deli) -- for 1,800 items in eight categories. According to Evey, private-label products make up 17% of all case sales for Spartan Stores and 15% of dollar sales. Private-label sales are up 7.5% from the previous year.
Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., has been promoting "The Answer Plan," a program that features weekly recipes tied to fresh, dry grocery and frozen food. Private-label products are included in the program.
According to Stuart, chains are working hard to strategically position their store brands.
"Retailers are trying to get manufacturers to do as much as possible, with displays, promotional concepts and meal-solution centers. But they are also looking at their own internal resources. They've got some good brands and they want them to mean something to customers," Stuart said.
Brian Sharoff, president of the Private Label Manufacturers Association, New York, said that by using private-label products as the centerpiece of a solution selling program, the retailer doesn't have to accommodate multiple brands, which could create logistical problems in a themed selling area.
Moreover, by using store brands, a retailer has control over which products will be available in the solution selling design, Sharoff said.
"I think someone has to hold [solution selling] up to the mirror of retail logistics," Sharoff continued. "It's a well thought-out concept, and retailers can do some of it, but they can't reconfigure the entire store. To do it right, [retailers] have to do it with their private label."
Stuart agreed that logistics is the challenge for most retailers.
"It's a paradigm shift. [Solution selling] is cross merchandising, in a simplistic sense, but it's a much bigger idea, because it has a consumer hook -- meal solutions. And it has a logistical hurdle. How do we make these sections work?"
Stuart said that there was opportunity for both private-label and branded products in building solution selling centers.
Another reason that private label is becoming more visible within the store structure is that retailers are pushing store-brand items just as hard as brands, said Sharoff.
"Whether [the store is] creating a party aisle or an Italian section, [private label is] just as eager to take advantage of that as any brand. The bottom line is that solution selling is going to be an absolute boon to private label."
Wegmans is an example of a chain that has built a meal-solution program around an extensive line of private-label grocery products called Italian Classics.
SN recently visited Wegmans' Wilkes-Barre, Pa., unit, which merchandised about 20 feet of private-label grocery items in both Center Store and in a meal-solution center located in the deli department.
Wegmans has provided an ongoing library of recipe cards to customers as part of this meal-solution program, called "What's for Dinner?"
According to a store-level source, Wegmans recently added about 8 feet of jarred olives. "Originally, we had our items and [branded] items," the source said. "But since we've expanded our own line and added more items, sales have picked up considerably." According to the source, grocery items are demoed every day and often are tied in with produce or meat items. In addition, they are advertised just about every week.
Wegmans has extended "What's for Dinner" into cyberspace, according to a source in Wegmans' consumer affairs department. At the Wegmans web site (http://www.wegmans.com), users can access "Recipes." This page has a link reading "30 Minute Meals with Wegmans Italian Classics." Consumers can then click on 13 separate categories, each containing several recipes that are rotated on a regular basis.
Jewel-Osco Southwest, a subsidiary of American Stores Co., Salt Lake City, has recently made the cross merchandising of private-label products mandatory, according to a store-level source in Albuquerque, N.M.
"We have a mandatory private-label display every month," he said. "This month it's paper plates, cups, plasticware, napkins and so forth. [Customers] can stop in one place and buy everything. Since it's all private label, it's priced lower."
Similarly, a recent store circular from Quincy, Mass.-based Stop & Shop Cos., a subsidiary of Ahold, with U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, advertised its private-label Select products by saying "Select the Best for All Your Summertime BBQ's." Select olive oil, marinades, steak sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, salad dressing, salad croutons and bread crisps were among the items promoted.
A store-level source at Stop & Shop in Watertown, Mass., told SN the items also appeared together in an 8-foot section in the bargain aisle for one week. The source added that such cross merchandising is common at his store.