ORLANDO, Fla. -- Store-brand paper products manufacturer Pope & Talbot is vying for a larger category marketing role at major retail customers, acting in parallel to national brand category captains.
For at least five supermarket and mass merchandiser accounts, the Portland, Ore., based company has won the status of "category co-captain," working separately from national brand category captains such as Procter & Gamble
"That's the way retailers can get the best of both worlds," said Robert Vanderselt, president of the consumer products division at Pope & Talbot.
He described this strategy during a talk on category management here at the 10th annual AUGI conference sponsored by Information Resources Inc., Chicago. In a question-and-answer period following the talk, Vanderselt identified Kmart among the retailers where Pope & Talbot is involved as a category co-captain in the household paper category.
At Kmart, Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, is the category captain for household paper products. Pope & Talbot acts as private-label co-captain in that category.
In a separate interview with Brand Marketing, David Lakey, director of customer development at Pope & Talbot, identified four other retail accounts where the company has developed a similar role:
At Target Stores, Minneapolis, Pope & Talbot has provided category management support in the diaper category, working in parallel to branded captain Kimberly-Clark since October 1994.
At Dominicks, Chicago, Pope & Talbot has been co-captain for the paper goods category "for about two years."
At Tops Markets, Buffalo, Pope & Talbot
has been co-captain for the paper goods category, for nearly a year.
At Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., Pope & Talbot has been co-captain in the paper goods category since autumn of 1994.
The subject of "category co-captains" is one that Pope & Talbot will focus on at its booth this week in Chicago at the Food Marketing Institute annual convention and trade show, Lakey added.
In a media alert about its exhibit booth, he wrote: "We believe that the future of retailer marketing success includes both national-brand and store-brand suppliers acting as category 'co-captains,' each bringing a unique perspective to the category plan."
Lakey also acknowledged that private-label and national-brand suppliers need not directly interact in order for each to make a valuable contribution to the retailer's category plans.
"From our perspective, we may not know whether it is Kimberly or Procter," he said. "The category manager knows, but we may not need to know."
That would appear to be the case at P&G, where sources said they had no knowledge of the particulars of Pope & Talbot's role at Kmart and declined further comment.
In his formal talk here, Vanderselt said retailers choose the leading national-brand manufacturer that presumably has the best consumer understanding or has done the best job of developing knowledge of the category. But at the same time, they choose a private-label supplier for that category, assuming that they have equal competence in applying technology and skills in category management.
"Our vision is to be the pre-eminent North American supplier of store-brand products and services," he said. "To achieve that, we have to do things extremely well. That has to be done with quality as well as partnerships. When you think about it, quality and partnership are the two cornerstones of category management.
"The private-label manufacturer is the one who can apply that technology to help retailers develop a winning total brand strategy," he said.
When asked to comment on the practice of category co-captains, Brian Sharoff, president of the Private Label Manufacturers Association, said it is definitely taking place and makes sense.
"When retailers give a message to the manufacturers of private label, they always say the same thing," he said. "In category management, we are going to turn to the people who can do the best job in supplying us with knowledge and insight into the category. "Clearly, the retailer is not going to turn to the national-brand companies and say, 'You're out. We want the private-label guy.' But I think there will be more partnering so that the retailer's interest is protected by the private-label supplier whose concern is that the retailer is being drawn too closely to the national brand," said Sharoff.