ARLINGTON, Va. — Food Marketing Institute here last week said it will launch a private-label initiative “to provide industrywide leadership, education and advocacy” for private-brand products.
“This is an effort for us to begin to engage all the stakeholders who are interested in private brands,” said Leslie G. Sarasin, FMI's president and chief executive officer, in an interview with SN last week. “It is something our members believe is critically important to their businesses, and they really want to begin to focus more on expanding their efforts and differentiating themselves in the marketplace with a focus on their own private brands.
“They are focused on serving the needs of consumers, and, particularly in this economic downturn, the focus on this has become even greater.”
In a prepared statement, Danny Wegman, chairman and CEO, Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y. — one of 11 retailers on FMI's private-brands steering committee — said the initiative represents “a new way of inspiring collaboration among all member constituents.”
“We are in an era of tremendous competition from all channels of trade, which makes total industry inclusion and collaboration more critical than ever,” he said. “This is a powerful group spearheading a powerful initiative.”
In addition to the retailers, the steering committee also includes 11 private-label manufacturers and two sales agencies, according to Patrick J. Walsh, vice president, industry development, education and research, FMI.
The steering committee has been planning the new group “for the past six or seven months,” he told SN last week.
FMI said it will form a “Private Brands Group” composed of retailers, wholesalers, distributors and suppliers, all with equal voting rights, to guide the program. The group will report to FMI's board of directors.
Although Sarasin said the specific tasks to be undertaken under the new initiative had not been completely decided, FMI said in a statement that the mission will be to “promote policies, programs and learning opportunities” in the areas of industry cooperation; education; food safety; public and consumer information; and government relations.
“Industry education and member advocacy are core competencies of FMI, and this exciting new initiative underscores the significance of private brands and the industry's commitment to this important segment of our business,” said Jeff Noddle, chairman and CEO of Minneapolis-based Supervalu, which is also among the steering committee's member companies.
In conjunction with the new initiative, FMI also said it will launch two meetings in 2009, both of which are planned to be annual events: a Private Brands Summit and a yet-unnamed private brands business conference, which are planned to take place annually. The dates and locations of the events, which will take place separately, have not yet been determined. The summit is planned as a venue for research and educational programs exploring consumer attitudes about private labels, while the conference will be geared toward enabling trading partners “to plan the strategies and tactics needed to maximize private-brand sales.”
The announcement about the new initiative and trade conferences came just as this year's Private Label Manufacturers Association show was winding down in Chicago. A spokesman for the PLMA, based in New York, could not be reached for comment about the FMI initiative last week.
One of the two sales agencies that has been involved in planning the FMI initiative is Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon Worldwide, which staged its own Private Label Forum two years ago in Chicago.
“I applaud FMI for taking this action to bring all industry constituents together for such a powerful common cause,” said Milt Sender, chairman of Daymon Worldwide, citing a need for “greater focus and collaboration” on private brands. “FMI is the ideal organization to drive this process.”
Supermarket retailers in the U.S. have been aggressively seeking to expand their private-label programs. Domestic operators tend to have much lower sales penetration of private-label product than do their overseas counterparts.
Sarasin said the Private Brands Group could be the first of multiple collaborative initiatives that FMI seeks to initiate under her tenure.
“This is the first of what I hope will be many initiatives that will be open and clear discussions of what we are trying to achieve, and working in an open and collaborative manner,” she said.