BJ’s Wholesale Club is a big proponent of ethical and sustainable sourcing in Private Brands — and is making progress in this effort.

The retailer’s activities were relayed by Scott Williams, Vice President, Own Brands and Quality, in a presentation at the My Private Brand Sustainability Summit.

“When it’s our label, we need to look all the way back in the supply chain,” he said. “Our members trust us, so everything we sell should meet our standards, because we did the work to curate it for them.”

Efforts Focus on Private Brand

Williams and his team are closely involved with international and U.S. sourcing efforts for the retailer’s Private Brands — Berkley Jensen and Wellsley Farms. The membership warehouse club operates primarily along the Eastern U.S., with some 6 million members — who pay a yearly fee — and about $13 billion in annual sales.

Company executives strive to understand the dynamics involved with ethical sourcing, for items ranging from Madagascar Vanilla to India shrimp. Their exploration often requires in-person sourcing visits, discussions with farmers, and a willingness to make longer-term supply commitments to “keep farmers on farms.”

Along the way the BJ’s private brand team has learned key sourcing lessons, such as the imperative of understanding cultural differences, the need to develop strong partnerships, and the importance of helping to boost ethical commitments in other countries. In the latter case, BJ’s makes efforts to drive good labor practices among suppliers.

“We want to fix our supply chain, not just pick up and move somewhere else,” he said.

Ethical Sourcing Fosters Consumer Trust

Williams said that BJ’s doesn’t necessarily expect to get “credit” from members for its ethical sourcing practices, but if a retailer doesn’t do the right thing, “people will blame you, and they’ll feel let down by you.”

He added, “If you stand behind the brand from a quality standpoint, you should do so from an ethical sourcing standpoint too.”

He urged industry companies to share their stories and practices in support of ethical sourcing.

“Our voices are stronger together,” he said. “It will be impactful if we work together. If we all agree on the same standard, it becomes the standard.”

Looking ahead to the next few years, BJ’s hopes to make further progress in the supply chain.

“Hopefully it will be about continuing to get one more layer down,” he explained. “We’ve relied on our suppliers in Private Brand, but we have to go back and make sure we know who they are partnering with.”