Food retailers are bullish about new opportunities for Private Brand that couldn’t have been imagined just a couple of months ago.

In the My Private Brand webinar “COVID-19: Leading with Private Brands,” retail executives said increased consumer trial of store brands during the COVID-19 crisis has boosted perceptions of these items and paved the way for more consumer acceptance. Private Brand has gained a more positive halo in the midst of a global emergency.

“This is going to be an exciting time over the next two to three years for Private Brands to capitalize on growing penetration,” said John Evans, Director of Private Brands, Weis Markets

“This is going to be an exciting time over the next two to three years for Private Brands to capitalize on growing penetration,” said John Evans, Director of Private Brands, Weis Markets, based in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. “Private Brands today are a lot better than they were a decade ago. The quality has really come up. They are better than national brands in most cases. So the ball is in our court to really take advantage of that.”

Increased Trial Raises Brand Profiles

Brandon Wehmeyer, Senior Private Brands Product Development Manager, Boxed[/caption]

Brandon Wehmeyer, Senior Private Brands Product Development Manager for online retailer Boxed, said the pandemic period drove new customers to his company’s curated assortments for their pantry stocking.

“The best thing for us is that we’ve been capturing their contact information, and it gives us a new opportunity for specific Private Brand messaging,” he said.

There’s an opportunity for Private Brand retailers to “find a way to retarget the new customers” and “convert them into true customers who will come back,” he added.

Consumer Shifts Support Private Brands

Seanna Rishor, Vice President of Private Label for the Canadian food retailer Sobeys, said changing consumer behaviors — including more eating at home and increased focus on value — open up new avenues for Private Brand and “puts us in a really good position.”

The webinar, moderated by Christopher Durham, president of My Private Brand, attracted some 600 industry viewers from the U.S. and 11 other countries. The webinar is now available on-demand. During the broadcast, Durham announced this year’s Velocity conference will be switching to a unique virtual experience called Velocity Global, with expansions in education, audience, networking and the exhibition.

Retailers Navigate Supply Challenges

Retailers speaking during the webinar said they turned to alternate suppliers during the pandemic to battle out of stocks. That activity pressured retailer quality assurance teams to make sure new products met standards.

“If we were going to do something with an off label or different channels kind of product, we brought in samples to our QA lab to go through our full QA process,” Evans said. “The technicians gave it either a thumbs up or thumbs down.”

While many brick and mortar retailers curtailed in-store sampling programs during the crisis, Weis Markets was among those managing to maintain sampling through online orders.

“It’s a surprise for shoppers when they find sample size items in their online shopping orders,” Evans said. “Private label is now jumping into that realm.”

Pandemic Drives New Work Strategies

The need for remote work strategies during the crisis impacted retailers differently. Some, like Weis Markets, didn’t have a history of using virtual work platforms, but quickly acclimated. Others, like Boxed, had previously incorporated these kinds of platforms into their workflows.

Rishor said the biggest challenge in remote work for Sobeys wasn’t the technology, but rather the lack of “personal connections with the team. It’s hard not seeing them every day.”

Meanwhile, retailers said now they are gradually moving from crisis mode back to a focus on Private Brand innovation and new product development.

“The first few weeks were about normalizing supply chain, and we’re still working through that,” Wehmeyer said, “But at this point we’re also back to things like looking at new items and artwork development.”