Loblaw Private Brand Innovation in a Jar

Photo by J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail

Over the last few weeks’ Canadian newspaper the Globe & Mail has been running a series of articles about intrapeneuers. Who is an intrapreneur? Usually highly self-motivated, proactive and action-oriented people who are comfortable with taking the initiative, even within the boundaries of an organization, in pursuit of an innovative product or service. The series examines eight companies that encourage an intrapreneurial culture and has included Telus, Hootsuite, Metrolinx and retailer Canadian Tire. The latest edition takes the reader inside the world of iconic Canadian retailer Loblaw and the development of its “Black Label” line of President’s Choice private brand products.

Bacon marmalade – Loblaw innovation in a jar

Of course there was bacon: When Loblaw Cos. Ltd. announced its premium “Black Label” line of President’s Choice products in 2011, it featured cherry Shiraz wine jelly, ginger-spiced chocolate sauce and, yes, bacon marmalade.

The private label’s entry into high-end goods was an opportunity for the grocery giant to lean on its innovative product development team. Since the heyday of the late Dave Nichol, the charming executive and pitchman who built the PC brand into consumable Canadiana, Loblaw has encouraged its in-house product developers to seek out new and adventurous flavours.

Loblaw Black LabelThe team scours the world for new product ideas, from whirlwind artisanal bakery tours in New York to coffee-picking excursions on Brazilian mountainsides. With Black Label, the team was able to leverage this freedom to develop a whole new group of high-end foods – including their signature bacon spread.

The metric for the team’s success is clear, says Kathlyne Ross, Loblaw’s vice-president of product development and innovation: “What’s the next Decadent cookie going to be?”

It took the product development team some time to bring the sweet-and-smoky marmalade to store shelves.

When the country’s largest grocery retailer does business, it’s big: Loblaw employs nearly 140,000 people and raked in $32-billion in revenue last year. But to keep its lucrative brands on trend and in demand, the company tries to think small, enlisting its team of 20 product developers to operate like a jetsetting startup. Their mantra is simple: scour Canada and the globe for product ideas, taking them from concept to shelf with plenty of room for creativity, failure and reinvention.

“A lot of what we do is somewhere between creativity and being a detective,” Ms. Ross says. “‘Why did this product work? What did we have to try again?’ There’s a lot of science in what we do, but sometimes you need to be creative to get the end result.”


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Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.