What Do Consumers Want to Know? PLMALive!

Cdurham 2015Check out the latest segment that I recorded as a commentator for the Private Label Manufacturers Association’s (PLMA) web based video magazine PLMALive! The segment “What Do Consumers Want to Know?” discusses the trend toward greater transparency by retailers about their private brands.

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What Do Consumers Want to Know?

2015 heralds a new age of consumer empowerment – the internet, social media, food safety and food allergies are forcing retail brand owners to embrace a new level of transparency, which in turn, is giving retailers and their brands a new opportunity to engage customers with authentic, engaging product-focused stories.

The everyday essentials brand, Amazon Elements, launched late last year. With diapers and baby wipes, it has boldly proclaimed transparency to be one of the brand’s core differentiators, and one that ultimately tells a compelling story.

“The two things customers told us they want are premium products that meet their high standards, and access to information so they can make informed decisions. Amazon Elements offers both,” said Sunny Jain, Amazon.com Consumables Vice President in a statement. “We’ve leveraged our strengths in technology to bring customers an unprecedented level of information about these products.” Through a QR code printed on every package, customers will have access to numerous details including ingredients, explanations of those ingredients and their origins, date and place of manufacture, and more.

This culture of transparency then re-appeared two months after the brands launch as customers began to complain about design issues with the new Amazon Elements diapers. The retailer quickly pulled them, and gave subscribers a $25 coupon and the opportunity to be among the first customers to try the new and improved product.

But Amazon isn’t the only retailer to throw back the veil of secrecy. Mary Ellen Burris, Senior Vice President of Consumer Affairs at Wegmans has consistently used their official blog, “Fresh Stories” to communicate with customers. In post after post she talks about the quality of their private brand products and the suppliers they partner with. From importer Leo Letti of Tuscany who initially creates Wegmans Italian Classics, to Western New York dairy supplier Upstate Farms, who supplies organic milk and yogurt, Burris has consistently leveraged quality suppliers to reinforce the quality of the Wegmans brand.

Transparency extended well beyond the supermarket to the big box when Target introduced Direct Trade coffee beans in their Archer Farms brand and created a commercial to tell the world about it. In it, Lori, Target’s coffee buyer, tells us about Direct Trade coffee and narrates the story, taking the viewer to the coffee’s point of origin from a South American farmer and his family.

And New York-based home delivery grocer Fresh Direct has used transparency as a key differentiator designed to encourage fickle shoppers to choose Fresh Direct. Over the last few years, they have turned humble organic Pullet eggs into a much sought after culinary treasure of its private brand, Just Fresh Direct. The eggs are proudly sourced from Alderfer Family Farm in Pennsylvania, and are from young chickens that have just started to lay. They’re smaller than regular hen’s eggs, and consequently, are available in limited supplies.

“When we visited the farm, we saw them pulling out some eggs and were told it was because they were small and nobody wanted them,” said David McInerney, a founder of FreshDirect. “But the farmers like them because they tasted better, and we thought our customers would want something new.”

Customers are now accustomed to learning everything about everything with Google searches and are increasingly wary of secrecy, fearing the worst. In this new age of instant information and transparency, private brand manufacturers’ reputations, their recipes and the quality of their ingredients have begun to shift from trade secret to secret weapon.

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Christopher Durham
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.