Millennials, Fresh Direct & Velocity

Last month’s Velocity: My [Private] Brand Conference showed that the ‘millennial mindset’ is fast becoming the most powerful force in retail, as Kieran Forsey, CEO at Solutions for Retail Brands (S4RB Inc.) explains. 

There’s no denying private brand grocery has undergone a radical transformation in recent times. A far cry from the uninspiring ‘generic’ products once seen on supermarket shelves, today’s landscape is characterized by innovative ranges, chosen for consumers for quality as well as price. Now a respected voice in the grocery industry, private brand manufacturers and retailers are often the pioneers of positive change.

I’ve just returned from the inaugural Velocity: My [Private] Brand Conference, where the question on everyone’s lips was how to respond to shoppers’ demand for transparency and authenticity. Behind this is the powerful millennial market, which is bigger than any generation in US history, and is expected to account for 35% of US consumer spending by 2030.

Carrie Mesing, senior director of private brands at online grocery retailer FreshDirect

With the last of this cohort coming of age, the race is on to understand how the millennial mindset is disrupting previously accepted norms. Driven by technology, this is a world where nothing is guaranteed and where even the most established firms’ risk failure – look no further than A&P, which ceased trading in 2015. Never has it been more important for retailers to work closely with suppliers to deliver high-quality products, through sustainable practices and declared provenance to an increasingly perceptive customer base.

It was great to hear from such a variety of retailers from the giants such as Walmart, to the regional players such as Giant Eagle to new entrance such as Boxed all who shared their experiences and priorities in regard to private brands in their organizations. But for me, the event was topped by Carrie Mesing, senior director of private brands at online grocery retailer FreshDirect. It’s not often that you get to hear from a senior company leader who is also a Millennial, so it was refreshing to hear what she had to say.

Explaining the importance of greater transparency, she said that this generation is aware, and often suspicious, of food manufacturers. Their default position is that big brands are misleading the public – and in the fight to win over customers, retailers need to be upfront about where a product comes from, what’s in it and whether it contains ‘clean’ ingredients.

Illustrating this with an example from her own company, she told how the launch of FreshDirect Wild-Caught Albacore Tuna offered a more sustainable alternative to other varieties.

FreshDirect’s private brand team works with small-scale supplier Mike Babcock of Oregon Seafoods and fisherman Captain Shawn Ryan, who catches every tuna by hand to prevent other fish being picked up unnecessarily. Afterwards, it is hand-filleted and cooked once (not twice like other brands) with natural ingredients. Just as this post from Fresh Direct’s official blog Sourced by Fresh Direct shows, Shawn Ryan and the people behind a product take priority over traditional sales messaging.

Now the retailer has developed a private brand product that appears to win out on quality, sustainability and, most importantly, authenticity.

My time at Velocity only underlined the fact that traditional barriers between retailers, suppliers and customers are vanishing. Replacing them are communities, where everything is open, transparent and, above all, continually improving.

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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.