New York City rolled out the red carpet for private brand at a gala that celebrated the remarkable evolution of retail owned brand package design.

The Vertex Awards Pop-Up Exhibit at a New York gallery placed private brand design on a pedestal as high art, displayed in images award-winning photographer Teri Campbell at an exclusive artist’s loft setting. The gathering sponsored by Elmwood, MBD and Coloredge featured awards, trophies and a convergence of retailers, designers, agency executives, and others.

Much of the buzz at the party was about how far private brands have come.

Vertex Awards co-founders Phil Russo of Global Retail Brands Magazine and Christopher Durham of My Private Brand

“This event says a lot about how much private brands have developed,” said Christopher Durham, president of My Private Brand, and co-founder of The Vertex Awards, who was master of ceremonies. “It isn’t about I’m cheaper, or just as good, it’s about I’m awesome.”

The exhibit showcased a curated collection of North American honorees from the more than 70 global winners in this year’s Vertex Awards. This is the fifth year for the global competition that honors private brand packaging design. This year marks the first time U.S. retailers have won either the Best in Show or Publisher’s Choice awards, and in fact, American retailers took both. The Best in Show winner was Uniquely J Badass Espresso from online retailer Jet.com. The Publishers’ Choice Winner was Peaceful Piranha, from Midwestern grocer Hy-Vee.

U.S. private brands, in particular, have surged in design sophistication on the global stage, said Phil Russo, who is publisher and editor of Global Retail Brands, and co-founder of The Vertex Awards.

“Over the past five years U.S. private brand design has accelerated and caught up with the best design in Europe,” he explained.

Retailers at the event said design expertise is having an impact across retail platforms, from brick and mortar to e-commerce.

“It’s critical for companies today to be more thoughtful when designing private brand products, especially in an e-commerce environment,” said Carrie Mesing, senior director of Private Brands at FreshDirect, a Silver winner for its “Just FreshDirect Nut Bars” design. “In order to compete, it’s important to stand out from both national players and small artisan companies. To help customers better understand the value proposition of our private brand products immediately, we make the key attributes of our products clear through thoughtful packaging and labeling efforts.”

Laura Kind, brand Director for Uniquely J, at Jet.com, emphasized the importance of design to branding, pointing to her company’s efforts. “It is a private brand, but we think of Uniquely J less as a private brand, and more as a brand.”

Roopi Crowley, vice president of Packaging and Graphics at Bed Bath & Beyond, a Silver award honoree, said it’s crucial to grab attention with design.

“You have three or four seconds to get the customer engagement,” she said. “It’s really about that. Once you get it, then the copy, package and product will sell itself.”

Jason Bidart, vice president, Private Brand Programs, at Fairway Market, a Bronze award winner, said a strong private brand program can lead to differentiation and loyalty.” Package design is key to standing out against the sea of national brands while conveying the key attributes and offering the food transparency consumers are looking for.”

The Vertex Awards celebration did not end with the New York event. It coincided with the launch of this year’s Vertex Awards V Annual Winner’s Book, a coffee table style book showcasing the winners.

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