Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, whose motto is “May the farm be with you,” has rapidly grown its private label lineup from zero to nearly 900 SKUs in just two years, Robin VanDenabeele, director of private label for the Phoenix-based chain told attendees of a panel session about America’s changing eating habits at PLMA’s 2016 Private Label Trade Show Sunday.
“Some of the new products that we’re launching over time are our alkaline water, which we’re very excited about. We customized and created a growler bar that [uses growlers] with our Fresh Thyme logo on it and we just launched new plant-based cleaners,” VanDenabeele said.
Over the next year-and-a-half VanDenabeele will focus exclusively on the line’s premium tier and frozen, dairy, meat and body care products made with essential oils, in particular.
About 76% of the products are natural, which VanDenabeele refers to as “conventional,” and the remainder are organic. She aims to source products from suppliers in the Midwest, and about 40% to 50% of 100 current suppliers are based in states in the region. “I get my healthy snacks in Minnesota. I get my beans in Illinois, all things tomato in Indiana and my water in New York,” she said.
Fresh Thyme’s lineup features clean labels with its signature tractor and an earthy palette including mostly green backgrounds for organic products and brown labels for conventional. They were designed with simplicity in mind.
“It’s very simple, we’re not going to get into too many icons,” VanDenabeele said. “We don’t have 70 icons on the label. We’re just going to say, ‘It’s free from x, y and z.’ I can guarantee that there are 100 ingredients that I’m looking out for, for [consumers’] greater good, so as we build this brand’s story we have a clean label.”
As she’s shaped Fresh Thyme’s line, VanDenabeele has taken into special consideration changing eating habits and how Millennial consumers in particular are adhering to the paleo diet.
She is likewise cognizant of the impact of social media on brand image. VanDenabeele recently viewed a YouTube video posted by a shopper who gave alkaline waters sold under different brands a literal litmus test to determine which were the real deal and which claims were false.
Her experience comes at a time when one-fifth of meals are prepared in 15 minutes or less and about one-third of calories are consumed after 6 p.m., according to panelist Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at the U.K.-based market researcher Canadean.
He noted that consumers are now eating over the course of about 15 hours per day and the lines between the types of foods that were once acceptable during different day parts have faded. Take, for instance, Trader Joe’s breakfast biscuits which are essentially cookies and Delighted by Dessert’s Snickerdoodle flavored hummus, he said.
“Millennials are a generation [for whom] Whole Foods has always been here. Trader Joe’s has always been here. These are not new concepts for them. They’ve never traveled in a car that hasn’t had a ton of cup holders,” Vierhile said.
Joe Azzinaro, special projects editor for PLMA who also sat on the panel, said that private labels are uniquely positioned to meet these shopper needs.
“They have to respond in terms of developing products and packaging and serving sizes that fit these unusual eating patterns and innovate with ingredients, new formulations that have health and wellness standards, as well as their interest in sustainability and traceability. Store brands have a unique opportunity to take advantage of that and we’re starting to see that at some of the major chains.”