AHOLD KEEPING PRIVATE LABELS CURRENT

ATLANTA -- Ahold USA here is building its private-label sales by updating and unifying its labels and by meeting with consumers to find out what they want added to product lines.On its way to becoming the nation's fifth largest retailer, the Netherlands-based company currently operates supermarkets in the eastern half of the country under the Tops Markets, Giant Food/Martins, Stop & Shop, Edwards

ATLANTA -- Ahold USA here is building its private-label sales by updating and unifying its labels and by meeting with consumers to find out what they want added to product lines.

On its way to becoming the nation's fifth largest retailer, the Netherlands-based company currently operates supermarkets in the eastern half of the country under the Tops Markets, Giant Food/Martins, Stop & Shop, Edwards Super Food Stores, Bi-Lo and Finast banners. It is in the process of acquiring Giant Food, Landover, Md.

Ahold is using multitiered private labels for value, national-brand quality and gourmet products as a way to broaden its customer base, said Stuart Simpson, senior vice president, creative services, at Marketing Management Incorporated (MMI), the Ft. Worth, Texas-based brokerage firm that represents Ahold's private-label lines.

"Ahold is very proactive and consumer driven," Simpson said.

"They have gone through consumer panels to really get the consumer input [with regard to the direction they should move in]. They want the consumer to understand what it is they are trying to do at retail. That lines of communication [with customers] are very open and important to Ahold," he said.

"You are seeing multitiered private label in a lot of their divisions and it is something that Ahold really understands in terms of reaching a broader base of consumers. They are trying to have something [in the store] that addresses every customer's need when they walk in," Simpson said.

Officials at Ahold could not be reached for comment.

In recent years Ahold has consolidated its major private labels to the Finast, Bi-Lo, Tops and Stop & Shop brands. MMI helped Ahold update the Bi-Lo and Finast brands from a mostly black label to one that better showcases the product that is inside. The Guaranteed Value generic line has also been updated to make it more appealing.

"Because Ahold is unique, with several different chains in completely different geographic areas, they were already heavily invested in doing a redesign with one of their brands and they wanted to see how much of that they could pick up, roll over and do again in the Northeast. We were able to help them make that crossover," Simpson said.

"One of the hallmarks of having [this retailer] as a customer is that there is such a clear, concise focus that [is shared by] all the people at Ahold. They seem to understand their mutual objective very, very well," he added.

Simpson said Ahold is doing a good job in promoting its private label, using radio, television and in-store point-of-purchase signage. This creates more personality for the brand, he explained, and gets customers more involved in the product.