INDEPENDENT LABELS

With the help of wholesalers like Supervalu, Western Family and Fleming Cos., which handle development, packaging and distribution of private-label products, independents can now stock their shelves with more store brands."The independents are starting to see the benefits of private label," said Craig Espelien, corporate director of store brands for Supervalu, which supports 15 labels.Espelien said

With the help of wholesalers like Supervalu, Western Family and Fleming Cos., which handle development, packaging and distribution of private-label products, independents can now stock their shelves with more store brands.

"The independents are starting to see the benefits of private label," said Craig Espelien, corporate director of store brands for Supervalu, which supports 15 labels.

Espelien said private-label penetration at independent food stores has increased 35% to 40% over the past five years.

Buehler Foods, a Jasper, Ind., chain of 28 stores, gets a wide range of private-label products from Supervalu. While Buehler currently sells products under the Bi Rite and Flavorite names, it soon will be adding a line of products under its own name, which will also be supplied by Supervalu.

"It's something we have that the Wal-Marts and Kmarts of the world don't have," said Debbie Goulding, category manager for Buehler Foods. "When the consumer opens her cupboard, there's Buehler Foods."

Tidyman's, Greenacres, Wash., another Supervalu customer, offers several lines of private-label products, including its own Lindsey Ann brand, which Supervalu supplies. Tidyman's, which owns 23 stores under the Tidyman's, County Market and IGA names in Montana, Wyoming, Washington and Idaho, is debating whether to drop its own label and go exclusively with the wholesaler's brands. By going with a wholesaler, the company could reduce its stockkeeping unit count and warehouse operations.

"The disadvantage is losing brand recognition that our consumer looks to us to have," said Mike Racine, vice president of sales and marketing for Tidyman's. "There's an advantage to having a private label consumers can only buy in our stores."