NASH FINCH TO OPEN STORE-BRAND TEST KITCHEN

MINNEAPOLIS -- Nash Finch here is taking a unusual step in developing an in-house quality-assurance lab to grow an upscale private label.The test kitchen, which Nash Finch began testing two weeks ago, will be used to create products and proprietary recipes for the wholesaler's private-label program, mainly Our Family Pride, a specialty line due to roll out in the fourth quarter."This is a premier

MINNEAPOLIS -- Nash Finch here is taking a unusual step in developing an in-house quality-assurance lab to grow an upscale private label.

The test kitchen, which Nash Finch began testing two weeks ago, will be used to create products and proprietary recipes for the wholesaler's private-label program, mainly Our Family Pride, a specialty line due to roll out in the fourth quarter.

"This is a premier facility for a wholesaler," John Paul, senior director, sales and marketing, told SN.

Until now, Nash Finch developed its corporate brands with the assistance of an outside lab. By having its own equipment, Nash Finch will be better able to monitor the quality of its private-label products, Paul said.

"We wanted to have more control of the [private-label] business," Paul said.

Few wholesalers, or retailers for that matter, can boast having an in-house kitchen, said W. Frank Dell II, president, Dellmart & Co., Stamford, Conn., a consulting firm. "This clearly indicates that [Nash Finch] is being proactive in developing new products, which is the future of private label," he said.

More companies should follow suit, because in-house labs can give a company an advantage in terms of testing the purity, taste and performance of a new product, he said. This is important in all forms of private-label product development, but especially in the specialty business.

"If you're going to make a premium product, you want to make sure it's right," he said.

It won't be long until more companies create labs of their own, said Edward Salzano, executive vice president and chief operating officer, LiDestri Foods, Fairport, N.Y., marketer of Francesco Rinaldi pasta sauce, and chairman of strategic goals, Private Label Manufacturers Association, New York.

"As corporate brands become more prevalent, we're going to see [in-house labs] become more common," Salzano said.

Centrally located in its store-brand department at its headquarters here, the lab will be available to Nash Finch personnel and outside vendors for product development. Initial plans calls for a staff of two full-time employees. Paul declined to release key details of the project, including cost.

Marketing Management Inc., Fort Worth, Texas, Nash Finch's store-brand sales and marketing company, assisted in the lab's design.

The bulk of initial activity in Nash Finch's lab will focus on the Our Family Pride rollout, which will begin around the holidays with an initial 50 to 75 stockkeeping units. Among the offerings: stuffed olives, pasta sauce, soup, juice and frozen entrees. Natural and organic offerings eventually will be added. Paul declined to discuss pricing.

The facility will be used to ensure that all of the products are distinct, Paul said. For instance, rather than just canned olives, there will be olives stuffed with, say, blue cheese or jalapeno peppers.

"Our goal is to offer quality food products that are comparable to those found in specialty and gourmet stores," he said.

Our Family Pride will fill out Nash Finch's private-label offerings, which include the low-end Value Choice.