ORGANIZERS SEE PROMISE IN PRIVATE-LABEL MONTH

The private-label industry is in the midst of its first National Store Brands Awareness Month, with a relatively small number of initial retail participants but a potentially promising future.The promotion is aimed at turning around consumer opinions about store brands -- to have shoppers think of private labels as quality products with a price value, rather than an inferior-quality generic label,

The private-label industry is in the midst of its first National Store Brands Awareness Month, with a relatively small number of initial retail participants but a potentially promising future.

The promotion is aimed at turning around consumer opinions about store brands -- to have shoppers think of private labels as quality products with a price value, rather than an inferior-quality generic label, according to its organizers.

"For our first time, I think we've had a tremendous reception from the retailers," said Tuck Jasper, president and chief executive officer of Shurfine-Central Corp., Northlake, Ill., a member of the promotion's steering committee and a financial contributor. "Out of the 20,000 retailers that are part of our network, approximately 4,500 participated with in-store materials like shelf cards and signs. They're doing the ad mentions; some even have their grocery sacks printed with the promotion's logo.

"We have laid the groundwork for next year," said Jasper. He said a small group, primarily spinning off the members of the steering committee, participated this year. The committee this year included representatives from Fleming Cos., IGA, Supervalu and Federated Foods.

Nevertheless, the members on the steering committee "have vast networks," said Roberta Friedman, president of New York-based RF Promotions, a newly formed marketing agency that implemented the promotion. "They represent 50% of the private-label industry through their wholesalers and retailers.

"Next year should be much larger; I think we'll get more support. A lot of people didn't really hear about this until late last year. So I'd say we'll probably triple our participation in 1995," said Friedman.

The distinction between Store

Brands Awareness Month and other private-label promotions is that it's a consumer educational activity as opposed to a "selling" event, explained Friedman.

But that's not to say that some retailers aren't promoting the products.

Marie Milde, a buyer with Supervalu, Minneapolis, said the company is participating with a midwinter sales promotion on a selection of private-label items taken from across the board.

With Supervalu's 34 wholesale locations, Milde said, the extent to which each division is participating could not be ascertained.

Some Supervalu divisions are using the national store brands symbol, an owl, on their ad pages, she said. "I've had several requests for slick sheets with the logo and the national theme."

Milde noted that January and February are typically a slow time for retail, so the promotion is well placed, "because that's what consumers are looking for at the retail level."

Another steering committee member and financial backer is Kroger Co., Cincinnati. However, Kroger elected not to feature the national brands awareness logo in any of its promotions. Instead, it plans on sticking with its own private-label promotions for the year's first quarter, according to Paul Bernish, director of public relations.

RF Promotion's Friedman said that plans for next year's National Store Brands Awareness Month are already on the drawing board, to get an earlier start and encourage increased participation.