At a time when pricing challenges threaten to strain trading partner relations, retailers and manufacturers report the contrary is true, that when faced with the economy-related anxieties presented during the past year, data sharing, collaboration and other trading partner interactions have in fact improved.
That’s per nearly 75% of respondents to SN’s Supplier Leadership Awards survey. Slightly over one-quarter (25.6%) stated that relations have stayed the same.
“Challenging economic conditions necessitate that suppliers and retailers work together towards solutions that benefit everyone,” said one manufacturer. “Increasingly, our goal is to look beyond the individual products that we sell to help our customers solve business issues.”
Indeed, in their development of more holistic solutions, suppliers are honing a range of attributes from product innovation and cost efficiency to DSD logistics and shopper insights, to name a few. SN is reflecting the shift by highlighting 16 best-in-class examples in its first-ever Supplier Leadership Awards issue, a successor to its Category Excellence Awards.
Whereas in the past SN recognized category captains for their leadership in segments such as beer, dairy and soup, this year’s awards take on greater relevance. Instead of selecting from a handful of candidates in a number of specialized areas, SN opened the field to all suppliers with a call for first-rate initiatives that serve as models to all. Nominations were collected this summer via a comprehensive survey. With special consideration given to examples highlighting specific benefits to retailers, SN’s editors selected the winners. Following are summaries of our findings, fleshed out in more detail in the linked profiles.
There are many moving parts in the relationship between manufacturers, retailers and shoppers. The products and execution may change, but the goal is always the same: Greater sales that lead to deeper household penetration. The key to success is understanding what each of the other stakeholders wants, and developing strategies to meet those needs.
Mars Chocolate North America  has won the award for Product Innovation since it’s focused on delighting even improbable shoppers with different takes on iconic candies like the wildly successful M&M’S Pretzel Chocolate Candies.
Seventh Generation  is not just paying attention to the formula in its bottles, but leading the way in Packaging Innovation. The company is taking a risk with its new recyclable cardboard bottle. Retailers are benefiting since new users are drawn to its natural aesthetic.
Products that support greener lifestyles are also getting a boost thanks to Sustainability leader Procter & Gamble ’s Future Friendly seal. The designation is given to those P&G products that help save energy or water, or reduce waste.
P&G and Sara Lee  partnered to help provide cash-strapped local public schools with SMART boards. The companies who tapped community-minded Hy-Vee to generate a friendly competition for the boards, using coupons and related incentives, have won the award for Cause Marketing.
Clever tactics by supplier Dole Fresh Vegetables  earned it top honors in the Integrated Marketing category. After learning that shoppers didn’t understand leafy greens all that well, the company included taste and texture scales, and “pairs well” with suggestions on packaging. A major marketing campaign supported the effort.
The Dannon Co.  is making a splash by leveraging an inexpensive yet effective promotional tool: social media. To spread the word about its rebranded Dannon Oikos yogurt, the New Media Marketing award winner set up a booth and passed out free samples at a blogger’s conference. Positive reviews now rank highly in Google searches for the product.
Ocean Mist Farms , the POS Merchandising award winner, made full use of the store environment with a display contest that linked to a broader digital effort. Creative presentations of artichokes drew the attention of shoppers, while “petal” inserts in the artichokes themselves directed buyers to its new mobile website where they could join the company’s Artichoke Aficionados Club, and enter to win $10,000. Membership rose 400%.
More customized solutions are also setting retailer/manufacturer teams apart. Campbell Soup Co. , winner of the Shopper Insights award, conducted a study to help Wal-Mart Stores build its meal solutions category. After learning that low-cost and easy prep are priorities for its shoppers, Campbell’s combined two simple ingredients: a bag of Uncle Ben’s Rice and a can of Campbell’s soup. The solution generated a 123% dollar sales lift of featured products.
When customized strategies are not an option, brand marketers are providing tools to specific sets of retailers. Tyson Foods  is being recognized for its Support of Small Chains and Independents. It grew its category management reach to more than 29,000 stores with online platforms and tools like a calculator that helps optimize product mix and pricing based on cost, sales and margin goals.
Kraft Foods , winner of the Category Management award, is serving up a different type of solution. It satisfies retail partners by promoting them as destinations for solving the “what’s for dinner tonight” conundrum. The retailer gets the credit as Kraft uses its broad portfolio to tie in total-store solutions.
On the supply chain side, Unsaleables Reduction award winner Kellogg , is reducing damaged and expired products delivered to the warehouses of retailers by collecting “statistically sound data” on unsaleables trends and sharing details with its trading partners. The cereal giant has reduced the amount of damaged products by more than 30%.
PepsiCo  is being recognized for exemplary DSD Logistics. The proponent of advanced shipping notices has reduced the time spent at a store by its delivery people to about five minutes from as many as 50 minutes, which in turn saves the retailer time, and results in faster shelf replenishment.
The Clorox Co.  is the winner of SN’s Collaboration award. The company’s Category Advisory Services is dedicated to collecting shopper data and sharing it with retailers. Clorox also combines loyalty card information and attitudinal insights to uncover trends and help with store-level management.
The philanthropic arm of ConAgra Foods, the ConAgra Foods Foundation , is being recognized for helping shoppers help themselves. The winner of the Community Outreach award has funded $5 million in grants in support of programs that take low-income families to the grocery store to teach them how to source healthy food on a budget.
Given rising input costs, General Mills  is likewise minding its spending. For its Holistic Margin Management system, it’s won the Cost Efficiency award. Through HMM it will save $4 billion during the next decade. Recent packaging reductions contributed to the goal.
Amidst cost-cutting initiatives, suppliers are making food safety a priority. Ainsworth Pet Nutrition , winner of the Food Safety award, uses a Triple Check System including audits of ingredient suppliers, monitoring of its production process and a 48-hour warehouse hold to test all finished products.