Unified Grocers Expanding PL Organics

COMMERCE, Calif. — Unified Grocers' Natural Directions natural and organics private label may have just celebrated its first birthday, but it's already experiencing a growth spurt. Salsa, crackers and canned seafood are among some 30 new items slated to launch within the next 90 to 120 days, according to Dean Allen, procurement/marketing director for Market Centre, a Unified subsidiary that distributes

COMMERCE, Calif. — Unified Grocers' Natural Directions natural and organics private label may have just celebrated its first birthday, but it's already experiencing a growth spurt.

Salsa, crackers and canned seafood are among some 30 new items slated to launch within the next 90 to 120 days, according to Dean Allen, procurement/marketing director for Market Centre, a Unified subsidiary that distributes organic, ethnic and other specialty products. Unified is a retailer-owned wholesale grocery co-op.

An additional 50 to 75 items will hit the shelves within the next year, Allen said.

“We continue to explore new categories and items to develop,” he told SN.

The line debuted in April 2008, and currently has 164 items: 133 dry grocery, 15 frozen and 16 refrigerated. Selections include canned beans, cereal, frozen vegetables, and nonfoods like carcinogen-free household cleaners, and bathroom tissue and napkins made from 100% recycled paper.

“Natural Directions was designed to help our retailers compete for and attract that health-conscious organic shopper who's looking for more value,” Allen said.

The line is currently sold in 650 Unified stores, representing about 130 retail banners, including Andronico's, Metropolitan Market, Mollie Stone's, Lunardi's and C&K Market.

“Retailers continue to expand their offerings, and add new items as we introduce them,” Allen said.

Andronico's Markets, Albany, Calif., currently carries about 130 items, according to grocery category manager Jessica Willett.

“We will be launching more as they come to market,” she said.

The growth of Natural Directions comes as other retailers are strengthening their private-label organics. Supervalu, Minneapolis, for instance, launched Wild Harvest, a natural and organics line last year.

Safeway was so enthused about the performance of its proprietary brands O Organics and Eating Right, a health and wellness line, that last year it began offering both to retailers and foodservice operators outside the Safeway organization.

While that means both brands are no longer considered private labels, many retailers are currently the first in their operating areas to offer the products.

Albertsons LLC, Boise, Idaho, has rolled out more than 100 O Organics products. Baby food, dairy products, beverages, snacks and meal options are among the offerings at 240 Albertsons. The line officially debuted last month with an Earth Day promotion that included in-store demos; ceiling danglers, shelf signs and shelf talkers; and radio spots.

Such efforts could help explain why organic food sales are climbing. Sales of organic food and nonfood products hit $24.6 billion last year, a 17% increase from 2007, according to the Organic Trade Association's 2009 Organic Industry Survey.