WHOLESALER: Unified Grocers

Unified Grocers, a retailer-owned wholesale distributor headquartered in Los Angeles, is forever focused on helping its member retailers thrive. This year, the company began introducing a new line of private-label natural and organic foods Natural Directions in an attempt to give them an added edge. The initial launch in April included 100 dry grocery, refrigerated and frozen items. As of July, more

Unified Grocers, a retailer-owned wholesale distributor headquartered in Los Angeles, is forever focused on helping its member retailers thrive. This year, the company began introducing a new line of private-label natural and organic foods — Natural Directions — in an attempt to give them an added edge.

The initial launch in April included 100 dry grocery, refrigerated and frozen items. As of July, more than 400 Unified retailer partners across the country were offering Natural Directions to their customers.

Most members would not have private label if it weren't for the distribution company, according to Ray Burtner, general manager of sales for Market Centre, a Unified Grocers subsidiary centered on specialty products, naturals and organics.

“A number of national and regional chains have been competing with private-label products in the category under a variety of brand names,” he said. “But until the introduction of Natural Directions, our retailers did not have a point of differentiation in organic and naturals.”

Consumers have been at the forefront of Unified Grocers' strategic planning for a while now. The company not only conducts frequent shopper studies, it routinely hosts focus groups before embarking on new endeavors.

The development of Natural Directions is a perfect example. An assortment of consumers was called upon to offer insight into the category. The company then designed the line's unique look.

“The label they created really highlights Natural Directions on the shelf and draws the consumer's attention to the brand,” said Burtner.