Tapping into the popularity of competitive reality television shows, Safeway  held a nationwide three-month search for a chef who would create a recipe for its Open Nature store-brand meals.
Dave Histed, previously a chef at Big Bowl — a Midwest chain of Chinese and Thai restaurants — was awarded the full-time position at Safeway’s Culinary Kitchen, a 4,000-square-foot center at Safeway’s headquarters in Pleasanton, Calif., where store-brand foods and beverages are developed.
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Histed won for his recipe for “Thai Basil Shrimp with Curry Jasmine Rice,” made from 100% natural ingredients. As the winner, Histed’s meal will become an Open Nature Skillet Meal sold in Safeway stores.
Histed was selected by a judging panel consisting of Safeway executives and a Food Network television reality star.
The promo was one of several that retailers conducted over the last year or so to add more credibility to their brands.
Safeway was not alone in connecting its store brands with a reality television star.
Supervalu , for instance, partnered with Antonia Lofaso, a participant of Bravo’s “Top Chef” reality show, to promote its Essential Everyday store brand.
Lofaso’s recipes are prominently featured on Supervalu’s retailer websites. Each is made almost entirely from Essential Everyday items.
While not all retailers have the financial resources to hire a reality show personality, many are boosting exposure of their store-brand promos in other ways.
SN selected the following initiatives as the Top 10 store-brand promotions of the last year. The winners were chosen based on a variety of criteria, including originality; prize value; ability to generate consumer excitement about and engagement with the brand; web-centric capabilities; and ties to a cause-marketing platform.
They appear in alphabetical order.
1. Bloggers Bring Food Lion Brands to Life
SALISBURY, N.C. — Three Charlotte-area bloggers won Food Lion ’s first store-brand recipe contest.
In the fall, 11 food bloggers gathered at the Flex-and-Fit health facility in Charlotte to compete in Food Lion’s first-ever “Frugal Cook-Off.”
Competing in teams, the bloggers had 30 minutes and $15 worth of private-label products to make a healthy meal for four people.
The winning recipe was curried chicken and peanut sauce, teriyaki carrots with peanuts and Asian rice pilaf. The winners were Kelly Davis, author of the “Foodie Fresh” blog; Wendy Bentien, of the blog “Charlotte Smarty Pants”; and Katie Harding, of “Charlotte Mom Favorites.”
All three received two $250 Food Lion gift cards: one to keep and another to give away to a blog reader.
The remaining bloggers received a $100 gift card for themselves and one to raffle off to a reader.
Brittany Dixon, author of www.ahealthysliceoflife.com , said even though she didn’t win, the event was memorable. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the event was SO much fun,” she blogged.
Dixon prepared chicken and mozzarella roll-ups with a mushroom cream sauce over sautéed mushrooms and onions in a white wine sauce and baked curry apples at a cost of $13.01.
Each of the Frugal Cook-Off recipes was featured on www.foodlion.com .
Read more: Bloggers Promote Food Lion Brands 
2. Harris Teeter Solicits Consumer Reviews
CHARLOTTE — Harris Teeter  figured out a way to ensure consumers will try its private labels: It gives them away for free.
It’s all part of its “Taste & Tell” social media promo. Every few months, loyalty card holders who fill out an online form posted on the Harris Teeter Facebook page get a select store-brand item for free.
In November, the first 2,000 people who completed an online form received an electronic coupon for a free package of H.T. Traders Prairie Harvest Crunch Crackers, which come in unique flavors like cranberry, rosemary raisin and granola.
After tasting the product, all winners were asked to return to Harris Teeter’s Facebook page to comment on the product.
In response, one shopper wrote. “The cranberry ones are so good! My boyfriend and I almost polished off the entire box in one sitting. Definitely better than we expected for something that’s not as unhealthy as a typical cookie.”
Another reviewer wrote: “Tried the Granola Crisps. Better than we expected. Would probably purchase again.”
The cracker promo followed a similar one in October, when the first 1,000 loyalty card members who “liked” the Harris Teeter Facebook page and filled out an online form received an electronic coupon for a free package of Harris Teeter Fisherman’s Market private-label imitation crab flakes or crab legs.
Over the summer, meanwhile, 500 shoppers who filled out the form received a bag of their choice of Harris Teeter Cream Maple Cookies, Harris Teeter Butter Shortbread Cookies, Harris Teeter Butter Oatmeal Cookies or Harris Teeter Butter Toffee Crunch Cookies.
3. H-E-B Puts New Brand Up to Vote
SAN ANTONIO — H-E-B  let shoppers choose the newest flavor of its store-brand potato chips.
Loaded baked potato-flavor ridge chips, originally launched as a limited-edition flavor, became a permanent addition to H-E-B store shelves after a vote conducted by text.
In 2011, H-E-B introduced four limited-edition ridged potato chip flavors: baby back ribs, Buffalo wings, loaded baked potato and rosemary. It then let shoppers vote for which flavor they wanted to remain on shelves. H-E-B announced the winner on Facebook and Twitter.
Read more: H-E-B Shoppers Load Up on Chips 
“You voted, and because you liked them so much, the H-E-B Loaded Baked Potato Chips are here to stay!” H-E-B said in promotional materials.
To promote the brand, H-E-B ran a Facebook and Twitter coupon for $1 off an 11-ounce bag.
4. Hy-Vee Packaging Goes to the Dogs
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Hunter, a 3-year-old beagle, was voted the cutest pet by www.hy-vee.com .
The highlight of his award is that he gets his picture featured on a bag of Hy-Vee-brand dog food.
The front package of the bag reads, “Congratulations to Hunter, the winner of the Hy-Vee’s Cutest Pet Contest.”
Hunter won a year’s worth of Hy-Vee Complete dog food, which his owner, Mason City native Bethany Aberg, donated to the Humane Society of North Iowa.
The Cutest Pet Contest was part of Hy-Vee’s “Big Pet Event,” which donated more than $25,000 worth of pet products to Midwest pet shelters.
The retailer received a tremendous response to the first-time cutest pet contest. More than 1,600 pets were entered, and tens of thousands of people visited the contest site to view the entries and vote for their favorites.
“The response took us by surprise,” Hy-Vee spokeswoman Ruth Comer told SN.
The goal of the event was to remind pet owners that Hy-Vee offers its own quality private-label products in the pet category, said Comer.
At the same time, the contest helped engage customers and let them know that Hy-Vee cares about the things that are important to them in their lives.
“Our customers are passionate about their pets,” Comer said.
Hy-Vee used social media channels and its website to spread the word about the contest. In doing so, it picked up many new Facebook fans, according to Comer.
Top Chefs and Product Promotions
5. Safeway Hosts High-Profile Cooking Contest
PLEASANTON, Calif. — Safeway  generated excitement about its Open Nature brand with a reality television-style cooking competition that awarded the winner a full-time position at the Safeway Culinary Kitchens.
After a three-month nationwide search, Dave Histed won the competition for his “Thai Basil Shrimp with Curry Jasmine Rice” recipe. Histed’s winning dish will be sold as an Open Nature Skillet Meal in Safeway stores.
Safeway encouraged cooks of all kinds — from students in culinary schools to restaurant chefs — to participate in the competition.
Alexandra Guarnaschelli, who appears on Food Network programs “Chopped” and “Iron Chef,” was one of the judges.
“These chefs competed fiercely to land this coveted position, and left a strong impression on all of the judges,” Guarnaschelli said in a statement.
Regional cook-offs were held at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco; Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Seattle; and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago in late April.
The competition culminated in May in a final cook-off at the Safeway Culinary Kitchens in Pleasanton, where chefs prepared their recipes.
It marked the first time a company hosted a major competition where a chef had the opportunity to win a new job and develop a product that will be on the shelf in a major national grocery store, according to Safeway.
Open Nature is a 100% natural product line, which contains nothing artificial, is minimally processed and provides shoppers with extensive natural food choices in a variety of categories throughout the store.
The promo was enhanced with a social media component. Candidates and fans could follow the entire process on Facebook, and converse about it on Twitter using the hashtag #SafewayChef.
6. Save Mart Revs Up Racing Promo
MODESTO, Calif. — Save Mart  gave its NASCAR fans a sweet treat to call their own.
Speedy Tracks premium ice cream was sold for a limited time at Save Mart, S-Mart, Lucky, Food Maxx and Maxx Values stores. It was introduced in May 2012, and sold for about four months.
The idea behind Sunnyside Farms Speedy Tracks Ice Cream was to create a product supporting Save Mart’s two biggest racing promotions of the year: The Toyota Save Mart 350 in June, and Hot August Nights later in the summer.
Speedy Tracks was inspired by the company’s giant, customized hot rod shopping cart — known as “Big Red.”
The vanilla ice cream was made with swirls of raspberry ribbons and solid milk chocolate race cars.
At the Toyota Save Mart 350 event, the retailer gave out about 10,000 samples. Forty volunteers scooping the ice cream and serving the race fans were dressed in Speedy Tracks T-shirts that showed the logo of the product on the back of the shirt. The samples were distributed from a 40-foot-long trailer located in the concourse behind the main grandstand.
Sales were very positive, according to the company.
The ice cream retailed for $3.59, but the price was reduced to $2.99 and 2/$5 during promotion periods.
7. Schnucks Caters to Rush-Hour Shoppers
ST. LOUIS — Schnuck Markets  incorporates private label into a popular Facebook couponing initiative called “Drive-Time Specials.”
Drive-Time Specials are Facebook coupons that can be downloaded from Schnucks’ Facebook wall.
The offers are kept secret until about noon every Friday, and are valid the same day from 3 to 7 p.m. — when many people are driving home from work or activities, and looking for meal ideas.
Drive-Time Specials combine several ingredients needed to make an easy, affordable meal — like a pizza, salad and drink — for a reasonable price of about $5.
While national brands are often featured, store brands play a role as well. A recent Drive-Time Special was a $4.50 bundle that included Schnucks-brand pasta, Schnucks pasta sauce and a Dole salad kit.
The specials also include breakfast bundles. In October, the retailer re-ran a popular $5.50 offer that included Schnucks eggs, six-count; Schnucks bagels, six-count; Hunter bacon, 16-ounces; and Dannon Activia or Light & Fit yogurt, four-pack.
Schnucks’ Facebook fans were thrilled with the offer.
“Is that the price for all that?” one shopper wrote. “Bacon cost that amount alone!”
“Yes, you are correct! $5.50 for the entire bundle — show our coupon and you will receive the discount,” Schnucks responded.
8. Celebrity Chef Makes Essential Endorsement
MINNEAPOLIS — Supervalu ’s Essential Everyday private-label brand is featured in five recipes from Antonia Lofaso, a participant of Bravo’s “Top Chef” reality show.
Each recipe is designed to be nutritious, as well as quick and easy to prepare.
“Antonia Lofaso brings the Essential Everyday brand to life,” Sam Mayberry, Supervalu’s vice president of private brands, told SN. “She is a mom herself, so she knows firsthand the challenges of juggling work and home life and how hard it can be to find the time to make a nutritious, home-cooked meal for your family.”
The five recipes are Sicilian Pasta & Broccoli; Caramel Almond Popcorn; Crispy Cauliflower with Parmesan; Homemade Hummus; and Aged Cheddar and Gruyere Mini-Burgers with Cajun Mayo.
Made almost entirely from Essential Everyday items, each is prominently featured on Supervalu’s retailer websites and www.essentialeveryday.com .
Read more: Celebrity Chef Creates Private-Label Recipes 
In addition to being a restaurateur and chef, Lofaso is author of “The Busy Mom’s Cookbook.”
“Having Antonia represent Essential Everyday helps consumers connect with the brand and her recipes demonstrate the convenient, nutritious meals the brand has to offer,” said Mayberry.
Essential Everyday is a national-brand-equivalent private label that has replaced Supervalu’s store-banner items throughout the company. Supervalu recently announced that it will expand the Essential Everyday brand from select categories to 2,700 of the most shopped-for products across more than 100 categories by 2013.
Essential Everyday products are available at approximately 3,300 stores nationwide, including Acme Markets, Albertsons, Cub Foods and Jewel-Osco.
9. Tops Raises Money for Schools
WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. — Last summer, Tops Friendly Markets  launched Tops in Education, a new store-brand program aimed at helping primary and secondary schools raise funds for improvements and programming.
Each time a participating shopper purchases a Tops-, Full Circle- or Top Care-brand product with the Tops loyalty card, Tops will contribute a percentage of the sale price to a chosen school, up to $300,000.
The program kicked off in September and runs through April 30.
Once consumers create an account at www.topsmarkets.com/education, they can choose up to two schools to support. They can log on periodically to view their personal balance, as well as the total amount their school has raised to date. Tops will send each school a check for the amount raised at the end of the school year.
“One of the most important things we can do as a company is give back, especially when it comes to supporting and enriching our local schools,” Frank Curci, Tops’ president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
10. Weis Delivers Free Groceries
SUNBURY, Pa. — Over the summer, Weis Markets  delivered 2,500 reusable bags containing free private-label products to households located near a remodeled store in Camp Hills, Pa. Each bag had about 15 Weis-brand products, as well as a coupon for $8-off a $50 order.
“We’re in the mood to celebrate after a seven-month project and also we wanted to thank our customers for their patience during construction,” said Dennis Curtin, a Weis Markets’ spokesman.
Containing a total of $59,000 worth of products, the reusable bags were delivered to neighborhoods within a 2.5-mile radius of the store. The bags contained a variety of Weis Quality products, including tortilla chips, salsa, toasted oats cereal, rice, cannellini beans, elbow macaroni, parmesan cheese, apple juice, ketchup, honey graham crackers and bath tissue.
It wasn’t the first time the retailer gave away free groceries. In spring of 2011, it distributed 4,000 bags with more than $50 worth of free store-brand products and coupons with a combined value of nearly $220,000 in the neighborhoods surrounding its remodeled Mechanicsburg, Pa., store.
The “Weis Brand Giveaway,” which took place over 10 days, was part of the grand reopening celebration for the store, which was extensively remodeled with expanded service departments.
The bags contained a variety of Weis private-label products, including cereal, potato chips, ketchup and barbecue sauce.
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