Fresh Market: 2008 Category Excellence Awards

In SN's first annual Category Excellence report, Fresh Market takes a look at some of the many ways fresh food suppliers are helping retailers sell more produce, meats, dairy, deli and bakery products. The reasons listed in the voting for this year's winners ran the gamut, but several common themes emerged, with most winning suppliers offering new and exciting products, a new way of looking at promotions,

In SN's first annual Category Excellence report, Fresh Market takes a look at some of the many ways fresh food suppliers are helping retailers sell more produce, meats, dairy, deli and bakery products. The reasons listed in the voting for this year's winners ran the gamut, but several common themes emerged, with most winning suppliers offering new and exciting products, a new way of looking at promotions, or new efforts to help retailers merchandise and manage their categories with the help of data and face-to-face collaboration. Winners were chosen based on retailer feedback, along with some input from other industry experts.

BAKERY: IN-STORE — Gold Medal: Dawn Food Products

  • INNOVATION: New line of zero grams trans fat doughnuts addresses shoppers' health concerns
  • STRENGTH OF BRAND AND ASSORTMENT: Mixes, par-baked items, icings, emulsions, fillings, Weight Watchers consumer baked goods and other products
  • CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Taking advantage of improved in-store bakery point-of-sale data to ensure an optimal product mix

Staying current with trends and maintaining a sense of excitement in their department is one of the greatest challenges that in-store bakery managers face. So, retailers say that it is helpful to have a partner like Dawn Food Products, which offers a comprehensive assortment of ingredients, mixes, par-baked items and everything else an in-store bakery would need to produce today's hottest baked goods.

This spring, the company responded to consumer health concerns by launching a new zero grams trans fat doughnut program, designed to work with a newly formulated ZGTF frying shortening. The program complements Dawn's existing line of ZGTF cakes, muffins, sweet dough, Danish, cookies, brownies and Hispanic products.

“We quickly recognized the demand for ZGTF products and went to work developing a complete line of products that are ZGTF without compromising our great taste,” explained Bryce Thorne, a regional sales manager for Dawn Food Products.

That type of innovation is a familiar theme with Dawn, Thorne noted.

For example, “recently, we launched several new cake lines that included more premium ingredients combined with new packaging that enhances the overall look of the product, driving impulse sales,” he said.

For bakeries, however, good merchandising and good promotions are almost as important as having the right recipes on hand. And, in addition to category management assistance that Dawn's in-store team members can provide, the company's website offers an extensive set of tools for in-store bakeries. These include the latest popular commercial recipes, decorating ideas and planning calendars to get bakeries ready for holiday events, as well as troubleshooting guides, online yields and equivalents charts and conversion calculators.

“The improved quality of point-of-sale data within the in-store bakery allows retailers to get a better understanding of their consumers' shopping habits,” said Thorne. “Having the right products at the right time is critical to maximizing sales and profits. Many retailers have turned to Dawn for our category management expertise. This is another example of Dawn's commitment to ensure our customers' success.”
Matthew Enis

BAKERY: IN-STORE — Silver Medal: Caravan Ingredients

  • INNOVATION: “Where's Werner?” program gave bakers a voice in new product development
  • CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Caravan has begun collecting category data to help customers validate their programs
  • IN-STORE EXECUTION: Direct-store-delivery teams help customers optimize their packaged bread category

This summer, Caravan Ingredients showed that when a major ingredient and bakery mix supplier wants to stay ahead of upcoming trends at in-store bakeries, all it needs to do is ask “Where's Werner?”

This year, Caravan sent artisan baker Werner Simon on a tour of European bakeries to identify authentic recipes and ideas that he felt would translate well in the U.S. market. The “Where's Werner?” program culminated in June with a “World Bread Panel” at Caravan's plant and offices in New Jersey, where a group of select retailers gathered to meet with Simon, taste the artisan bread recipes he had selected and discuss their potential.

Caravan has always played a role as a technical expert for many of its customers, but during the past 12 to 18 months, the company has been working to develop additional services for in-store bakeries, such as a category management role, according to Kerrie Medlicott, director of marketing for Caravan. “Where's Werner?” was one of the first programs developed as part of that effort.

“Premium artisan breads have been growing, and that triggered the question, ‘What can we do in terms of authentic artisan bread flavors that could add some variety to the current product lines available?’” said Medlicott. “Given that we're part of [bakery supplier] CSM, we have a large, worldwide network of bakeries that we have access to, so why not send one of our bakers around to Europe to see what they are doing, not only in terms of their best sellers, but in terms of what would do well in the U.S.?”

Many of the breads Werner brought to share with the World Bread Panel were met with rave reviews from attendees, including independent bakery owners and bakery directors from supermarkets including Dorothy Lane Markets, Kings Super Markets, Ukrop's Super Markets and Buehler's. Attendees vetted about two dozen varieties, discussing how each type of bread could be marketed, whether recipes might need adjustment, and whether they felt their customers would readily accept the new flavors. A recurring theme was the potential of ancient grains, such as dinkel, sorghum, spelt, amaranth and kamut, and Medlicott said that, thanks to the input from the panel, Caravan will soon be rolling out several new artisan bread mixes for its retail customers.

“The panel was there for us to get some direct customer input. It gave us insight into their opinions on what the bread tasted like and any production issues they would encounter,” she said. “There seemed to be almost unanimous agreement on what the potential best sellers would be.”
Matthew Enis

BAKERY: INSTORE — Silver Medal: Rich's

  • TYING INTO CONSUMER TRENDS: Purchase of GLP Free Manufacturing expanded Rich's reach into gluten-free products
  • STRENGTH OF BRAND AND ASSORTMENT: Offers a comprehensive range of full-baked, par-baked and frozen bakery items
  • INNOVATION: New “One Touch” single-serving technology simplifies the making of small indulgences

When in-store bakeries and prepared-food departments need to find ways to save time or money on labor, Rich Products, a pioneer of the frozen-food industry, is a trusted brand to turn to. The company's lines of full-baked, par-baked and frozen dough, sweet goods, cakes, desserts, toppings, icings and fillings are all designed to help retailers and foodservice operations serve up a substantial variety of quality baked goods in a department where labor is typically at a premium.

Earlier this year, the company launched “One Touch” individual desserts, a new line of products in four flavors including lava cake, brownie, apple and cherry crisp, which are sent to retailers and foodservice operations in a special, pre-portioned bakeable tray requiring no panning or de-panning.

“Operators can offer customers fresh-baked, individually portioned desserts to drive check averages,” marketing manager Connie Ervin said in a release. “Plus, operators can differentiate themselves from competitors by customizing those fresh-baked desserts on-site. For example, lava cake can become even more indulgent, and provide patrons an even greater value, when topped with Rich's Whipped Topping, a drizzle of chocolate or an assortment of sprinkles.”

The One Touch line is characteristic of Rich's. The company's category managers generally encourage bakers that use their products and turnkey programs to do a combination of baking, thaw and serve and decorating in-store.

Last year, Rich's kept pace with other consumer trends with its acquisition of GLP Free Manufacturing, a gluten-free baking company.

“This partnership provides Rich's with access to high-quality, gluten-, lactose-, trans fat- and peanut-free bakery items tailored for people with celiac disease,” Bill Gisel, president and chief executive officer of Rich Products, said in a release at the time. “We are pleased to add such a dynamic, health-focused company to our family of businesses.”
Matthew Enis

BAKERY: PACKAGED — Gold Medal: Flowers Foods

  • STRENGTH OF BRAND AND ASSORTMENT: Brands include Nature's Own, Whitewheat, Cobblestone Mill, Mrs. Freshley's, European Bakers and Sunbeam
  • TYING INTO CONSUMER TRENDS: Nature's Own breakfast breads continues a history of innovation
  • IN-STORE EXECUTION: Direct-store-delivery teams help customers optimize their packaged bread category

For Flowers Foods, staying one step ahead of trends and making sure retailers are offering an optimal mix of its breads can be credited to “the art of listening,” to its retail customers and their shoppers, according to Janice Anderson, vice president of marketing.

“When our consumers are satisfied, you've got to assume they're going to come back for more,” Anderson told SN.

The company will celebrate its 90th anniversary next year, and by keeping its ear to the ground, Flowers Foods continues to build on a history of innovation and customer service with brands such as Nature's Own, Cobblestone Mill, Mrs. Freshley's and Sunbeam.

In the 1980s, for example, the company's Nature's Own brand introduced one of the first low-calorie breads on the market; in 1999, it launched one of the first sugar-free breads; and in 2004, it launched Wheat 'n Fiber, the first commercially produced low-carb bread. All of these products are still available and are performing well, according to company reports.

Retailers commended the company's in-store execution with its products. Using JDA Portfolio category management applications and IRI Apollo software, dedicated category management teams work with Flowers' customers to ensure that their bread and packaged bakery department is optimally merchandised, while direct-store-delivery teams simplify store-level execution at supermarkets throughout the Southeast, Southwest and mid-Atlantic regions, according to Mary Kay Razminas, vice president of business analysis and insight.

Last spring, Flowers launched a new line of seven breakfast breads, English muffins and bagels under the Nature's Own brand, several of which are positioned to emphasize the benefit of their whole grain content. Like all of the company's new products, these items were partly the result of extensive consumer research, according to Anderson.

“We focus on what we think are going to be long-term trends instead of short-term fads,” she said.
Matthew Enis

DAIRY — Gold Medal: Dean Foods

  • STRENGTH OF BRAND AND ASSORTMENT: Brands include Dean, Horizon, Silk soymilk, Land O'Lakes, Alpine Lace and International Delight
  • CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Retail customers can access data from IRI, Spectra, NPD Foodworld, Mintel, Nielsen
  • IN-STORE EXECUTION: Computerized replenishment system, along with planogramming resources

Milk accounts for a significant percentage of sales in the dairy department, but it typically isn't allocated nearly as much space as other products, relative to its volume. So, it's critical to have the right product assortment properly merchandised to maximize sales in the category.

Retailers have praised Dean Foods' substantial emphasis on utilizing market research to help them create an easy-to-shop, appealing dairy case that maintains an optimal assortment to maximize category sales.

“Dean Foods provides analysis for retailers that helps them make decisions to be more profitable,” a company spokesman told SN.

“Through Dean Foods' research and analysis, we let retailers know which are the most efficient and profitable SKUs within the overall category. As a result, the retailers have the ability, in their fixed amount of space, to stock the best assortment and ratio of fast-turning products for the linear feet available in the dairy case.”

Dean Foods offers retailers access to consumer and category data from Information Resources Inc.'s Consumer Panel, Spectra, NPD Foodworld, Mintel Premiere Reports, Nielsen and others to assist with category management initiatives meant to drive profitable volume, reduce costs and increase shopper loyalty.

To help with this, the company also offers extensive planogramming resources that analyze a store's space to sales, turn rate and return on investment, along with a computerized replenishment system for the milk category.

Operating more than 100 plants in the United States, employing more than 26,000 people, and with reported revenues of more than $11 billion in 2007, Dean Foods stands as the largest dairy company in the U.S. and also operates the largest organic dairy brand, Horizon, the largest soymilk brand, Silk/White Wave, as well as butter, spread, egg and cheese supplier Land O'Lakes, premium deli cheese maker Alpine Lace, and a variety of other regional and national brands.
Amy Sung

DAIRY — Silver Medal: Dannon Co.

  • IN-STORE EXECUTION: Dannon's new “shelf-obsession” team is offering retailers account-specific marketing and research support
  • INNOVATION: The DanActive and Activia brands have raised awareness of probiotics and reinvigorated the yogurt category

The Dannon Co. has been way ahead of the curve with the probiotics movement, bringing new life and a slew of new media attention to the yogurt category during the past couple of years.

“The Dannon Co. is exclusively focused on the cultured dairy market, and this allows us to focus 100% of our attention on bringing innovative new products and growth to dairy,” said Jim Murphy, senior vice president of sales, Dannon.

“Furthermore, our strength and experience as part of a global organization that is far and away the world's leader in the category sets us apart from others and uniquely enables Dannon to bring category vision and expertise to our valued retail partners.”

Producing and selling 6 million cups of yogurt a day in almost 100 flavors, sizes and styles, there is no question that Dannon's products are one of the most visible brands on many retailers' yogurt shelves. Nominations for this year's Category Excellence issue highlighted Dannon's abundance of new products in the past two years, along with the already existing variety and visibility of Dannon products in stores.

Last September, Dannon launched a “shelf-obsession” team consisting of five members with market research and sales backgrounds, and for the past year this group has been mapping out retail dairy cases around the country and working with retailers on new strategies to grow the yogurt category as a whole.

“The shelf-obsession team works somewhat like a ‘special operations’ team to bring dedicated marketing and research support on an account-specific basis,” Michael Neuwirth, spokesman for the company, explained in a recent report. “The shelf-obsession team also brings design and merchandising concepts gleaned from our company's global expertise to the Dannon sales team and to our customers.”
Amy Sung

DELI — Gold Medal: Sara Lee

  • CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Uses consumer insights and data to develop deli sales strategies
  • IN-STORE EXECUTION: Provides solutions by bundling Sara Lee products together, suggesting unique sandwiches
  • INNOVATION: New line of premium sauces simplifies preparation for shoppers

Bundling items through effective cross-merchandising has always been one of the best ways to generate incremental sales. Recently, Sara Lee has been taking that approach to supermarket deli departments, working with retailers to sell more deli products by getting their shoppers to think “sandwich.”

Right now, the company is literally leading customers into the deli via strategically placed stanchions, showing colorful photos of interesting-looking sandwiches.

One retailer who has been using the signs said that the store appears to be converting more customers into deli users — even those who may not have been planning on a deli purchase when they came into the store.

It's too early to analyze the figures, “but I can tell you that where we've used specific point-of-sale materials that, like these, provide a solution, we've seen a 5% to 10% uptick,” said Rod Steele, director of category planning at Chicago-based Sara Lee Foods.

He added that merchandising sandwich components — including Sara Lee bread, and now the brand's edgy sandwich sauces — close together is key.

The company has bundled its products in one way or another for years, “but we've never been able to provide a solution as complete as this one, now that we have the sauces,” Steele said.

A big step up from the usual condiments, the sauces, launched just three months ago, include such interesting flavors as creamy smoky bacon and zesty pepper. If a customer buys all four flavors, he gets an instant, redeemable coupon for a savings.

Through a formalized data collection program, Sara Lee constantly tracks consumers' needs and wants.

Consumer research tapped from many sources showed that people taking lunches to work make their sandwiches in the morning, and some bemoaned the fact that any sauce they put on their sandwiches has, by lunchtime, sogged up the bread. Thus the launch of half-ounce packs of sauce, which can be dropped in the lunch bag and added later. Each pack carries a bar code, so retailers can sell them individually as well as in eight-packs.

In addition to the research it taps, Sara Lee aggressively gleans feedback from retailers via its 500-plus sales team.

The focus on unique sandwiches was borne by consumers' quest for convenience, but also by their desire for something enticing even as they trim their budgets, Steele said.

“They're not going back to bologna and mustard. They want to be able to make a sandwich like they got at Panera.”
Roseanne Harper

DELI — Silver Medal: Kraft Foods

  • INNOVATION: Launched the Oscar Mayer Deli Fresh line to add pizzazz to lunches
  • MARKETING/PROMOTIONS SUPPORT: Took the new line on the road this summer, handing out sandwiches and coupons to retailers' customers

Taking note of the brown-bagging trend, Kraft's Oscar Mayer launched a new line, rebranded Kraft cheeses under it, and has just finished presenting the products in an innovative way. Retailers have taken note.

“Kraft and Oscar Mayer [have] continued to offer packaging and products for today's lifestyle,” said one retailer/wholesaler who nominated the company for this year's Category Excellence issue.

To help retailers increase cold cut and cheese sales, the company this year launched several new products, and it conducted a Deli Fresh mobile tour from July through September, according to Sean Marks, Oscar Mayer's marketing director.

Marks cited a recent NPD Group survey showing weekday lunches carried from home reached a new high last year, reaching 38 per capita from 35 the previous year.

The NPD figures also showed that the vast majority (93%) who are brown-bagging more are doing so to save money.

Tapping into data of that sort, Kraft/Oscar Mayer has set out to target those customers.

“Due to the economy, brown-bagging is on the rise,” said Marks. “Packing lunch is an affordable option, but it certainly doesn't have to be bland and boring, and Kraft has a number of new products to help Americans make a delicious sandwich using premium ingredients.”

Marks said the company recently reinvented Kraft Natural Cheese Slices by rebranding the products under the Deli Fresh brand and by introducing an innovative new rigid “Fresh Click” package.

He stressed that the Deli Fresh brand has been very successful, driving sales in the cold cut category.

The nationwide Deli Fresh tour involved two branded trucks that stopped at 150-plus retailers, where Deli Fresh sandwiches, complete with Kraft condiments, were handed out. More than 100,000 $6-value coupon booklets were distributed as well.
Roseanne Harper

DELI — Silver Medal: Hormel Foods

  • IN-STORE EXECUTION: A network of brokers builds categories with carefully tailored product mixes, maximizing sales
  • CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Aggressively collects data, analyzes it and shares insights with retailer partners
  • INNOVATION: Answered consumer demand for convenience with items like a new supreme party tray, though partnerships with Keebler and Sargento

Hormel, using technology to full advantage, keeps its retailer partners in tune with their markets.

Because the company taps into so many sources with ease, it enables retailers to turn on a dime when it comes to product mix.

“Their marketing and research department is second to none,” wrote one retailer who nominated Hormel subsidiary Jennie-O, one of the world's leading turkey processors and marketers. “They have the broker support to execute all programs in our corporate stores as well as most of [our] member stores.”

In addition to its own research, Hormel aggressively reaches out for more data, company officials told SN.

Just this year, the company partnered with The Perishables Group, Chicago, to bolster its market info.

“We had looked at them a couple of times in the past, but this time we were very impressed with their information, the sophistication,” said Bob Samples, director of planning and support services at Austin, Minn.-based Hormel.

Samples told SN that adjusting product mix and creating convenience are paramount.

In that regard, the speed in which data can be collected is important, he said, because it allows time to develop insight into markets that may be changing.

“Retailers are telling us they want to make shopping easier for their customers. That's becoming more important to them than margin,” Samples said.
Roseanne Harper

POULTRY — Gold Medal: Tyson Foods

  • INNOVATION: Discovery Center has led to a new wave of product innovation from the company
  • CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: DemandTec software continues to improve promotion efficiencies
  • STRENGTH OF BRAND AND ASSORTMENT: Trusted brand for uncooked, fully cooked and value-added items

Tyson Foods, according to one retailer who voted for the company for this year's Category Excellence poultry award, has “a strong team in place that works with every piece of our business daily.”

For one retail customer, Tyson discovered that promoting its boxed wings product produced unfavorable results for the brand. The DemandTec solution indicated that Tyson should shift advertising dollars from the boxed product to the bagged line and buy a two-week display instead. Results like this have demonstrated that Tyson's commitment to optimized trade promotions is paying off with higher levels of trust and credibility with retailers, which has helped set Tyson apart from its competitors in poultry category management.

With age comes wisdom, but for Tyson, it also comes with a passion for innovation. The company celebrated its 50th year of poultry production last month. Last year, Tyson opened its new Discovery Center, a research and development facility designed to enhance the company's ability to create new foods and bring them to market more quickly.

Previously, more time was spent by research and development personnel traveling to production plants just to run test batches of products. Now, the entire development process can be compressed, taking less time from the first idea until the new product rolls out for retailers and foodservice operators.

The 100,000-square-foot Discovery Center, located on the campus of Tyson's world headquarters in Springdale, Ark., includes 19 specialized research kitchens, a multi-protein pilot plant, a packaging innovation lab, a sensory analysis lab and consumer focus group hosting capabilities.

“The Discovery Center is much more than a building,” said Richard L. Bond, president and chief executive officer of Tyson, in a published report.

“It's about our passion to create new products designed to meet the ever-changing needs of today's consumers.”

This focus on innovation, combined with the use of DemandTec category management software, has helped the company maintain its leadership role in poultry category management.

POULTRY — Silver Medal: Pilgrim's Pride

Back in late 2005, the company actively began the transformation of its approach to the efficiency and effectiveness of promotions. Since then, the DemandTec software has allowed Tyson to show the impact of trade promotion plans on key metrics, including the effect on retailer volume and profitability.
Amy Sung

  • CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Recently renewed its focus on building retail category management partnerships
  • INNOVATION: Shifted emphasis from commodity chicken to value-added products to help itself and its retail customers maintain profitability in the chicken category

Pilgrim's Pride reported a strong turnaround in 2007, largely due to its new focus on retail category management partnerships with an improvement in company performance, in addition to the expansion of product lines.

“For a long time now, we've had a focus on retail category management, but we're always very sensitive to what our individual customers' needs are. And, when they come to us with specific needs, we do what we need to do to get it done,” said Dan Emery, vice president of marketing, Pilgrim's Pride.

In fact, the 62-year-old company recently attributed its improved profitability to its focus on upgrading commodity-type products into higher-margin, value-added products, along with a renewed emphasis on category management efforts.

“Our consumer retail segment continued to post good growth as a result of increased penetration of supermarket meat and deli cases and our growing role as a category management partner,” said O.B. Goolsby Jr., Pilgrim's Pride president and chief executive officer, in a recent report.

With major facilities spreading across 15 states, Puerto Rico and Mexico, and employing approximately 53,500 people, Pilgrim's Pride stands as the largest chicken company in the U.S. and the second-largest in Mexico.
Amy Sung

POULTRY — Silver Medal: Sanderson Farms

  • MARKETING/PROMOTIONS SUPPORT: Emphasis on cooperative advertising programs helps Sanderson Farms develop marketing solutions tailored to different retailers
  • SHOPPER INSIGHTS: Proprietary consumer surveys help Sanderson Farms and its retail partners better understand the all-natural poultry consumer

Sanderson Farms has made its name by focusing on all-natural poultry, and has helped its retail partners build sales by developing cooperative advertising programs and promotional packages on a market-by-market basis.

“First we must understand how our customer ‘goes to market,’” said Joe Steinwinder, manager of retail sales for Sanderson Farms.

“We in turn assist in developing strategies to drive sales. Conducting business from coast to coast has given us a keen insight in providing alternative ways to maximize sales for our partners. We never lose focus that the success of our customers equates to the success of Sanderson Farms.”

“As always, Sanderson Farms is a dedicated team of caring individuals devoted to the success of our partners. Our hallmarks are quality products, responsiveness to consumer needs, superior achievement and successful people,” he said.

According to a consumer survey conducted by Sanderson Farms in late 2007, the idea of “100% chicken” is a strong driver in fresh chicken purchase decisions, and consumers expect a single-ingredient product and no additives when the natural claim is made.

The survey also showed that overall perceptions of Sanderson Farms are strong, and they do lead the category on ideas about the purity of the chicken meaning 100% chicken, 100% natural, and no added hormones or steroids, Hilary Burroughs, spokeswoman for Sanderson Farms, told SN.
Amy Sung

PORK — Gold Medal: Smithfield

  • STRENGTH OF BRAND AND ASSORTMENT: Brands include Smithfield, Cook's, Farmland Foods, Butterball and Armour-Eckrich, plus dozens of other trusted names
  • MARKETING/PROMOTIONS SUPPORT: Collaborative in-store promotions with retailers
  • CATEGORY LEADERSHIP: Phase-out of gestation crates and “born, raised and processed in the U.S.A.” initiative demonstrate foresight in food trends

Smithfield's new efforts in animal welfare, environmental stewardship and charitable causes are the latest examples of category leadership exhibited by a company that owns many of the most trusted brands in the meat industry, including Smithfield, Cook's, Farmland Foods, Butterball and Armour-Eckrich.

Retailers have praised the way the company has developed promotions that help retailers and their customers participate in a good cause. Last fall, for example, Smithfield Lean Generation launched a “Deli for the Cure” campaign aiming to raise $250,000 to support breast cancer research in conjunction with many retailers, including Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh; Ingles Markets, Asheville, N.C.; and Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y.

“Initiatives such as charitable giving are socially responsible, and allow customers to feel good about items they may have purchased anyway,” Voni Woods, Giant Eagle's senior director of deli, told SN when the promotion was launched.

Building enthusiasm for the category through partnerships is a common theme in Smithfield's promotions. In another promotion last year, Smithfield had celebrity chef Paula Deen participate in book signings at select retailers, and produced a series of how-to videos where Deen showed shoppers easy-to-prepare pork dishes they could make at home.

On the environmental end, the company achieved ISO 14001 certification for implementing an environmental management system that follows internationally respected environmental standards at all of its hog production and pork processing facilities. And, most recently, the company announced plans to work only with producers that are able to provide the company with hogs born and raised in the United States; they will be processed at Smithfield's U.S.-based plants and labeled as “born, raised and processed in the U.S.A.”
Amy Sung

BEEF — Gold Medal: National Beef

  • INNOVATION: Helped make naturally raised beef mainstream
  • CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Store auditing and reporting systems optimize assortments

Not only has this rancher-owned company been a pioneer in offering a variety of branded beef, it also places great emphasis on offering support to supermarket buyers.

“[National Beef] works closely with our buyers, business development and replenishment to drive sales and reduce markdowns,” one retailer said, adding that the company's skilled team of executives supports the retailer's efforts from the top down.

National Beef's focus on value-added selling and marketing, as well as its commitment to its retail customers, are some key points that set National Beef apart from others, according to Keith Welty, spokesman for the company.

“We continue to look at ways to help customers with the pull-through of beef products vs. push[ing it],” Welty said.

National Beef helped bring the naturally raised beef movement mainstream, with brands like Naturewell and NatureSource. Both brands' packaging and marketing support are developed around educating the consumer.

Similarly, National Beef's alliances with the Certified Hereford and Certified Angus branding programs have helped shift retail beef away from its status as a commodity product. The company has a widely emulated case-ready program, and retailers praised the company's store-audit team in this year's Category Excellence nominations.

“[National Beef] has a strong team in place that does store audits and has a good reporting system to drive change in both channels,” one retailer said of the company's in-store execution.

A little over two years ago, the company and its majority owner, U.S. Premium Beef, acquired Brawley Beef LLC of Brawley, Calif. The Brawley beef plant, built in 2001, has the capacity to process 400,000 cattle annually, and its location and functionality add value to cattle raised locally in the Imperial Valley.

Through the acquisition, not only did National Beef acquire a state-of-the-art processing plant, but also Brawley Beef's extensive retail, foodservice and further-processing customers along the West Coast.

“[National Beef is] always looking for ways to innovate throughout the company, including our leadership position with our value-added-brands,” Welty said, adding that the company has a program focus across its brands, including seasonal-relevant promotions.
Amy Sung

PRODUCE — Gold Medal: Dole

  • CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Regular review of item-ranking reports and space-vs.-sales analysis help retailers maximize product assortment
  • BRAND ASSORTMENT: Dole is the world's largest producer and marketer of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • MARKETING/PROMOTIONS SUPPORT: In-store promotions tout new ideas, while national and regional marketing programs keep consumer awareness high

With an unsurpassed portfolio of products, ranging from bulk produce and fresh-cut fruits, vegetables and bagged salads, to juices and frozen, canned and packaged produce, Dole has its work cut out for it to ensure that its retail customers are offering the optimal assortment of products.

Dole regularly reviews item ranking reports with its retail customers, helping them to uncover missed opportunities in merchandising sets, and also reviews segment space vs. sales, both at customers' stores and in their local competitive market area, according to Ronda Reed, vice president of marketing for Dole fresh vegetables.

“This review is done both from a past performance and forward-looking trends, so that a retailer has the right mix for not only the current period, but for the future,” she explained.

The company brings this same retailer-focused approach to many of its promotions as well. For example, Dole currently has a program running with select divisions of Kroger that will support the company's new line of Distinctively Dole salads for five months.

“We have partnered with a local celebrity chef in the Cincinnati market and have been on her television and radio programs,” Reed said. “We are supporting the promotion with billboards, radio advertising, live-broadcast sampling events at stores, free lunch sweepstakes, recipe development contests, in-store demos, at-shelf advertisements, two national FSIs and a holiday recipe brochure giving consumers tips for using our products when it is time to entertain.”

With other in-store promotions, Dole is focused not just on giving shoppers discounts, but on giving them ideas, Reed added.

“For example, we are now providing recipes for cross-promotional items like salad dressings and salad toppers — usage ideas on what else to do with that bag of salad other than [using it for] a traditional side dish. Maybe it is how to create a salad bar at home when entertaining or a quick, fulfilling dinner.”

And, through the Dole Nutrition Institute and third-party groups such as Produce for Kids, Dole also has a history of targeting parents and children with messages about the importance of fruits and vegetables in their daily diets.
Matthew Enis

PRODUCE — Silver Medal: California Giant

  • MARKETING/PROMOTIONS SUPPORT: Innovative promotions help retailers emphasize healthy eating and exercise in exciting ways
  • CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Regular reviews of proprietary and third-party data help California Giant optimize the berry category for retail partners

All the latest talk about antioxidants and superfoods has helped boost the already healthy image of the berry category, and California Giant is doing its part to help retailers reinforce that message.

For example, this summer, when California Giant's cycling team was participating in the six-day “Tour of Pennsylvania” race, the company called one of its retail customers, Giant of Carlisle, and one of its children's nutrition partners, Sesame Street, and got everyone together for a festival during a stage finish of the race.

“It was one of those events that offered a perfect convergence of all of our messaging,” said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for Cal-Giant, noting that the event gave all participants the opportunity to emphasize the benefits of eating healthy and getting plenty of exercise to kids and parents alike.

In addition to customized promotions, Giant also meets with its retail customers regularly to review proprietary data and to ensure that their produce departments are offering an optimal mix of berries, Jewell said.
Matthew Enis

PRODUCE — Silver Medal: Ocean Mist Farms

  • MARKETING/PROMOTIONS SUPPORT: In-store product demos and grower appearances help retailers boost sales of artichokes
  • INNOVATION: New packages to boost incremental sales, new PLU stickers to simplify COOL compliance

Most shoppers are familiar with artichokes as a tasty, vitamin-rich vegetable that they've probably enjoyed at a restaurant, but they may need a little encouragement when it comes to buying them at the supermarket to incorporate in a recipe at home. That's why Ocean Mist Farms, the largest grower of artichokes in the United States, has become an in-store promotions leader.

“Reinforcing the health benefits of artichokes for current users and creating trial with new users is our primary goal,” explained Kori Tuggle, Ocean Mist's director of marketing, in a release announcing this year's promotions. For example, this spring, over 140 Save Mart and Lucky stores participated in a four-week artichoke display contest, while a “Chili 'n Chokes” sampling program proved popular at retailers, including Raley's/Nob Hill.

In addition to working with retailers to promote their products in-store, Ocean Mist also helps drive incremental sales through new packages — such as baby artichokes in clamshells, introduced last year, and two-count medium artichokes in clamshells, introduced this spring.
Matthew Enis

PRODUCE — Silver Medal: Well-Pict

  • CATEGORY LEADERSHIP: Well-Pict's long-term focus on agricultural research has helped develop cutting-edge growing processes
  • TYING INTO CONSUMER TRENDS: Continues to expand year-round availability of organic berries

For Well-Pict, the approach to selling more berries is simple: Invest in agricultural research, breeding programs and quality controls to produce consistent, flavorful berries with year-round availability.

This year, Well-Pict introduced a new variety of late-summer strawberry bred for longer shelf life, and expanded the growing areas for its organic raspberries, making them available year-round, just like its organic strawberries.

Well-Pict has also expanded its packaging options as well, adding a 2-pound pack of organic strawberries to complement its 1-pound and 8-ounce packs, along with 4-pound clamshells of its conventional strawberries, which are proving popular with club stores and supermarkets, according to company reports. In response to consumer and retailer concerns about sustainability and fuel costs, the new clamshells used by Well-Pict can be packed and shipped with about 35% more unit density, reducing fuel usage and shipping costs without compromising quality.
Matthew Enis

FRESH-CUT PRODUCE — Gold Medal: Del Monte

  • MARKETING/PROMOTIONS SUPPORT: Ongoing healthy lifestyles campaign combined with seasonal promotions
  • CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Analysis of sales and local demographics help Del Monte design planograms and develop promotion and pricing initiatives on a local level
  • IN-STORE EXECUTION: Special promotions and cooperative advertising campaigns supported with comprehensive signage, POS materials and recipe cards

Del Monte category managers help retailers drive fresh cut produce sales via a long list of efforts.

Designing planograms, performing sales analyses, assessing promotions and implementing seasonal marketing programs, all based on local demographics, are a key part of the company's sales strategy.

“We use this data not only to help decide what type of product to offer, but also to determine proper sizing,” said Dionysios Christou, vice president, marketing, Del Monte Fresh Produce.

“For example, our reports sometimes show that a retailer has a great deal of one-person households, which may mean that single-serve items would be better suited at that location.”

Cooperative advertising campaigns, product displays, demo kits and recipe cards also are provided by Del Monte to help retailers sell more fresh cut produce.

Good nutrition and healthy eating are themes that permeate Del Monte promotions as part of the company's ongoing healthy lifestyle campaign, which encourages consumers to incorporate more fresh fruits and veggies into their everyday lives.

“We realize the importance consumers place on health and wellness, and will continue with that campaign as we head into 2009,” Christou said.

Promotions frequently inject excitement at the store level. In fact, the company started off this year with a “Spa Getaway” promotion that underscored its “Eat Healthy, Live Healthy” initiative.

During such efforts, Del Monte employs signage and POS materials to drive traffic to the produce department, said Christou, who also described innovative seasonal initiatives that the company orchestrates.

Even football tailgate parties, traditionally thought of as a feast of chicken wings, ribs and burgers, provide an opportunity for Del Monte cut veggies, he said.

Indeed, this fall, the company has teamed up with a television network for a tailgate promotion.

“On our fresh cut items, customers at participating food retailers can find an on-pack promotion sticker worth 15% off team memorabilia at CBS Sports Store Online, along with information on how to win incredible prizes,” Christou said.

Christou added that Del Monte has found that retailers encourage its merchandising support and promotions that can help increase sales.

“They've come to understand the importance of sharing information and that a successful category management program is a collaborative effort.”
Roseanne Harper

FRESH-CUT PRODUCE — Silver Medal: Ready Pac

  • INNOVATION: New lines of party trays, salad kits, bistro salads and products for kids continue to bring excitement to the category
  • CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Specialized team of merchandising experts assists retailers with SKU rationalization and merchandising
  • MARKETING/PROMOTIONS SUPPORT: Partnerships with commodity groups help create effective promotions

Ready Pac, a leader in packaged salads, has penetrated the category with new items, some of them aimed at new audiences.

In the development of products and in their marketing, the company has always worked hand in hand with its retailer customers, industry observers told SN. A team of merchandising experts fans out to retailer stores, helping retailers optimize sales in their particular market areas.

The work the team looks to do includes SKU rationalization, placement of product on the shelf, sorting products in a way that makes sense, and cross-merchandising with evaluation, industry sources confirmed.

“When our [retailer] customers placed items like Ready Pac Bistro bowl salads and Cool Cuts veggie and dip snacks near the front of the store or in the deli section, they saw an upsurge in incremental sales,” a Ready Pac representative said in a recent release.

One consultant told SN that Ready Pac is particularly creative in the ways it helps its retailer partners.

“They do a lot of promotions, often in tandem with commodity groups such as the California Avocado Commission,” said Richard Spezzano, owner, Spezzano Consulting Service, Monrovia, Calif.

The company has worked closely with retailers ever since it launched its packaged salads.

“That product would not have succeeded without the support of key retailers,” said a marketing group source who had worked with Ready Pac in its early days.

More recently, the company — guided by consumer research — has introduced a large crop of new products that are effectively driving sales.

Among them are kid-targeted Cool Cuts, a three-pack of small packages of vegetable sticks with dip, and Bistro salads, which contain premium proteins such as grilled chicken, cheese or bacon.
Roseanne Harper

FRESH-CUT PRODUCE — Silver Medal: Fresh Express

  • INNOVATION: New Gourmet Café salad line uses chef-inspired recipes in resealable containers to offer convenient, healthy options for lunch
  • MARKETING/PROMOTIONS SUPPORT: Recently launched its first consumer awards/loyalty program, with in-store support
  • CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: History of working with retailer customers to build category sales

Fresh Express, a Chiquita brand, has a solid history of working closely with its retailer customers to build sales of packaged salads.

Sharing data it gleans from consumer research, and creating in-store awareness of the category via a wide variety of point-of-sale programs, exemplify the company's sales-driving efforts.

“Chiquita and Fresh Express highly value their partnerships with retailers, seeing them as an opportunity to meet the consumer's need for great taste, good nutrition and real value,” a company spokesman told SN.

Certainly, a stream of innovative products — such as its new Gourmet Café salads and fruit and veggie bites — helps as well, but Fresh Express' new consumer awards program.

FreshFunds, launched in August, is a direct-to-consumer loyalty program designed to increase purchasing frequency in the supermarket's produce aisle, as well as product awareness and trial. Consumers collect stamps from selected, specially marked, packaged ready-to-eat fresh produce products. They can then redeem them for items offered on the FreshFunds website, www.freshfunds.com [3], or can save the points to use in a Fresh Express online auction.

“We feel the time is right for this program,” said Bryan Brown, director of corporate communications at Chiquita Brands International.

“FreshFunds attracts consumers to the produce aisle and really connects them to the brand. We believe [the program] is another way to lead in the category by meeting the consumer's need for healthy, nutritious products that deliver a real value.”

Brown said the program was explained to retailers in advance of its launch and bolstered it with marketing and merchandising support.

“Retailers can choose from a menu of options that includes in-store signage, direct mail artwork and various point-of-sale materials.”
Roseanne Harper