2011 Power 50: No. 42 Robert E. Hill Jr.

As a growing number of consumers switch their purchases from branded lines to more private-label products, CPG companies have to work smarter to sell their wares — and so do their sales representatives, Robert E. Hill Jr., president and chief executive officer of Acosta Sales & Marketing, Jacksonville, Fla., told SN.

“As the economic recovery continues, we are seeing a more educated and value-conscious shopper with a heightened level of interest in the private-label sector,” he noted. “In fact, more than half the shoppers we surveyed said they purchase more store brands to save money.

“This shift puts even more pressure on CPG brands to communicate to shoppers why their products are superior, and we are responding [to that pressure] by offering new and innovative shopper marketing techniques.”

Among those techniques, he said, are increased use of digital media and other in-store marketing solutions available through FrontLine Marketing, a business Acosta acquired a year ago that enables CPG companies to use displays around a store's perimeter to draw attention to their products located in interior aisle locations.

“Heading into the future, our No. 1 priority is growing our clients' business organically,” Hill said. “We will build on our existing partnerships via additional capabilities and service offerings.”

Despite the slow economy, Acosta's business is doing well, with the company adding 4,000 workers during the past 12 months — bringing the total to 20,000 from 16,000 a year earlier — “and we've made substantial investments during that period in marketing services and business process outsourcing, which allows us to provide a smooth and efficient single point of contact from the time a retailer places an order from one of our clients to the time the retailer pays the invoice,” Hill pointed out.

“Besides growing our associate base, we've invested significantly in their development through the new Acosta University, which offers a comprehensive learning plan that aligns key clients to specific functional areas.”

Doug Knudsen, president of ConAgra Foods Sales, Omaha, Neb., said in a video on Acosta's website that he appreciates the fact Acosta continues to remodel and reconstruct itself “with the right equipment and tools that make it very effective.”

He said the management team — from headquarters to store level — keeps the lines of communication open and provides real-time reporting “so we know what's going on at the stores at all times.”

Acosta's annual sales have climbed to $1 billion, and the company has set its sights on $2 billion, Hill said.

Acquisitions and mergers remain a priority, he noted, following five acquisitions from late 2009 through 2010. Hill said the company expects to announce additional acquisitions before year-end.

Providing a boost to Acosta's growth is Thomas H. Lee Partners, Boston, which became the company's financial partner in March. The amount of THL's investment remains undisclosed, but Hill said the money will be used “to expand Acosta's reach and continue to optimize our service offering for our clients and customers.”