Private Label as Fashion

Like fashion, food retailing, too, goes through cycles where everything old is new again. Just as we see styles coming back every few decades, food seems to be following this same trend. In our part of the business world, we’re seeing many supermarkets expand their private label portfolio to include more green brands.

Why are we experiencing this veritable “Back to Basics” now?

Frankly, I think much of this has to do not only with current health issues, but with copycat product development. The leaders of the trend that put all this into motion are a select few: Trader Joe's, Whole Foods Market and Safeway, with their introduction of high-quality, natural and organic private label products that respond to a growing customer demand.

It’s been interesting to watch how this segment of private label has evolved, and quickly, at that. Initially, retailers (like those above) who were part of the initial roll out of such products did it because the core natural and organic consumer demanded them. It was the right thing to do.

However, once the these retailers began offering green private label items in their natural and organic sets, the crossover customer became intrigued; the low price barrier to entry into natural and organics and the surprising quality began capturing this class of consumers, as well.

Kids have played a huge role in the transition from conventional to natural and organic. They learn about sustainability and recycling at school and want to do good for the planet and for themselves; natural products and organics appear to them to be the answer to everything they’re learning about in the classroom. They come home and tell their parents and the ideas start trickling up.

This explosion across supermarket shelves is not simply translating into new food items, but into new non-food items as well. Household products, such as paper goods, cleaning products and body care essentials are making the shift, even among conventional brands.

Several traditional retailers have created new in-house brands to reflect the switch back to natural, organic and specialty — all with clean ingredient labels that scream upscale and quality. I find myself developing products that meet a higher-quality ingredients standards, because the retailers I’m working with are demanding superior third-party quality audits and technical specification sheets for each item.

This is a trend that has morphed into the mainstream. No matter what happens to the category, the best practices and use of sustainable ingredients, more environmentally friendly packaging and all the consumer education that goes into changing attitudes and perceptions are here to stay. And that’s not a bad thing.