In SN's second annual Category Excellence Report, Fresh Market category winners in dairy, produce, meats, deli and bakery focused heavily on strength of brand and assortment. Tying in consumer trends and in-store execution methods were also high on the achievement list, strategies that highlight the fact that many suppliers recognize the importance of offering a variety of products to consumers, emphasizing a range of values, and excelling in the health and wellness category. Winning companies also focused efforts on new promotions, partnerships with celebrity chefs, category management efficiencies and innovation through recipe offerings, which have become increasingly important with the changing economy.
Beef Winner: Cargill
* STRENGTH OF BRAND AND ASSORTMENT: Ten different beef brands as well as private-label development capabilities allow Cargill to respond to a variety of consumer niches.
* TYING INTO CONSUMER TRENDS: Rumba brand has helped many retailers target emerging demographics with ethnic specialties.
WHEN IT COMES TO producing meat, you could safely say that Cargill does it all. Among its many businesses, the $120 billion agricultural multinational grows grain, mixes livestock feed, and raises and processes poultry, pork and cattle. But the company isn't winning a prize for size here. Its an ongoing focus on emerging trends that makes it this year's winner.
Cargill's existing portfolio offers a range of beef products under 10 different brands, and the company works closely with retailers to leverage that variety into a store-level meat case that reflects a supermarket's customer base.
Because every retailer is different, the first thing Cargill does is work with companies to understand the demographics they serve, said Misty High, assistant vice president of beef marketing. “It's a collaborative effort, looking at their data and looking at the data that we have through our consumer insights and category management teams.”
Over time, this has resulted in a large selection of brands that respond to a wide range of niches. Cargill has also developed the private-label beef programs of several leading supermarket chains.
One of its most exciting new lines has been the Rumba brand, which features ethnic specialties like oxtail, beef tripas, and beef tongue.
“We start with the end-consumer in mind,” High said. “And we had heard from [Hispanic, African American and Asian] employees in our plants and offices that they were unable to find these types of products in their mainstream grocery store.”
— Matthew Enis
Company to Watch
NATIONAL BEEF: Last year's Category Excellence winner for the beef category, National Beef continued to impress this year, expanding the mainstream audience for naturally raised beef, offering retail butchers new ideas for cuts to help maintain premium beef sales, and assisting retailers with its comprehensive, industry-leading case-ready program. New promotions like the Black Canyon Grillmasters Program helped retailers generate excitement for newly branded cuts — like Denver steaks and Tuscan steaks — with retail-level training programs, recipe support and in-store signage.
Deli Winner: Boar's Head Provisions
* CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Network of independent distributors offers extensive store-level training programs, marketing and merchandising services.
* STRENGTH OF BRAND AND ASSORTMENT: Comprehensive product line includes more than 500 meats, cheeses, sausages and more, as well as a selection of soups, side dishes and condiments.
* INNOVATION: New products continue to keep up with health and wellness trends.
THE SECRET TO the success of the Boar's Head Provisions Co. might be broken down into a simple, three-part formula. Make a quality line of products. Sell them exclusively to independent distributors. Hold those distributors to a rigorous set of standards.
Once primarily known as a supplier to mom-and-pop sandwich shops and gourmet deli operations, during the past decade Boar's Head has been steadily moving into more and more supermarket chains, all while maintaining its premium image thanks to the work done at the store level.
With each new customer, Boar's Head, working with the distributor that will service the account, trains all store-level deli staff on topics ranging from sanitation and proper product handling to suggestive selling, customer service and inventory control.
Afterward, distributors remain heavily involved at the store level, assisting with merchandising and marketing, menus and cost analysis programs, and helping their local customers tie in to the company's national promotions.
The company has continued to keep up with health and wellness trends, highlighting product attributes such as low-sodium and gluten-free where appropriate, and having several popular products certified to American Heart Association standards. At the company's online “Digicatessen,” product attributes are easily accessible to distributors and consumers alike.
— Matthew Enis
Company to Watch
DIETZ & WATSON: A third-generation premium deli supplier with products available in 40 states, Dietz & Watson has a proud history and is adapting to the times. The Philadelphia-based supplier has been busy promoting the positive qualities of deli products with its “Dedicated to Your Healthier Lifestyle” program. The company's Healthier Lifestyle Seal denotes products that exceed the USDA's and FDA's requirements for healthy foods.
Pork Winner: Smithfield Foods
* IN-STORE EXECUTION: Customizes promotions at retail; specialists help at store-level.
* STRENGTH OF BRAND AND ASSORTMENT: Putting major emphasis on packaged, branded products; continuing high-profile partnership with celebrity chef Paula Deen.
* TYING INTO CONSUMER TRENDS: Mindful of consumers' need for convenience, company is focused on new value-added, ready-to-cook items.
SMITHFIELD FOODS is in the process of changing its identity from that of a hog and pork producer into that of a packaged food company, putting Smithfield's brands in front of the consumer as never before, officials said.
Chad Baker, Smithfield's senior vice president, retail brands, told SN that with the transition under way, strengthened marketing has been put to work to sell the packaged products.
“We've gone from a meat-packer mentality to a marketer mentality,” Baker said. “If you looked five years ago, you would have found four people in our marketing department. We've hired a lot more now.
“We've begun the transition from selling for a price to selling for attributes from a genetic and a quality standpoint. It's a further step into the market.”
With more people cooking at home, but not necessarily knowing how, Smithfield rolled out a line of fully cooked back and spare ribs over the last 8 months, Baker said.
“We want to bring families back to the kitchen where they can reconnect at the end of the day,” he said.
Celebrity chef Paula Deen will help as she continues to talk up the brand across the country.
In addition to its transition, Smithfield continues with its social responsibilities.
For example, the company worked with retailers this summer to bring food to more people in a program called Helping Hungry Homes.
“Sustainability, animal welfare, the convenience trend — we've evolved [with regard to these issues].”
“Smithfield is a trusted partner that helps us in every aspect of procuring and selling product,” Terry Harriman, meat/seafood category manager, Hannaford Bros., told SN. “They share their expertise, supporting us in analysis and category management.”
— Roseanne Harper
Company to Watch
HORMEL: Recently, Hormel's Natural Choice crusted pork loin filets have received kudos all around. “We've concentrated on value-added meat to make it easy for consumers to cook, and we've partnered with different retailers to create a meal occasion,” said Robert Samples, director of category planning and support services.
In-Store Bakery Winner: Dawn Food Products
* CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Produces a quarterly Category Management White Paper, which offers point-of-sale data and merchandising information.
* STRENGTH OF BRAND AND ASSORTMENT: Introduced Taste-fills Bakery Bites, which are pre-portioned to improve yield and reduce waste.
* INNOVATION: Use of Web to offer retailers services such as online ordering, planning calendars and conversion calculators.
DAWN FOOD Products has become a leader on the Internet, offering its retail clients a wide-ranging set of services. A comprehensive in-store bakery supplier with an extensive distribution system, Dawn offers an online ordering system, online planning calendars, category management expertise, data and more on its website and in its Hot Profit Ideas Solutions center.
Dawn launched its new website to offer its customers a comprehensive collection of bakery resources, including seasonal planning calendars, recipes and decorating ideas, troubleshooting guides, FAQs, yields and equivalents, conversion calculators, and industry links.
“We also produce a quarterly Category Management White Paper, which offers point-of-sale data and merchandising information to help our customers recognize changes in customer demands and adapt to meet them,” said Carrie Jones-Barber, chief executive officer.
“We also publish ‘toolkits’ for the retail bakery channel to provide useful business knowledge. We hope that these types of tools will help make our customers' lives a little easier and their businesses more successful.”
Dawn Foods has also expanded its category management organization and partnered with the Perishables Group to provide syndicated data that it shares with its customers to help them identify opportunities and close any gaps, Richard Mansfield, vice president of in-store bakery for Dawn Foods, told SN.
The company continues to invest in consumer and market insights that are driving new product development, which significantly increases probability of success for new product introductions, Mansfield added.
“We also share our market research with our customers to help them better understand the consumer motivations and patterns driving bakery purchases,” Mansfield said.
“Our New Product Development process also helps ensure more efficient, effective product launches. Completing the circle is our system of distribution centers that serves nearly every major market in the U.S. Dawn provides everything from scratch ingredients to mixes to fully finished, ready-to-sell products, providing our customers a solution to their business needs.
“As a result, our recommendations are unbiased and truly supportive of helping our customers achieve their goals and objectives.”
— Amy Sung
Company to Watch
H.C. BRILL: H.C. Brill partners with retailers in three key ways: with proprietary consumer research, national charity events and bakery innovation. The company surveys “fresh bakery consumers using proprietary research and combine[s] this with retailer-specific data to provide category management insight,” said Don Hernick, director of marketing. On the charity front, H.C. Brill is sponsoring promotions with Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation and with The National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Fresh Cut Winner: Del Monte Fresh Produce
* PRODUCT INNOVATION: Fresh-cut pineapple product recently won international award for flavor quality. New Controlled Ripening Technology packaging significantly extends life of bananas.
* MARKETING/PROMOTION SUPPORT: Continued to live up to “Eat Healthy. Live Healthy” motto with a spring and summer promotion offering 30-day health club memberships and discounts on sporting goods and spas.
* CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Continues to offer retailers sales analyses, and demographic-based planograms and promotional support.
DEL MONTE FRESH Produce has been encouraging U.S. consumers to “Eat Healthy. Live Healthy.”
To reinforce that slogan this year, the company sponsored a Spring and Summer Fitness Center promotion to help U.S. shoppers accomplish both of those goals. From May 18 through July 31, shoppers who purchased participating Del Monte Fresh Produce items and fresh-cut products could visit its consumer website, fruits.com, and download offers and coupons to help them get in shape.
In addition, Del Monte Fresh continues to help retailers with category management efforts, assisting with planograms and sales analyses tailored to local demographics.
A continued focus on quality and flavor is winning the company accolades as well. Last month, from a field of almost 800 competitors, the company's fresh-cut Del Monte Gold Extra Sweet Pineapple was awarded the 2009 Superior Taste Award by the International Taste and Quality Institute, Brussels.
And last week, the company unveiled a new Controlled Ripening Technology packaging, which extends the life of bananas by up to three days and eliminates the need for air stacking.
“It offers tremendous savings to retailers,” Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh, told SN. “It can allow less frequent deliveries if the retailer chooses to do so. It's significantly better quality on the shelf, and [the bananas] retain more moisture, which results in a higher ring,” when the product is weighed at checkout.
— Matthew Enis
Company to Watch
FRESH EXPRESS: Chiquita's Fresh Express continued to drive innovation in the packaged salad category with additions to its On the Go Gourmet Café Salad line. It has continued to focus on health and wellness issues by tying the “Fresh Funds” loyalty points program it launched last year to charities such as the American Heart Association.
Produce Winner: Dole Produce
* IN-STORE EXECUTION: Analyzes category, suggesting merchandising redos; funds in-store promotions.
* STRENGTH OF BRAND AND ASSORTMENT: Assortment huge, and just increased it with relaunch of its salad line; added a Dole brand salad spokesperson for the first time.
* TYING INTO CONSUMER TRENDS: Worked with retailers prior to relaunch of salad line to determine consumer preferences.
DOLE PRODUCE caught the public's attention this year when its chairman and owner, David Murdock, made appearances with television celebrities to talk up eating fresh produce.
At 86, Murdock looks the picture of health, and therefore easily helped television viewers make a connection between healthy eating and longevity.
In fact, making the case that eating fresh fruits and vegetables keeps his energy level high — Murdock biked with Oprah Winfrey after appearing on her show.
Murdock also initiated ways to make it easy for consumers to learn about nutrition and healthy eating.
“He wanted to go beyond only offering healthy products,” said William Goldfield, manager of communications, Dole Fresh Fruit. “He created the Dole Nutrition Institute to provide the public with definitive, easily accessible information on nutrition and health.”
In addition, Dole Fresh Fruit initiated ways to boost sales of bananas and pineapples by demonstrating the nutritional benefits of these fruits and showcasing new ways to consume them, Goldfield told SN.
“Earlier this year, the Dole Banana Diet was promoted at several retailers,” he said. “The Dole Banana Diet is a variant of the banana diet craze that has swept Japan. The Dole Nutrition Institute designed a two-week, delicious, healthy meal plan for the banana diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables."
And, retailers appreciate these efforts.
“They're willing to do anything to create excitement and sales to the consumer,” said Ron Coles, assistant vice president of produce purchasing for Hy-Vee, Des Moines, Iowa. “We've had a long-time partnership with Dole. They're incredibly great to work with on promotions.”
Dole's work with retailers will go into high gear this fall with the relaunch of Dole-brand salads.
“Dole Fresh Vegetables is partnering with retailers on an unprecedented level to relaunch its reinvented line,” Goldfield said.
— Roseanne Harper
Company to Watch
C.H. ROBINSON: The company has seen better growth this year by combining technology, people-to-people contact and unconventional methods of moving product to build a particularly efficient supply and distribution chain. Contracting thousands of carriers across the country provides flexibility, Jim Lemke, senior vice president, explained. “We use technology to see where a product is flowing, and if a customer is conducting a large-scale promotion, we can draw from close by.”
Dairy Winner: The Dannon Co.
* IN-STORE EXECUTION: “Store-Obsession” team broadens in-store execution responsibilities.
* STRENGTH OF BRAND AND ASSORTMENT: Extended lines, added innovative packaging, debuted new coupon program that bolsters brand loyalty
* TYING INTO CONSUMER TRENDS: Introduced first portfolio-wide, value-coupon promotion at a time when consumers are seeking value.
IT'S OBVIOUS Dannon has kept close tabs on what the consumer has been looking for.
The addition of seasonal flavors such as watermelon and cantaloupe to its Light & Fit yogurt line takes into account loyal yogurt eaters might get bored with the year-round menu of flavors, officials said, and the crush pack for Danimals yogurt speaks to convenience for kids and their parents.
“The yogurt category's resilience, and the strength of the Dannon portfolio in this economic climate further reinforces its growth potential,” said Eric O'Toole, senior vice president of sales.
“With our exclusive focus on dairy, we're both passionate and well positioned to be a partner in driving significant yogurt growth with our customers.”
The company's help with in-store merchandising has been revved up. Last year's “Shelf-Obsession” team has grown into the “Store-Obsession” team with more field people added to focus on secondary displays.
“Customers look at the shelf in the context of the store,” Michael Neuwirth, senior director of public relations, told SN.
Then Neuwirth spoke of Danimals yogurt's new crush pack, which offers convenience and appeal.
“Kids want something that's fun to eat and mom wants the product to be good for them,” he said.
Dannon's new “Dannonomics” coupon program is particularly consumer-centric, giving consumers good value such as $3 in free coupons for buying a certain amount of Dannon products.
“It's our first portfolio-wide promotion, and reception from retail has been very strong,” Neuwirth said.
Retailers had good things to say about Dannon and its sales support.
“They have very good representation in the field through their brokers, and they're very responsive,” said Britt Lindemann, store manager, who also has responsibility for dairy and frozen buying for Kowalski's Markets, St. Paul, Minn.
— Roseanne Harper
Poultry Winner: Tyson Foods
* INNOVATION: Recipe ideas and regular video tips from celebrity chefs and cookbook authors.
* STRENGTH OF BRAND AND ASSORTMENT: Continuing international expansion and offering a variety of products at a variety of price points.
* TYING INTO CONSUMER TRENDS: Trimmed and Ready continues to do well; company remains focused on ways to add value to byproducts.
TYSON FOODS IS one company that hasn't been hit too hard by the recession. The company has taken the changing economy as an opportunity to give both consumers and retailers what they want: new products like bagged, refrigerated cooked chicken strips, “Trimmed and Ready” chicken breasts, even-cook chicken breasts and convenient frozen options.
“We're unique in that the breadth and depth of our portfolio ranges from boneless skinless in a very simple package, raw; to center-of-the-plate, fully cooked and breaded; and pretty much everything in between,” Wes Morris, group vice president consumer products, told SN.
“We're a little more shielded from the economic recession, and our portfolio as a company ranges from private-label bologna all the way to filet mignon. Obviously, we're seeing some changing behavior. But we're in a great position with the number of plants we have to shift that mix quickly and take advantage of those opportunities.”
Trimmed and Ready continues to do well in the company's fresh chicken business, representing over 10% of dollar sales. And all of the company's new products are geared toward simply meeting unmet consumer needs, Morris added.
“We know from our research that people don't like to handle raw chicken, and that's the No. 1 issue. So trimming them up for them has been a good play for us.”
Tyson's website also reaches out to consumers and retailers, featuring new recipe ideas — including a recipe of the day — and regular video tips from author and nutritionist Robin Miller.
“Our Discovery Center has 19 test kitchens, so we have new recipes coming out of our offices on a weekly basis,” Morris said, adding that the website was revamped this year to be more consumer relevant, including a Sensible Solutions section that compares the cost of cooking and eating Tyson products at home with buying fast food.
Television personalities have been a big draw as people continue to want to cook at home and younger generations are learning to do that, Morris added.
“Whether it's Robin Miller in our fully cooked arena, or Aaron McCargo, those folks resonate with a large target audience and help solve the question of how to cook their meat.”
Tyson is positioned to be as aggressive as its retail customers want or need them to be — from the most progressive ECR best practices, to category management, to culinary and to the least progressive of price and volume, Morris said.
“It's pretty much custom-tailored to the specific retailer, and we do have a tremendous amount of retailers who come to our Discovery Center every year. We do some mass customization and project work with them, and are blessed to have some retailers who are willing to work with us on testing product ideas live in their stores with a very low entry cost.”
Looking ahead, Morris said he believes that the recession has altered consumer behavior for a long period of time, and that private-label and branded poultry products will have to co-exist for the foreseeable future.
“We're well positioned across our portfolio, our relationships with our customers and our willingness to do both, to capture those synergies going forward,” Morris said.
— Amy Sung
Company to Watch
PERDUE FARMS: Perdue Farms continues to innovate with a variety of value-added and conventional chicken products as customers are cooking more at home. The company offers an extensive recipe newsletter and online recipe program. As the third-largest chicken producer, Perdue has comprehensive distribution, an extensive product line and category management expertise for retail customers.
Packaged Bakery Winner: Sara Lee
* CATEGORY MANAGEMENT: Implementation of Category Leadership Program called S.L.I.C.E. (Sara Lee Insights for Category Excellence) to help retailers optimize category performance.
* IN-STORE EXECUTION: Typically in stores seven days a week. Works directly with store managers and retail division/district managers.
SARA LEE WAS nominated for category excellence in packaged bakery this year thanks to its focus on internal and external category management and great direct-store-delivery service. The company has invested in its Category Leadership Program called Sara Lee Insights for Category Excellence, or S.L.I.C.E., to help its retail partners grow their packaged bakery category sales and profits.
“S.L.I.C.E. helps retailers understand how to optimize their category performance in the following ways: Shelving — insights into assortment, section flow, space allocation and aisle signage; pricing — insights on promoted price points, promotion frequency, base pricing, price elasticity and price gaps; optimizing the mix between branded and private-label products; and showcasing promotional merchandising best practices,” Kyle Reynolds, director of category management, Sara Lee North American Bakery Group, told SN.
“S.L.I.C.E. has been well received by our retail partners as this information has not historically been provided by bakery category suppliers. And as bakery is the second most profitable category at retail, optimizing bakery performance is critically important to overall store results. Our capabilities have been very well received, and we are working with many retailers to help them improve their effectiveness within this category,” he said.
Reynolds added that, according to Willard Bishop's 2009 Super Study, 85% of bread category profits are driven from branded bread sales, so it is important that retailers execute shelving and merchandising strategies that emphasize higher-ring branded items.
Sara Lee has also been recognized for its DSD service.
“We typically are in each store we serve seven days a week and work directly with store managers and retail division/district managers to keep their shelves full and to capitalize on perimeter display opportunities,” Reynolds said. “In addition, we also invest in research to measure, monitor and track retail conditions, which enable us to identify the latest in shopping trends, as well as quantify the impact of retailer best practices on the fresh bread category.”
— Amy Sung
FLOWERS FOODS: Retailers who nominated Flowers Foods this year highlighted the company's speed to market with new products, its continuing focus on health trends, and the company's excellent price points and specials. The company also just rolled out 100% whole wheat hamburger and hot dog buns, and a new 100% whole grain soft variety. “We're optimistic about the future of baked foods and will continue to follow the strategies that have worked for us — listening and responding to our consumers with new and exciting products, producing quality bakery foods, and driving efficiencies in all areas of our business with technology and innovation,” said Janice Anderson, vice president of marketing.