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Gary Rodkin, ConAgra

2014 Power 50 Suppliers: No. 11 Gary Rodkin CEO ConAgra Foods Key Development: Sales team gains traction in the private brand space. What’s Next: Fulfill its vision of being the premier value-added partner for retailers embracing private brands.

Gary Rodkin has seen ConAgra Foods through a long roster of changes since he joined the company in 2005.

Under his leadership, the company has been transformed from a holding company into a unified operating company with a mix of national brands like Healthy Choice, Slim Jim and Chef Boyardee, and 30 categories of private labels ranging from cereal to snacks to refrigerated and in-store bakery products, contributing 24% of net sales.

Although sales volume was down a disappointing 3% in the company’s fiscal Q3 2014, Rodkin anticipated the drop, which can be attributed to complications that came with the acquisition of private label manufacturer Ralcorp, he said during the Consumer Analysts Group of New York Conference in February.

After acquiring Ralcorp in 2013, the company faced challenges as it began ironing out structural and operating glitches. But the upside is that the acquisition positioned ConAgra Foods as the largest private label provider in North America. With its store brand heft and a strategy that brings the company closer to its retail customers, Rodkin said he is optimistic going forward.

“We have a unique portfolio with breadth and scale due to the fact that we are the largest private brands food maker in North America and we also have a great assortment of strong, traffic-driving consumer brands,” he said.

While overall private label growth has plateaued, Rodkin said that retailers who have prioritized store brands have enjoyed growth that is significantly better than those that have not.

“Specifically, the customers with the heaviest focus on private brands are growing almost twice as fast as the rest of the top 30 retailers,” Rodkin said. “When the retailer has the opportunity to combine national brands with private brands, we believe the dynamic is even more compelling.”

ConAgra’s most important objective now is bringing its mix of brands and private brands to retailers in a way that helps them succeed.

“We have an integrated sales team in place with one voice to the customer, and a customer-by-customer, category-by-category approach. It’s not one-size-fits-all.”

 In some cases, customized solutions involve cross-merchandising the retailer’s store brand with ConAgra national brands in the store’s perimeter where purchases tend to be more impulsive.

With ConAgra’s unique product mix and expertise across brands, Rodkin is confident in the manufacturer’s ability to deliver a unique value proposition to retailers.

 “We will bring the consumer packaged good capabilities to retailers for their own brands, something that no one has done in a big way,” Rodkin said.

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