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Exclusive: Safeway Exec Says PL Must Lead, Not Follow

May 15, 2012
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For retailers to make the most of their private label programs, they need to stop following the major brands and begin innovating themselves.

Safeway Senior Vice President of Consumer Brands Joe Ennen said as much in previewing remarks he is scheduled to make next month at the PLBuyer live conference, Private Label: The Next Generation.

“If all you’re looking at is the national brands, you’re not leading,” Ennen said.

Podcasts of other speakers previewing their remarks at the conference, including Supervalu’s Sam Mayberry and Price Chopper’s Mike DeJulio, are available at

The PLBuyer conference is scheduled for June 5-7 at the Hilton Chicago. Registration is open and available at

Ennen said the first step for retailers had to be changing how they viewed their private label programs.

“It really pivots around how to behave like a leader,” he said. “In many, many instances, store brand products are the leader in the category, yet there is not a consistent leadership mindset from all the people involved in managing the brands for those categories.

“So it’s an absolute focus on the consumer and following the consumer instead of following some other company.”

That will be the biggest change to come, Ennen said, as private label programs begin to create and develop on their own rather than trying to match or imitate name brands in the category.

“It all starts with what are you looking at and who are you talking to,” he said. “The mindset shift that has to occur is the need to move away from relying on CPG companies to do all the heavy lifting on consumer insight and driving innovation and sitting in the backset, waiting for them to do their job and then quickly following.

“The industry needs to move toward being proactive.”

Ennen said he was hoping to pick up some strong industry knowledge when he and his team visit Chicago for the conference next month.

“I always really enjoy these types of conferences because you learn what other people are doing, you learn there’s a really strong shopper and capability focus, what’s the shopper’s mindset and how is the shopper and consumer changing,” he said.

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