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Safeway Exec: Strive For More Than NBE

June 8, 2012
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Safeway Senior Vice President of Consumer Brands Joe Ennen told a packed house Wednesday at the PLBuyer conference, Private Label: The Next Generation, at the Hilton Chicago that retailers needed to strive to create products that did more than national brand competitors.

In strongly worded language delivered with a smile, Ennen urged the crowd of more than 100 to become leaders rather than followers with their private label programs.

“Private label’s as good as the national brand? That’s pathetic,” Ennen said. “C’mon, we can be better than that. That’s a lousy standard. ... Strive to be the best.”

He told suppliers that retailers would, and should, demand more from their products than national brand equivalents.

“As a retailer, whatever, I don’t really care. I mean, I’m happy for you, but we’ve been going at this for 40 years. That’s what they expect,” he said. “That’s like a C. Try exceeding expectations.

“You can’t be better if you’re not different. How can you be better if you’re the same? ... It’s not like they walk up to the shelf and go, ‘Shocking! The store brand’s lower in price!’ They expect that. They get it. Our shoppers get it. They know they can save money, that’s not new news. What are you bringing them that’s new and interesting?”

Just as importantly, Ennen said products that remained NBE would be subject to price wars with the retailers.

“If you’re selling the same stuff as five other guys, and they all kinda taste the same, you’re going to buy the cheapest one,” he said. “That sounds a lot like a commodity to me. We’re going to manage it like a commodity.

“You want to get a better partnership? Drive differentiation.”

Ennen’s theme was illustrated by his assertion that Safeway brands are first or second in 40 percent of the 723 categories in stores – a top metric that he said CPG companies strive to achieve.

“I am the No. 1 brand choice, so embrace it, start acting like that,” he cajoled. “You’re winning! You’re in first place! Stop looking over your shoulder. Stop looking at what someone else is doing. Be a leader.”

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