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PLBuyer, the authority on private label business, has named Whole Foods Market its 2014 Retailer of the Year.
Whole Foods, No. 30 on the 2012 PLBuyer Top 35 Private Label Retailers list released in October 2013, saw 15.8 percent sales growth from 2011 to 2012, hitting $11.7 billion for 2012. Whole Foods posted record fourth quarter fiscal year 2013 sales, hitting a reported $3.0 billion.
The chain has made significant strides with its private label lines of late, continuing its refinement of 365 Everyday Value, adding new products and working to position it as a budget-conscious alternative to its more-premium offerings. The line now consists of over 1,400 products, including around 650 organic options. And its Whole Foods Market store brand consistently features original, leading-edge, national-brand-better (NBB) products.
Natural and organic is a big draw for Whole Foods customers—and increasingly for shoppers in general. USDA reports that U.S. organic food sales were $28 billion in 2012, up 11 percent from 2011, and acreage dedicated to organic crops and livestock is on an upward trajectory. All Whole Foods private label lines maintain official formulation rubrics to keep products free of artificial flavorings, colorings, sweeteners, preservatives and hydrogenated fats.
And Whole Foods supports its private label lines through promotion and advertising. In one 365 Everyday Value promotion in October 2013, Whole Foods offered free products from the line during the grand opening of its Port Chester, N.Y. store—the chain’s 365th store—in addition to 365 Everyday Value discounts, samples and more.
Whole Foods has also strategically expanded into premium pet supplies with its Whole Paws line. The premium pet supplies category continues to grow—pet-product spending is projected to hit over $55.5 billion in 2013 per the American Pet Products Association, up nearly 10 percent over the past two years—and was a spotlight at the 2013 PLMA Private Label Trade Show. Whole Foods launched the Whole Paws line, encompassing multiple styles of premium pet food and treats, including grain-free, in October 2013.
All the while, Whole Foods continues to expand. Recent projections suggest Whole Foods is poised to eventually grow to 1,200 U.S. locations.
Expansion into the Midtown neighborhood of Detroit (June 2013) and Englewood in Chicago (projected for 2016) will acutely diversify Whole Foods’ approach to specialty grocery channel retailing, likely catalyzing new cross-channel approaches—and competition. Among other notable Whole Foods openings is the new store going into the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans (projected for February 2014), in a building that had remained vacant since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
Whole Foods has positioned itself to continually expand its regional and local grocery options through its successful Local Producer Loan Program. The retailer started 2014 with the addition of $15 million to the fund to supplement its initial $10 million investment. Whole Foods’ connection to these local and regional producers likely factors into decision-making related to corporate strategies for shelving and in-store foodservice, including private label and overall store branding—and helps point a signifying direction for the industry.
Complete coverage of Whole Foods Market as the PLBuyer 2014 Retailer of the Year will run in the March 2014 issue of PLBuyer magazine.