From Chocolate Hummus To Lobster Bisque: Walmart Excels In Private Label Awards

Every year, the Private Label Manufacturers Association conducts its Salute to Excellence Awards to recognize store brand innovation across a wide swath of product categories.

Among other things, the competition—evaluated by eight panels of industry professionals, along with consumers—helps bring into sharp focus the ever-growing desire for retailers to take more control over what appears on their shelves. 

This is fueled in no small part by their waning dependence on national brands for new product insights, shopper research and marketing, along with their rapidly evolving ability to quickly respond to consumer trends.

For the 2019 Salute to Excellence Awards, there were 750 entries from U.S. and Canadian retailers—yielding 44 food and 23 non-food winners. 

Walmart was a particular standout. It received seven awards for products ranging from dark chocolate hummus to lobster bisque—both under the retail giant’s Marketside brand.

According to consumer research data from MRI-Simmons, the highest incidence of private label purchases by U.S. adults is in the food category, followed by cleaning supplies, household products, personal care products and non-alcoholic beverages.

PLMA director of retail trade relations Suzanne Caputo headed up the awards competition. In this Q&A, she walks CPG FYIthrough some of the winning entries and talks about what made them stand out.

CPG FYI:Let’s start with some of the lower-incidence categories, like non-alcoholic beverages. 

Caputo: We had a lot of submissions in soda, carbonated drinks and water. One of the winners was CVS for its passion fruit seltzer. It’s a different flavor, and the packaging is terrific. They obviously paid attention to trends and what consumers are buying and then turned it around quickly.

CPG FYI:What did you see in health and beauty products?

Caputo: One of the things that I thought really stood out was in the beauty care and cosmetics category, where some of the products that were judged were from major beauty retailers like Sephora and Ulta. But a drugstore (CVS) won for its 360 On The Go Blender. 

One of the things we’re seeing is that drugstores and supermarkets are putting more effort into categories that they think will be emerging. They see a real opportunity to differentiate their packaging and put more money into development of their own products. Consumers are open to trying them and, once they have that loyalty, will continue to purchase them.

CPG FYI:Talk about men’s grooming.

Caputo: Target won for its Goodfellow & Co. beard oil. It’s beautiful packaging, it’s a good quality product and priced very reasonably. I think they’re taking advantage of niche markets and realizing where they can put a product in, make it their own and be innovative.

The beard oil is a high-quality product priced accordingly from a brand and retailer that consumers love and trust. It’s like a Trader Joe’s. 

Once people are comfortable with that retailer, they trust their brands. That’s what retailers are doing really well with their private label is getting that consumer trust.

CPG FYI:Tell us about Walmart’s chocolate hummus. Is that an appetizer or what?

Caputo: They consider it a dessert spread. 

One of the things we noticed so much in the 2019 awards is that retailers are taking different and unique flavors and ingredients, incorporating them into their store brands and taking a normal product like hummus and elevating it. 

Another example is Kroger in the salty snacks category, with their Cuban-style kettle cooked chips—taking a regular potato chip and adding this unique flavor that people don’t necessarily see. It was delicious.

CPG FYI:So there was no plant-based food competition?

Caputo: We didn’t have a specific category for it in 2019, but without question one of the first things we discussed is definitely having it for 2020. 

CPG FYI:How about CPG products infused with CBD?

Caputo: Currently, there seems to be an interest and curiosity from American consumers with regard to the uses and benefits of CBD.  Although we did not have a category for CBD in the initial 2019 Salute to Excellence nomination form, we will be including it on this year’s form.  

At our trade show held in November, we had a dedicated CBD section on the floor, with 25 exhibitors from the United States and Canada. They showcased innovations with hemp-derived CBD products, in various forms and applications, across an array of non-food categories such as skin care, body care, cosmetics, supplements, pet care and more.

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