Salute to Excellence taste/test sessions reveal innovation

This year’s tasting and testing days for PLMA’s International Salute to Excellence Awards have taken place. Spoiler alert: yes, there were some very innovative products. In two days, more than 500 food and non-food products were evaluated by two international panels of professional judges on several criteria, including taste, product concept, packaging, and value for money.  Submissions came from over 70 retailers from 23 countries around the world and included food, beverages, home and household, health and beauty and pet categories.

The private label wine category had its own separate tasting sessions. Under guidance of Master of Wine Cees van Casteren, two panels of wine experts tasted some 130 wines divided in about twenty categories. From sparkling whites and roses through classic wines to organic, judges rolled the wine, smelled it, looked at it, tasted, and scored it on concentration, complexity, length and balance.

Started in 2014, PLMA’s International Salute to Excellence Awards honour retailers for innovation and quality in the creation of their private label programmes. The 2024 Award winners will be announced at the Pre-Show Seminars on Monday 27 May. The winning products will be displayed at the Idea Supermarket Area during the World of Private Label International trade show on 28 and 29 May.

Nutri-score pressures food makers to improve

Research by economists into the composition of ultra-processed products in France, the UK and Italy has revealed that recipes in France have improved over time. With France being the only country of these three that has implemented the Nutri-score, the researchers conclude that manufacturers have modified their recipes to raise their score. From the introduction of the label, retailers had already understood the benefit of Nutri-score to promote their own brands, making sure that the products contained less sugar, less salt, and less saturated fatty acids, thus achieving a higher score. 

Apparently, in a context of heightened competition between national brands and private label, Manufacturers’ brands are starting to modify their recipes, too. It is said that one in three French people considers the Nutri-score to be decisive when choosing a product.

Self-checkout a hit in the Nordics

A study by Swedish Uppsala University and software developer ID24 among over 100 retail chains in the Nordics shows that the grocery sector is one of the leaders in the use of self-checkout systems. Many retailers are integrating mobile app scanning.

Some 62% of retailers operating in the food sector use self-checkout systems. Most retailers use self-checkout for reasons of a faster process for consumers as well as a means of reducing staffing costs. Interestingly, overall, retailers did not perceive a positive association between self-checkout adoption and generating higher sales.

Undoubtedly, the greatest challenge associated with deploying self-checkout systems emerging from the survey is theft, which was indicated by 89% of respondents, of whom 29% noted theft as being an extreme challenge.

Despite the challenges associated with the adoption of the mobile app feature, grocers remain committed to further investing into their mobile app technology due to the steady increase in customer usage.

EU supply chain law moves towards adoption

The EU Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Member States voted in favour of the supply chain law. This means the law is one step further in the adoption process. The rules must be voted on in the European Parliament before they come into force.

Now, what is this law about. As reported earlier, the EU has been investigating the possible stopping of goods entering the Union if they were produced using "forced labour." The rules are to provide a framework for communities to sue EU companies for human rights abuses and environmental harm in their supply chains.

A system would be set up in which a list of high-risk areas and sectors would be created. When a company wants to import goods from the list, or produced in areas from the list, the burden to proof that no forced labour was used would fall on the company, not on the authorities.

The process leading up to the approval has meant that many concessions were done. The new agreement now applies to companies with more than 1000 employees, up from 500 and a net turnover of €450m, three times the amount previously agreed. Environmental groups estimate the changes will exclude 70% of the companies the law was meant to cover. 

Is Lidl changing its basics?

Discounters are known for their everyday low-price model. Yes, they do offer weekly promotions. But their permanent range and especially their private label has always been known for the ‘best product for the best price’. 

In France, Lidl seems to be moving away from this motto. It has introduced a new range of ‘mini-prix’ products in its stores. The range includes everyday basics in simple packaging for the lowest price, approximately 25% lower than its regular private label. The range is being introduced gradually and the retailers’ objective would be to eventually have some 80 products.

Competition for price leadership seems to be the driver of this development. Lidl and E. Leclerc, market leader in France, have constantly been claiming to be the cheapest on the market. In today’s inflationary environment, Leclerc gained new market share with its low-cost Eco+ range and, in its own words, has dethroned Lidl from being the number one in price positioning on the French podium. Lidl’s introduction of the ‘mini price’ line seems to be a direct response to that.

Retail industry needs skilled tech personnel

Technology has long been becoming part of the food retail and manufacturing operations, not only in online activities, but also in logistics, ordering processes and on the store floor. Finding skilled personnel is an ongoing challenge for both manufacturers and retailers now that more and more jobs in the sector require technical insight or knowledge of AI and machine learning. For tech students, the retail or fmcg manufacturing business has not been the most logical or attractive choice after graduation.

As a result, companies have been very creative with incentives to lure talented technology specialists, and to retain them. Lidl, for example, is financially supporting personnel in getting their driver’s license. Children of personnel can also participate in the discount. In the UK, the company is doubling the period of paid maternity and adoption leave from 14 to 28 weeks. In addition, the supermarket will be introducing paid leave for staff undergoing fertility treatment. Edeka tries to win over Gen Z to come work with a creative use of typical “money scam” videos, with which young-dynamic success gurus promise their peers simple tricks in order to quickly gain wealth. The guru in Edeka's videos points out the golden opportunities that lie in an apprenticeship at the retailer.

In addition to special recruitment activities, companies in the fmcg industry have set up in house upskilling programmes for existing personnel to teach them how to work with new technologies and programmes. 


More franchising ahead

Retailers are increasingly turning to the franchise model in their store operations. Take Carrefour, from origin operating with own stores, started franchising convenience stores in Brazil last year. In Belgium, the majority of its stores are operated by franchisees and expansion here will equally be done through franchising. In France, it is mainly hypermarkets that are seeing a transfer to franchise. 

Alexandre Bompard, CEO of Carrefour, has put the franchise model at the centre of its strategic operations and says that more than 90% of future store openings in Europe will be franchises. The Group will continue to transfer integrated stores to franchise and lease-management in Europe.

Delhaize stirred up the Belgian retail sector last year by announcing that all the stores it owned and operated in Belgium would be franchised. In the meantime, the retailer found buyers for all of the stores and the transfer operation started a few months ago. The goal is that the transformation will be finished by this autumn. Reportedly, the first new openings show encouraging results. 

Auchan, historically owner and operator of all of its stores, embarked on a large development project towards franchising supermarkets. The retailer set itself the goal of achieving one thousand franchised stores in France in the long term. 

Experts see the move towards franchising as a way to keep prices low and preserve margins. Franchisers can respond more quickly to the needs of their customers, with adjustments to the offer and the addition of local products. Work organisation in the store can be managed more flexibly, improving productivity and service.

One in four Germans buys household staples online

Last year, 23% of Germans aged 16 to 74 years old said they had bought products like food, detergents, or cosmetics online in the last three months. 

Online purchases have become particularly popular in the 65 to 74 age group. Here, the proportion of those who shopped online rose from nearly 55 percent in 2021 to almost 62 percent two years later.

Customers are eschewing ultra-processed foods

A survey by trade magazine The Grocer of 1.000 adults shows a great leap in the importance of health. No less than three million consumers in the UK have started avoiding ultra-processed foods (UPFs) in the past three months.

Research from the EIT Food Consumer Observatory, combining a survey of 10.000 consumers from 17 European countries found that 65% of European consumers believe that ultra-processed foods are unhealthy, and that they will cause health issues later in life.

More than two-thirds of consumers (67%), for example, believe UPFs contribute to obesity, diabetes, and other lifestyle-related health issues.

Furthermore, 67% of European consumers state that they do not like it when their foods contain ingredients they do not recognize, and four in 10 (40%) do not trust that ultra-processed foods are regulated well enough by authorities to ensure these foods are safe and healthy in the long term.

UPFs include packaged snacks, soda, sugary cereals, energy drinks and chocolate bars, as well as foods such as ready-made sauces and dips, ready meals, and salad dressings.

Despite consumers’ health concerns, 56% admit to eating UPFs at least once a week, citing convenience, price, and taste as motivations. 

Private label in US produced record-setting sales

In 2023, own brands continued to be the brightest light in US grocery food and nonfood. 

Unit sales were nominally even, off by only 0.1%, compared to national brands which shed 2.8%. Own brand unit share came in at 20.7%, an improvement of 0.5 points from 2022 and setting a record. Dollar sales rose by 4.7%, compared to a gain of 3.4% for national brands. Own brand dollar share moved up to 18.9%, ahead 0.2 points from 2022, likewise a new high. 

In arguably the most important metric, annual private label dollar sales moved ahead to $236.3 billion, an increase of $10.1 billion from the previous year and establishing another all-time mark. 

Private label in the US is on a four-year winning streak. Compared to 2019, annual dollar sales in 2023 increased by $60.2 billion, a gain of 34%. Own brand dollar share rose 1.2 points to a record 18.9%. During the same period, Private label unit sales were ahead by 500 million and unit share improved 0.8 points to 20.7%, also a new high.