By: Doug Baker, Vice President Industry Relations-Private Brands, Technology, Food Marketing Institute
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This year taught us to be true to our brands.

In 2016 the food retail industry faced significant challenges and private brands were arguably at the center of every one of the year’s most significant and historical events. Private brands were engaged in the GMO legislation battles in Vermont and the massive efforts on the federal level. Private brands were front and center when it came to updating FDA Nutrition Labeling and Education Act regulations and were at the epicenter of the ground-shaking effects of implementing Food Safety Modernization Act rules, with its systemic overhaul. Through it all, private brand owners navigated government disruptors in addition to managing deflationary pressures; aggressive competitors; grocery shoppers’ increased affinity for prepared foods from non-traditional channels; and stagnate shopper traffic.

While other factors sought to alter the direction, these food industry brand architects actively engaged in shaping their own destination. In particular, the FMI Private Brand Leadership Council helped navigate blue prints and offered guidance to FMI by providing quantifiable data related to the hard and soft costs associated with state and federal legislation and regulation. Additionally, we had a number of stakeholders participate in meetings on Capitol Hill in order to clearly articulate the business argument directly to the people who could positively impact the outcome.

This year saw brand owners work to hone the story of their brands. To better understand the private brand audience, FMI invested in new research launching in 2017 that attempts to offer consumer, business, industry and global perspectives regarding the power behind preserving and building consumer awareness of grocery private brands. The final research product will be shared with the FMI board of directors at the Midwinter Executive Conference and to our broader membership via trade media, webinars, and blogs to offer additional context.

Any brand manager will tell you that it’s important to set clear goals and take calculated risks in order to be successful, and so FMI serves as an educational platform to support private brand managers’ confidence in the decisions they must make. We hosted our 2nd Annual Private Brand D.C. Summit in October to discuss policy and trade issues that have direct implications for private brand managers. We also explored consumer insights by looking specifically at the millennial shopper and how private brand owners can best leverage their knowledge of this new generation’s attitudes and acceptance of private brands.

It’s evident from FMI member surveys that the investment in private brands will continue to grow, and as brand owners, we have the opportunity to serve as writers, narrators and moderators to the storyline of our industry’s future. Further advising the council’s projects over the next two years will be Linda Severin, vice president of marketing, for Topco as its member council co-chair. As we welcome Linda, we offer our gratitude to Western Family Foods’ Bob Cutler for his leadership over the last two years and we look forward to building on his hard work.