'Live' at the PLMA: Innovation Is Transforming Private Label

Private-label products are changing fast, and consumer-facing innovation is key. We visited the largest trade show, the PLMA in Amsterdam, to see (and hear) for ourselves what the big changes in the market right now are.

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Wandering around the floor of the largest private-label exhibition in the world, the PLMA show in Amsterdam, always provides great pleasure. The event is not only a great opportunity to meet representatives from all of the leading companies, along with entrepreneurs; it also challenges our ideas regarding the development of private label. And our 'big idea' recently has to be product innovation in private label – not the need for innovation per se, but the fact that it is happening and that it is impacting the broader food industry.

We've talked a lot about this change in previous pieces. Times that the only viable strategy for a private-label manufacturer was to be the cheapest producer are behind us; being #1 on the shelves, being #1 for the retailer, or being 1 for the consumer are important strategic routes that can also be taken. And that is exactly where consumer-facing innovation comes in.

Indeed, retailers and consumers alike in this day and age aren't only looking for a cheap product, but for something that really adds value to the retailer-consumer relationship. Retailers are very much looking for differentiated food products that ensure the consumer returns to the store, and consumers are looking for products that fit their needs – whether we're talking about nutrition, sustainability, and/or experience.

Earlier this year, we also attended the most on-trend consumer food show, Expo West in Anaheim. The products on show there are really on the frontline of innovation and very much in tune with consumer demand. Comparing and contrasting that event with the PLMA show in Amsterdam, we see the gap between branded products and private label narrowing. While it's true that we didn't see many CBD companies or nitro coffee players at the PLMA (though there was at least one), we did notice a lot of new on-trend products in the better-for-you category, with a big focus on sustainability (a lot of meat-substitute companies!), including vegan and organic food – a huge theme for retailers across Europe.

The point of all of this: private label is catching up with branded food. And in some instances, we even see private label overtaking branded products!

What is key in this movement is scale – scale in production, but definitely scale in R&D at private-label companies. We are seeing a gradual consolidation among private-label companies. And as a result, these larger companies have the resources to invest in and develop new, interesting products that find an audience with retailers and consumers alike.

Together with this article, we're also launching a new episode in our Consumer Foods-to-Go podcast series: 'Live' at the PLMA. We interviewed representatives from a range of private-label companies. And – yes indeed – the common thread is innovation at the consumer-facing level. New products and new ways of thinking about which products to produce. Have a listen... and, as always, please feel free to reach out to us to discuss in more detail. Enjoy!

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