Leadership Matters

As written and published in Global Retail Brands Magazine 2018

Leadership Matters

Today is our time to lead, and it is imperative that we continue the momentum

We can all taste it. Own brands are on the crest of becoming loved by many consumers. We have bridged the gap from “acceptance” across most categories to being desired and preferred in many, but now is not the time to lay our foot softly on the accelerator, we have to be heavy-footed and creative in the ways that we try to lead. And this begs the question, what exactly are the different ways to lead, how do we forge an even stronger relationship with consumers, and what do own brands do to play a more compelling role in the store and in people’s lives? Yes, “followership” is dead. It is leadership that matters, and it can be manifested through many pathways.

Cultural Leadership

While many retailers will cringe when I assert this, but it is Aldi that is demonstrating more cultural leadership through their own brands than any other retailer today. It used to feel a little unexpected. But they have proven they want to be the first to Gluten Free (Live G Free), the first to be clean of MSG, trans fats and synthetic colors across the entire portfolio, and now they have launched Aldi’s Earth Grown. Earth Grown is the first major effort by a global retailer to develop a substantial line of Vegetarian and Vegan products, and it is unintuitive in many ways to the outside, but intuitive to Aldi, where leadership is part of their DNA. Leadership is part of their cultural fabric.

Category Leadership

Another way to lead is through category dominance, and it is Walmart that is showing these colors through more departments and categories than ever before, one perfect example being frozen pizza. Now Frozen Pizza has always been a curious arena for own brands, and if you haven’t already, you should see how Walmart has approached it through truly authentic product. The Sam’s Choice “Italia” line is not just from Italy, but the crusts are wood-fired, and the dough is proofed for 24 hours and hand-stretched. Authentic in every regard, and not-so-quietly dominating the category set.

Innovative Leadership

A third way to lead through your own brands is to constantly show a consumer-facing commitment to innovation. Aldi does this very effectively across categories that really haven’t experienced own brand innovation in the past, and a great example of this is through their Nutrition Bars. Aldi’s Elevation Line targets Kind, Luna, Atkins and Clif bars, covering all the major national brands in the category, and literally taking no prisoners in their merchandising and marketing of their products. No other retailer has taken such a bold approach to innovating in this brand-dominated category.

Dot.com Leadership

A lot has been said about Amazon’s cadre of dot.com own brands, and more recently about Jet’s Uniquely J – they are interesting efforts percolating across each of these retailers for sure. But I think it is also important to take note of dot.com’s like Chewy.com, recently purchased by PetsMart in April 2017. Chewy accounts for 56% of all on line pet product sales, and their full-frontal effort to also sell their own brand line called “American Journey” shows that they are intent on a multi-faceted approach to offering consumers real choice and innovation.

“Following” is a thing of the past, and leadership is the new fuel for own brand’s success. There are lots of different ways to approach leadership and incorporate this ethic into your program, or even better, culture. Don’t be afraid to lead, as we have never before had a consumer with such a receptive appetite for own brands across the world.


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