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  • Time to Tag Up: Private Brands are Coming Back

    Cleaning supplies for spring cleaning

With COVID-19 vaccines becoming more available every week, there’s growing excitement for a return to normalcy very soon. What may not be so quick to return is the way consumers shop and the products they buy, both having been altered by the pandemic. Although the pantry loading experienced beginning last March has subsided, consumers shopping in-store are, at least for a while, likely to keep trips brief and focused on need to-have-items. And that’s good news, across the store, for private brand offerings and the shoppers who are loyal to those products.

As shelves emptied last spring, a few things happened almost immediately:

  • Customers turned to private brands, first out of necessity, and many remained as they experienced the quality and value for themselves
  • Suppliers deprioritized SKUs to minimize production line changeover, produce as many cases as possible, and keep everyone in stock as best they could. It was also an opportunity for them to cull their offering and eliminate slow moving items.

The UNFI Brands+ team worked tirelessly to get as much product to customers as possible. “The second we were notified of new production, we cut orders against it to get inventory into the distribution centers and out to customers,” said UNFI Senior Product Business Manager, Ryan Nord. “The good news is that UNFI Brands+ has weathered the COVID-19 storm and supply is coming back. Things are ramping up; some things will be slower than others, but we have much more availability across the store and we’re continually working with our supplier base to improve all categories.”

Not all items will return, but supply on some items that vanished first (think paper products) has definitely improved. “We went from 70 items in paper (prior to COVID) to eight at the peak of the pandemic,” says Nord. “Due to careful and thoughtful SKU rationalization, we won’t return to 70, but the 40 best items we’re keeping will be back, in full, by June. Those items have been off shelves for close to 10-12 months. We look forward to seeing the UNFI Brands+ items return to the shelves and provide an expanded lineup of quality and value options for our retailers’ customers.”

High demand items such as household gloves will remain on allocation for the time being. But others are back, especially high profit HBC items like liquid soap, hand sanitizer, isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and vitamins.

“When suppliers deprioritized to focus on top SKUs, many stores pulled tags to avoid gaps on the shelves,” says UNFI Senior Product Business Manager, John Segal, “especially in HBC. Retailers may not realize the extent to which things have come back across categories. They can once again order and promote these items with confidence.”  

These categories have come back and are in better shape now than they’ve ever been:

  • bath tissue
  • facial napkins
  • bleach
  • liquid soap
  • hand sanitizer
  • isopropyl alcohol
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • vitamins
  • trash bags
  • soup
  • peanut butter
  • cereal
  • side dishes
  • potatoes
  • pet food
  • dry rice, beans & pasta