Davies took reins after death of longtime leader
by Mary Margaret Stewart, staff writer
This is the third article in a three-part series by The Shelby Report on private label brands.
It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a year of the unexpected for the Private Label Manufacturers Association.
First, the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March. Two months later, longtime PLMA President Brian Sharoff died suddenly in May after leading the association for nearly 40 years. That’s when Peggy Davies stepped into his role.
“[Brian’s passing] was a blow to all of us, personally and professionally, and especially to me, since I had worked with Brian as an active member manufacturer for many years,” Davies said. “He was a friend and mentor to me and an important influence in my professional life.
“Of course, at the time of Brian’s passing we were still in early days of dealing with the impact of COVID on our professional staff, our office situation and PLMA events that are planned throughout the year…all had to be re-engineered under the extraordinary circumstances.”
Since May, the association has been able to redesign and execute: PLMA’s annual meeting; the executive education program with Saint Joseph’s University; the Salute to Excellence competition for store brands product innovation; and the annual Washington Conference.
“We succeeded in holding all these activities, and the response has been uniformly positive, thanks to the work of a great staff and the enthusiastic participation of members, retailers and many friends and supporters throughout the industry,” Davies said.
Prior to joining PLMA in 2016, almost all of Davies’ career had been spent as a senior sales leader for two major U.S. manufacturers that produced private brand products. Although she wasn’t working for the association, PLMA has been a part of her life for decades.
“The first PLMA trade show I attended was in 1989 when the association was just 10 years old,” she said. “From the early 1990s through 2015, I served on the PLMA board of directors. In 2003 and 2004, I was elected chairman of the board for two terms, the first woman to serve in that capacity.
“In 2016, Brian asked me to join the staff of PLMA as vice president of association relations. In that role, I initiated and led numerous PLMA programs and events projects in the U.S. and internationally, while working closely with the teams here at our headquarters in New York, as well as the PLMA International Council in the Netherlands.”
As a longtime businesswoman in the private brands industry, Davies cited recent data that shows these store brands have “never been more popular or more successful than they are today.”
According to industry statistics from Nielsen, one of every four products sold in the U.S. today is the retailer’s own brand. Last year, private label grew 4.2 percent, which was more than twice the rate of national brands, representing a $6.2 billion annual sales volume increase.
And in a recent nationwide survey for PLMA, Davies said consumers gave store brands high marks.
Two thirds of respondents agreed the store brand products they purchase are as good if not better than the national brand equivalent. More than 40 percent said they buy store brands always or frequently, and 25 percent are buying more store brands now compared to five years ago.
“The industry is healthy and growing,” Davies said. “We continue to see entirely new and innovative store brands lines, both in food as well as non-food. Many of these are being developed around features of quality that are important to today’s consumers.
“This is an industry that listens to its retail customers and, by extension, to American shoppers.”
What are the benefits to buying private label? For most shoppers the answer is simple, according to Davies.
“Store brands represent quality and performance as good as or better than national brands, while offering substantial savings at checkout,” she said.
“Shoppers can save a third or more on grocery and household items by choosing store brands over national brands…American shoppers have come to realize private label products are full-fledged brands made under the same exacting quality and performance standards as national brands.”
And it’s no secret that the supply chain took a big hit during the pandemic, and store brands were some of the only products still on shelves at times.
“In the first weeks and months of the pandemic, as shoppers sought to stock their homes, many were led to buy private label items for the first time in categories in which they had previously always purchased well-known national brands,” Davies said.
“Over the years, our surveys have demonstrated consumer trial is our best friend when it comes to building market share. I don’t think it overly ambitious for me to say I believe that trend will continue, and private label share will grow across all categories and channels of trade.”
Today, PLMA has been intently focused on its two major trade shows – in the U.S. and Amsterdam. Davies said the association has been successful in pivoting to innovative online conferences and educational programs for the industry.
PLMA’s World of Private Label International Trade Show, which was scheduled for May 2020, is relaunching as an online trade show this December.
And in the absence of PLMA’s 2020 Private Label Trade Show, which was set for November in Chicago, the association is launching a new virtual trade event – PLMA Live! Presents Private Label Week – Feb. 1-5, 2021.
“It has surely been a tumultuous year. Nevertheless, we are taking bold initiatives to carry forward our commitment to PLMA’s members and the industry as a whole,” Davies said.
“As president, I am committed above all to continuing the mission of the association that was first articulated by its founders.”
That mission, she added, is fourfold:
- promote the global store brands industry
- support efforts of member manufacturers, brokers and suppliers with their retail and wholesale trade partners to grow store brand sales and market share, in food and non-food categories
- educate, inform and advance the professional development of all with careers in private label
- make store brands the consumers’ preferred brand in all channels of distribution.
Private brands aside, Davies commended each person involved in working toward the future.
“In the bigger scheme of things, every one of us engaged in the consumer goods and retailing industries, whatever sector or niche our livelihood may depend on, needs to continue working hard as we endure these difficult times and to look forward with optimism for the future return to normalcy,” she said.
For the first article in this series, click here.