PLMA Show Shows Strengths and Weaknesses

By Susan Stransbury, Contributor | January 19, 2009

interesting new products show up at store brands expo in Chicago

The Private Label Show held at Chicago’s Rosemont Exhibition Center in November continued to attract store brand buyers and other visitors with an estimated 4500 attendees viewing the latest from exhibitors. In the nonwoven products world, there were a lot of big-brand-equivalent products as usual and some interesting niche items.

    According to PLMA, the show is the largest marketplace for store brand products. Some 2000 booths vied for the attention of buyers and executives from major retailers and wholesalers. All major product categories were represented from food to health, beauty care and household.

    Representative of store brand attendees at the show this year were four American retailing and wholesaling companies who received top honors from PLMA at its Salute to Excellence Awards. The four are H-E-B Grocery Co., Costco Wholesale Corporation, Navarro Discount Pharmacies and Topco Associates. They are winners in the supermarket, mass merchandiser, drug chain and co-op/wholesaler categories.

    Private label and store brands continue to grow on retail shelves. In some cases, PLMA exhibitor-sellers are also the converter-producer, while in others, production is outsourced to contract converters. PLMA says growth has not only been caused by current economic conditions but is an overriding trend. The association reports that private label sales are “on fire,” gaining 10% in supermarkets and 13% in drugstores in the past year, based on Nielson Company reports. Private label sales are now at $80 billion in all mass marketplaces. Analysis of recessions has shown consumers turning to store brands and increasingly staying with them when the economy im­proves. In the past, shares held up after a recession primarily when high quality was maintained. In the 1990-1991 recession, private label shares moved from 17.6% to 20%, and consumers remained loyal after economic conditions improved.

    Among nonwovens niches, there is a wide variation in private label shares. For example, at the high end are baby wipes with just under 30% private label market share. Baby wipes generally dominate the personal wipes category at around two-thirds of the total. Exhibiting at the show were private label private label leaders Rockline Industries and Nice-Pak Pro­ducts. Baby wipes growth is essentially flat, with sales growth occurring in other personal care categories.

Wipes Niches Continue

According to HAPPI magazine, consumers are interested in “specific use or niche products” for their lifestyle. This view was borne out at the show where specialty wipes and nonwovens applications were introduced to store buyers. Trendy and “green” advocates are also becoming a strong source for niche buyers in today’s marketplace, according to a number of industry marketers.

    Consider the case of deBotanica products represented at PLMA by Whyte Gate Inc. With pet grooming and spa products in spray bottles, jugs and other liquid containers, the company rolled out its towelettes in canisters. The features advertised encompass practically all the current trends including:
•    Towelette wipes line extension
•    Specialty application for cats, treated with natural catnip oil
•    Biodegradability and flushability claims
•    “100% free of harsh chemicals”
•    Lifestyle, with a pet lovers appeal to “pampering pets naturally.”

    In a unique line extension where the tail wags the dog, so to speak, de Botanica offers a “Pamper Your Master” line of unique organic spa products for people.

    Natural, beauty and healthy products are trendy claims. VLCC of India concentrates on beauty and wellness products with some wipes entries. Royal Labs is totally focused on natural cosmetics. Natural “Exfolia sheets tested by dermatologists” are core products by Beauty Cloth Inter­national. Facial pads by VonNatur feature ingredients such as antioxidants, vitamins and detoxifiers, and in this case, grapefruit essential oils.

    From pet wipes to surface cleaners and skin contact products, additives are bringing value to unique products. Whether embedded in a wipe or as an adjunct to a new product, formulations are enabling product features. In the case of SCIvolutions new Doctor’s Choice bandages at the show, the additive is an accompanying Dissolv Away aloe bandage removal spray. The spray dissolves the adhesive, making it easy to remove the latex-free, gluten-free cushioned bandage pads when healing is done.

    From new scented wipes to performance additives, variations still abound. EZP International covers both ends with new pine-scented wipes that clean and deodorize, and another offering with a unique foaming dish detergent wipe. The dish wipes are handy for those quick cleanups where there are often just a few items to wash, according to EZP head of operations Darren Colangelo. The days of filling up the sink, soaking and washing are gone for most U.S. households.

    Many store brand producers explain where they compete with major brands. For example, DPL’s makeup remover wipes are compared to Neutrogena right on the label. And, a full array of brand competitive household wipes in canisters was shown by Custom Manufactured Products.

    Additives also continue to play a key role with major wipes producers. Nice Pak’s Sani-Surface family of wipes include wipes to kill flu virus, as well as Sani-Cloth Bleach healthcare wipes and Sani-Hands for Kids wipes to stop “transmission of infectious diseases.”

Feminine Hygiene Brand Equivalency

In feminine hygiene products categories, private labelers are offering the latest brand equivalent items. HOSPECO president William He­mann talked about his company’s core competency in external feminine hygiene products for private label. With products manufactured in China and the U.S., the company manufactures “where we are most cost effective” at “state-of-the-art” facilities on both continents.

Diaper Construction Improvements

Diaper products were featured in several booths including Irving Personal Care’s Undie-Ups promoting stretch, absorbency and superior construction. Another company extolling diaper construction was Lambi, a Mexican producer displaying its Bebin diapers with improved leakage protection.

Dusting, Floor & Washer Entries

Brand equivalency in this category had private labelers rolling out 360 degree dusters. EZP International and others showed sweeping cloths, dusting cloths and wet sweeper cloths.

    Interesting categories shown by U.S. Nonwovens include its color grabber products that remove loose dyes in the washing machine. They compare to Shout Color Catcher and Woolite Dye Magnet brand products.

    It remains an eye-opener to view all the private labels at the show. Increasingly, as consumers look to these products for solid value, producers often deliver with more than ordinary me-too nonwovens-based offerings.

    Susan can be reached at: Susan@ConvertingInfluence.com.     

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