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Panel: Relationship between maker, retailer makes for better sales

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From left, Linda Doherty, president, New Jersey Food Council, moderates the  “Innovation and Incubation: Investing in Trends Shaping Food” panel discussion featuring Chris Skyers, vice president of private label, Wakefern Food Corp.; Dan Zuccari, senior director of sales, Advantage Solutions; and Bob Baron, vice president, Sensory Spectrum.
From left, Linda Doherty, president, New Jersey Food Council, moderates the “Innovation and Incubation: Investing in Trends Shaping Food” panel discussion featuring Chris Skyers, vice president of private label, Wakefern Food Corp.; Dan Zuccari, senior director of sales, Advantage Solutions; and Bob Baron, vice president, Sensory Spectrum. - ()

Why does a product exist and what’s the story behind it? Without knowing that, retailers will have a much harder time selling a product, according to Chris Skyers, vice president of private label for grocery store operator Wakefern Food Corp., the largest retailer-owned cooperative in the U.S.

“One of the things we learned from our owners is that we have to go through the source,” he said. “Why does this product exist? You really have to find what I would say is the source of the problem — why was the item invented? What issue inspired this item to be created? Without knowing that as a retailer, you can’t do the proper job of selling that to the consumer or selling their story.”

Instead of meeting with a salesperson, Skyers said he prefers meeting with the R&D folks who know how and why a product was made.

When Sensory Spectrum Vice President Bob Baron worked on the collaborative sales team at Mars Inc., he said his team would connect with their top 10 retail clients about new products.

“What we found was, partner with that retailer and help them understand [the story behind] the new product. Once you have the partnership, it’s much easier getting buy-in. They would put endcaps up and promote it [because] they were part of that discussion,” Baron said.

Italian Masterpiece makes the first Shark Tank type pitch during the “Innovation and Incubation: Investing in Trends Shaping Food” panel at the NJ Food & Beverage Summit.
Italian Masterpiece makes the first Shark Tank type pitch during the “Innovation and Incubation: Investing in Trends Shaping Food” panel at the NJ Food & Beverage Summit. - ()

Skyers and Baron were joined by Dan Zuccari, senior director of sales for marketing company Advantage Solutions, for the panel discussion, “Innovation and Incubation: Investing in Trends Shaping Food,” moderated by New Jersey Food Council President Linda Doherty.

The panel was part of the New Jersey Food & Beverage Summit on Oct. 16 at the Palace at Somerset Park in Somerset. The event was presented by NJBIZ-FoodBiz NJ, New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and Rutgers University Food Innovation Center.

Customers are looking for convenience in the grocery aisles, noted Zuccari, but it has to be healthy and fresh.

“You’re going to see a lot of continued activity in [those areas] and grab-and-go. You’ll have retailers try to grow their share, and manufacturers offering convenience-fresh perishable items for retail,” said Zuccari, who represents clients on the retail and manufacturing sides.

In a nod to German grocery store chain Lidl — which is growing worldwide, including in New Jersey —Skyers noted that 90 percent of Lidl’s portfolio is private label.

“Private label own brand is going to be a big shift in the future,” he said. “You’ll see retailers continue to invest in own-brand portfolio. The consumer [isn’t] looking at it as store brand, but as just a brand. No one is embarrassed to see Trader Joe’s on their counter. No one is embarrassed to put Wegmans on their counter.”

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Gabrielle Saulsbery

Gabrielle Saulsbery

Albany, N.Y. native Gabrielle Saulsbery is a staff writer for NJBIZ and the newest thing in New Jersey. You can contact her at gsaulsbery@njbiz.com.

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