Innovation has been a significant buzzword and trend within the private brand segment in recent years. Retailers understand that they could boost banner loyalty — and sales — by taking steps to advance private brand innovation.
AB Acquisition LLC (Albertsons, Boise, Idaho) did just that when it completed a $4.8 million renovation of its Culinary Kitchens & Technical Center in Dublin, Calif. The project, which was in development before Albertsons' merger with Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway was announced, resulted in the opening of a 33,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility situated near the company's Pleasanton, Calif., corporate campus.
Store Brands had an opportunity to tour the revamped facility on Nov. 9. As Jim Seiple, Albertsons' group vice president, product development, own brands, explained then, the project brings together the company's product development and quality assurance teams under the same roof for the first time in approximately 15 years. Prior to the renovation efforts, those functions were housed in separate buildings that were miles apart from each other. As for the building that houses the new center, it had been dedicated to store planogram operations, which were moved elsewhere.
The product development team includes chefs, too — one of whom also holds a degree in human nutrition, Seiple noted. In conjunction with the regulatory and culinary quality assurance experts, as well as strategic sourcing personnel, they are able to combine culinary expertise with food science to create unique own-brand offerings shoppers want. For now, the team members all trace their roots to Safeway, which with the merger, brought an extensive and well-known private brand program to Albertsons that includes such brands as O Organics, Eating Right, The Snack Artist and more. Those products are created in conjunction with a large base of private brand suppliers, or are self-manufactured at one of Albertsons' 18 manufacturing facilities dedicated to bakery products, dairy items, sauces and carbonated beverages.
"Our company is passionate about running really great stores, and key to that is providing our customers with the products they want, just as Joe Albertson did when he opened his first store 76 years ago," said Shane Sampson, chief marketing and merchandising officer. "As grocers, we love challenging our culinary team to come up with new own brands products that keep pace with the changing tastes and preferences of customers in every neighborhood we serve. Our Culinary Kitchens & Technical Center helps make that happen across all of our stores."
In addition to helping Albertsons create customer-centric store brand products and improve targeted items, the center also allows the company to test the quality of existing products, Seiple noted. In fact, center personnel test each store brand item on a yearly basis — and store brand suppliers are not told when such testing will take place.
All in all, the facility boasts a large culinary kitchen, a meat testing lab, an analytical lab, a non-food testing lab, three residential kitchens, a beverage and snack lab, a deli and prepared foods and self-manufacture room, and a quality assurance fresh testing lab. It has an emphasis on fresh selections that go across the service deli, meat, seafood, produce and bakery departments, Albertsons noted.
In addition to having food preparation equipment replicating that found in commercial and restaurant production, the center boasts the exact same equipment used in Albertsons' stores, including fryers, ovens and sandwich ovens, a Panini grill and more. It also has kitchens equipped with food preparation appliances like those found in consumers' homes to help team members to develop cooking instructions that yield the best results, Albertsons said.
With Albertsons' banners — which include Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, ACME Markets, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, Pavilions and Star Market and Carrs — now located in 33 states, the company also has a unique opportunity to innovate based on regional/local partialities. So the building of relationships with relevant personnel in Albertsons' various divisions, Seiple said, will be important going forward.
"It's exciting for us to learn about the differences in consumer preferences," he added. SB
Note: Store Brands will be running an expanded version of this story in our January 2016 issue.