FI on the Scene: Key Takeaways From the 2023 PLMA Show

ROSEMONT, Ill. – The 2023 edition of the sold-out Private Label Trade Show, hosted by the Private Label Manufactures Association (PLMA), took place Nov. 12 to 14 and featured product innovations from a record 1,685 exhibitors. Private label’s powerful two-year run was reflected in the 2023 show being 20% larger than in 2022.

Dollar sales of private label grew by 11.3% in 2022 to reach $229 billion, based on Circana data. From January to September 2023, U.S. store brand dollar sales grew by 5.9%, compared to 4.3% for national brands, according to Circana.

On Sunday, Marshall Cohen, Chief Industry Advisor, Retail for Circana, presented on “Retail Compression: Private Labels Big Opportunity.” Beyond inflation, Cohen highlighted four other economic factors impacting consumer spend.

  • Tight labor market is slowing.
  • Lower-income households have voided their savings incurred during COVID and have dipped into their savings.
  • Increasing credit card debt. Consumers have to pay down debt before they can spend more.
  • Cost of rent remains high.

Monday’s keynote speaker John Ross, President and CEO of IGA (Independent Grocers Alliance), described the challenges that many Americans face, saying, “The middle-class should be renamed marginal middle-class – two incomes are not enough. One-third of Americans participate in the gig economy. 12.1% of Americans today are considered food insecure.”

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s retail trends breakfast speaker Ken Harris, Managing Partner, Cadent Consulting Group, said there are three areas in consumer products where AI (artificial intelligence) is impacting the industry the most: forecasting, customer service, and supply chain.

He gave three examples.

  1. “Tesco in the U.K. is using artificial intelligence to do forecasting. It increased their accuracy 3.2% a year at their One Stop convenience stores. So profound impact in a razor-thin margin industry, it makes a difference.”
  2. “In customer service, for those of you who use Instacart, you know this to be true, their chatbot is amazing. It matches our delivery windows to the shoppers. … In real time, it can do things like pair ingredients with dishes and provide cooking techniques.”
  3. “In supply chain, Walmart is using AI to optimize inventory levels, in fact, they’re modeling food demand for things like the holidays to be able to make sure that they have the right amount of inventory.”

Harris told the audience that private label suppliers need to get involved with AI and collaborate with retailers. He advised that private label focus on AI in a practical way, to develop AI in forecasting, customer service, and to collaborate with retailers using AI.

Trends on Display

Product trends seen on the PLMA show floor in Rosemont included the following.

Sweet heat
Americans are increasingly looking for spicy foods, especially items that provide sweet heat, in products beyond hot sauces. SunRidge Farms offered a Mexican Chocolate Mix consisting of almonds, cashews, chocolate, and a bit of spicy heat for snack time. Phoenix Bean LLC. served a Sweet & Spicy Tofu Salad made with sriracha chili sauce, sweet chili sauce, and sugar. Additionally, Döhler provided a Tropical Sweet Heat Lemonade.

Coconuts everywhere
The ongoing popularity of plant-based diets, growing awareness about coconut’s health benefits, and the rise in Filipino cuisine (which features coconut in many dishes) is propelling growth in coconut-based foods and beverages.

In addition to Coconut Water and Coconut Milk Drink (Tan Do Refreshing Water Co., Ltd), Organic Coconut Rolls With Ube Flavor (C.A.L. Marketing), Cashews Coated with Indian Spices Blended with Thai Coconut (Almond Brothers), Coconut Cream Powder (Yearrakarn Company Limited), Organic Coconut Oil (Butcher Boy), and Organic Coconut Syrups (Sohgood) were available on the show floor.

Foods & drinks with benefits
Today’s health-conscious consumers want foods and beverages with functional benefits. Agrisicilia S.p.A. (Italy)’s AGRISICILIA +Protein Protein Marmalade with Cherries is made with collagen protein. It’s designed to be a nutritious snack with 10g of protein per 100g serving or spread on bread. FFP (Florida Food Products)’s Cranberry Lime Flavored Nootropic Drink Mix with L-Theanine uses a nootropic found in green tea that may help improve memory, focus and more.

Additionally, Mountain Food’s Cocoa Fusion Skyskin Dark Chocolate Coated Blueberry combines blueberries, dark chocolate with collagen for skin health. A. Le Coq (Estonia)’s Non-Alcoholic FASS-BRAUSE Mojito is a naturally fermented drink produced from alcohol-free beer and lemon juice with the addition of vitamins (B6, B12, pantothenic acid, biotin).

Virginia Lee is a food & beverages trendspotter and market researcher who advises consumer packaged goods companies on innovation and market entry opportunities. She has a global, cross-cultural perspective from working at Euromonitor International, Innova Market Insights, and Brightfield Group. Connect with Virginia on Instagram, TikTok, and X at @VirginiaALee.