2020 Category Captain Awards: Rising to the Occasion


When market conditions are stable and the economy is good, it’s a relatively straightforward process to leverage shopper insights, forecast demand, develop strategies and execute sales-generating programs. That’s not to diminish the category management efforts of food and consumables suppliers, but a rising tide does lift all boats. It’s when the sky darkens and the sea become suddenly stormy that suppliers are tested in new ways and retailers discover which of their trading partners are most adept at category management.


The 2020 Category Captains are:  

  • Abbott Nutrition
  • Anheuser-Busch
  • Cacique
  • Chiquita Brands
  • The Coca-Cola Co.
  • Dole Food Co.
  • E. & J. Gallo Winery
  • Hershey Co.
  • Hormel Foods
  • Idahoan Foods
  • Kellogg Co.
  • Litehouse Foods
  • Mars Wrigley
  • Milo’s Tea Co.
  • Molson Coors
  • Monterey Mushrooms
  • Nestlé Purina
  • Pharmavite
  • Pompeian Inc.
  • Reynolds Consumer Products
  • Rich Products Corp.
  • SmartGuard UV
  • Thai Union North American (Chicken of the Sea)
  • White Castle Food Products

That was the situation in which the industry found itself this year when faced with the uncharted waters of a global pandemic that disrupted the best-laid category management plans of retailers and suppliers. The pandemic disrupted Progressive Grocer’s Category Captains awards program, too. Now in its 24th year, this industry-leading supplier recognition program had to revise the criteria by which entries are judged to be reflective of new marketplace dynamics.

That’s because the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020 led to unprecedented challenges for retailers and their trading partners. Traditional approaches to category management were thwarted, and some plans had to be scuttled. Retailers adjusted their promotional efforts and shopper insights-driven engagement strategies and basket-building tactics were revisited as demand patterns shifted in never-before-seen ways. The new realities of the pandemic meant months of hard work to develop sales and profit-building strategies and total-store shopper solutions had to be adjusted, readjusted and adjusted again.

That’s why this year’s Category Captains award program continues to recognize overall excellence in innovative, profit-generating category management efforts, but entries were also evaluated by a new set of criteria that reflected the volatile market conditions of 2020. For example, speed, agility, resourcefulness and responsiveness, enduring qualities of Category Captains, factored much more heavily into this year’s evaluation process. More specifically, nominees were asked how their organizations pivoted at the onset of the pandemic, how quickly they were able to do so, and what results were achieved with specific initiatives. Another area explored was what sort of new operational challenges organizations overcame amid the COVID-19 outbreak to provide support to retailers and a nation in the midst of a national emergency.

In retail, as in life, the full measure of a company’s or individual’s capabilities aren’t revealed until tested in challenging new ways. That was apparent in the submissions that PG received this year, and is reflected in the outstanding efforts of the 2020 class of Category Captains.

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