EXCLUSIVE: How Dollar General Goes to Market With Store Brands

Progressive Grocer talks with SVP Jackie Li about providing more than just brand equivalents
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Jackie Li - DG
Jackie Li is SVP of private brands and global sourcing for Dollar General.

Jackie Li may go all over the world to source private label products for Dollar General Corp., but he especially enjoys advancing the brands when he’s on a personal shopping trip and interacts with other customers. “Sometimes I’ll introduce private label to them. I’ll see people carrying (another brand) of bath tissue and I’ll say, 'I just want to ask you a question – why do you buy this instead of the True Living bath tissue?' They will say that they are the same, but then I’ll tell them, ‘Actually, this one has more sheets in there. Each of our rolls is almost 1.5 times of the other one.’ Then they are like, ‘Oh, really?’ and I will see them switch. That’s when I get very excited,” he recounted. 

He has personally encouraged shoppers to switch to Dollar General’s store brand in the frozen food aisle, too. “When we launched more of our frozen meal solutions to shoppers, I saw some people looking at them at the store. I told them, ‘You know what? This is the best Asian cuisine you have here at Dollar General!’ and they will literally go grab and try it,” he recalled. 

Li knows all about the quality of the store brand products given his role as SVP, private brands and global sourcing for Dollar General. Only a few hours after arriving back at the Dollar General headquarters from a trip to Asia, he sat down with Progressive Grocer to talk about how the retailer continues to grow its private label business as it rapidly expands its footprint across the United States. 

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“Typically, we make about three trips a year overseas to look for potential global suppliers who can offer different products for our Dollar General customers. We are very innovative in the private brand space we want to look at all options, not just domestically but globally,” he explained, adding that his team works with suppliers all over the world. 

Innovations are coming at a pivotal time for Dollar General and its own collections. The inflationary climate of the past two years and often-uncertain economy has created growth opportunities for the value retailer and for store brands in general, Li agreed. “Our consumers are still very stretched and they are seeking value. Inflation is definitely one of the key drivers for people to switch brands,” he said.

Shoppers will have more consumable and non-consumable store brand items to choose from at Dollar General stores, even following a solid year for new product development. “2024 is going to be just as dynamic as 2023,” Li reported.

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The assortment isn’t the only thing that’s been elevated. “I would say four or five years ago, we were very focused on national brand equivalents. But we are expanding beyond that, looking at products that are the same or better quality than national brands and with more of a flavor profile. Our customers are telling us that as well, because they want variety, they want innovation,” he remarked.

Innovation extends to many aspects of bringing items to market. “Dollar General has been very focused on packaging innovation as well. Five years ago, everything was under the Dollar General brand, like DG Health and DG Home. We started upgrading our packaging and launching new owned brands,” he explained.

Shoppers can now browse a variety of store brands at their local Dollar General. One of the more established private brand lines, Clover Valley, has continued to expand since its launch in 1995 and now includes more than 600 items, ranging from lobster bites to sriracha chili sauce to peanut butter spread with honey. Other private brands within the Dollar General stable include Good & Smart, True Living, Gentle Steps, Studio Selection, Comfort Bay, Bobbie Brooks and Smart and Simple, and the fast-growing Nature’s Menu line of premium pet food.

Some categories are particularly hot right now. In addition to the Nature’s Menu collection for pets, Li cited strong sales in snacks, beauty and over-the-counter health and wellness segments. “People are shifting, especially during cold and allergy seasons, to private label and we’re proud of that,” he noted. 

While Dollar General is still on the march into new communities, the retailer is gaining a loyal following of the all-important younger demographics, including younger Millennials, Gen Z and even Gen Alpha consumers. “We provide life necessities for shoppers as general stores. That’s our anchor, and we’re going to continue expanding that space,” he declared. 

As for what he might recommend to customers on one of his next shopping jaunts, Li said that he loves the Clover Valley rising crust pizza. “It is the best pizza. We had a vendor trade show here in Nashville and our booth with the pizza was the most crowded booth. People try it and they’re like ‘Holy cow.’ It’s great, and it costs 30% less, too.”

Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based Dollar General operates 20,000 Dollar General, DG Market, DGX and pOpshelf stores across the United States, and Mi Súper Dollar General stores in Mexico. The company is No. 16 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.

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