The Food Marketing Institute said it is launching a global initiative to provide industrywide leadership, education, and advocacy for private brand products, one of the fastest-growing segments in retail. "This initiative is a call to action for all sectors of the industry and all classes of retail trade to highlight the exceptional value of store brands to consumers, especially in these challenging economic times," noted FMI president and c.e.o. Leslie G. Sarasin. "FMI will work with retailers, wholesalers, distributors, manufacturers, and other trading partners to facilitate innovation and increase consumer awareness of private brand products." The initiative aims to promote policies, programs, and learning opportunities in five areas: industry cooperation, education, food safety, public and consumer information, and government relations. A Private Brands Group, made up of retailers, wholesalers, distributors, and suppliers, all with equal voting rights, will run the program, reporting directly to the FMI board of directors. Initially the group will work on industry opportunities, education and membership development. Next year, FMI also plans to hold its first annual Private Brands Summit, as well as an annual Business Conference. The summit will feature research and educational programs about consumer attitudes about private brand products and how to increase loyalty, while the conference will help trading partners choose the strategies and tactics necessary to grow private brand sales. "We are in an era of tremendous competition from all channels of trade, which makes total industry inclusion and collaboration more critical then ever," said Danny Wegman, chairman of Rochester, N.Y. Wegmans Food Markets. "[T]his...initiative underscores the significance of private brands and the industry's commitment to this important segment of our business," observed Jeff Noddle, chairman and c.e.o. of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Supervalu. Added Milt Sender, chairman of Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon Worldwide, the world's largest private brand broker: "The message from the 2006 FMI Daymon Private Label Forum in Chicago was heard loud and clear, and that is that private brand is an integral and growing part of the retail food industry, and an area of our business that requires greater focus and collaboration. FMI is the ideal organization to drive this process."