SpartanNash Finest Reserve Private Label

Why SpartanNash Went Upscale With Newest Store Brand

Finest Reserve could serve as benchmark for retailers looking to evolve their private label assortments
Greg Sleter
SpartanNash Exec
Rick Weekley, senior director of creative services and own brands marketing at SpartanNash

Ask Rick Weekley about SpartanNash’s newest private label line, Finest Reserve, and he’s not shy about expressing his excitement.

“I’m starting my 37th year in this industry, and I don’t recall ever having anything that I’ve been as excited about and proud to be a part of,” asserts Weekly, the senior director of creative services and own brands marketing for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based SpartanNash. “It has been a wonderful journey, and we’re just at the beginning of the potential for what we’re doing with Finest Reserve.”

Building off the company’s long history of success with its Our Family private label assortment, Finest Reserve — to steal a line from Chef Emeril Lagasse — kicks it up a notch. Positioned as a premium line, the brand’s initial assortment includes frozen pizza; frozen pasta; sauces, dressings and marinades; premium spices, salts and seasoning blends; and premium chocolates. Wine is also being added to the line, marking the first time that SpartanNash has waded into the wine and spirits category.

This upscale assortment, which is proprietary to SpartanNash and its retailers, could serve as a benchmark for retailers that are looking to evolve their private label assortments. While the history of store-brand products has been to offer consumers lower-priced alternatives to national brands, retailers are now seeing the opportunity to present premium high-value products that can’t be found at their competitors.

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In an interview with Store Brands, Weekly discussed the development of Finest Reserve, the initial response from consumers and the role that this upscale line could play in keeping sales of private label products growing.

Store Brands: What were some of the key factors that led to the development of Finest Reserve?

Rick Weekly: Turning back the clock a couple of years, SpartanNash was re-energized following a leadership change, and we were making the transformation from traditional wholesale supplier to truly being a customer-centric food solutions provider. The key phrase there is “customer-centric,” especially as we were coming out of the pandemic and consumers were returning to normal. One of the things we explored was our private-brand program. We did extensive consumer research to understand how the brands were being perceived and if they were meeting the needs of shoppers.

SB: What were some of the key findings from that research?

RW: There were some valuable learnings from our research, one of which was that we had a void in our own brand’s architecture. We had an opening-price-point brand solution and a mainstream brand solution for center store. What was missing was a premium offering. And if you recall during the pandemic, indulgence was still something that people were unwilling to sacrifice, and we knew that was a longer-term trend. That was really the genesis of the process. Our consumer research then went into brand, brand mark creation, naming and then more contact with the consumer to validate the direction. We needed to know the message we intended to have was connecting with consumers.

SB: What led to the selection of the initial products in the Finest Reserve assortment?

RW: This goes back to our customer-centric approach. We started with consumer research to identify what the needs of the premium shopper are. The main thing we found out was they are not willing to sacrifice on quality to get a lower price. And categories such as wine and spirits and chocolate are very much at the top of their list. So we went after the most obvious choices based on that research. 

SB: While the line is still in its early stages, has there been an evolution in the time it’s been available?

RW: One of the most exciting parts of my job is every day, I get to walk into the world of Finest Reserve and know that I’m a part of a constantly evolving universe. There is a storytelling aspect to the brand as we work to get the brand top of mind for consumers. With our packaging, for example, we wanted to be very tactile in our approach. We have opportunities to do things such as embossing, textured background or foil sampling. We want this to feel good, taste good and look good when sitting on the kitchen counter at home. 

Additionally, our storytelling with Finest Reserve is very video-based. We are investing heavily in creative production for digital outlets, be it streaming services, traditional broadcast media and every social application to where we can take the customer on that journey. That story is evolving as the brand continues to grow.

SB: What are the differences in terms of product selection and product development between Finest Reserve and the broader Our Family assortment?

RW: The Our Family brand is celebrating its 120th anniversary, and I believe is one of the oldest private brands in existence in the U.S. So there is a tremendous amount of trust with that brand. When we started talking about a premium brand, we wanted to have the Our Family endorsement be a key element in that journey. This is why we went with Finest Reserve by Our Family. We wanted to have that connection. 

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When we do item selection and product development, there’s some common criteria for evaluation. It may have to do with flavor profiles, manufacturing standards and so on. While there’s a parallel for the first part of the journey, Finest Reserve then starts branching off. It’s less about the price; the brand is about delivering the experience first. That’s why we went to Italy to find authentic hand-stretched artisan pizzas and other products that offer unique flavor profiles. We also make sure the products are able to deliver a better experience. 

SB: Since Finest Reserve offers premium products, how are the features and benefits of the products communicated to consumers?

RW: It goes back to our ability to tell a story and using video and digital tools to drive brand awareness. There is also a journey that includes product packaging, signage on shelf that supports the story and educates shoppers, and use of media to connect with shoppers on various digital platforms. We want to give consumers an emotional connection to the brand. 

SB: Early on, what have been some of the big sellers from Finest Reserve?

RW: The chocolates have been huge right out of the gate. We went out with some aggressive price points, introduced digital coupons and did in-store sampling. We want the consumer to feel as if they’re getting a good value as we get them to try this new brand. Our spices have also been steady performers as well. Other products, including the sauces, pizzas and pastas, are just hitting the shelves now. Out of the gate, we have received some favorable responses, and we are focused on keeping that momentum going. 

SB: Will offerings such as Finest Reserve serve to help continue improving consumer perceptions of store-brand products?

RW: I really think so. We need to have a national-brand mindset when we’re presenting a premium product. In the “old days,” the approach with private label products was either we were going to emulate products already on the shelves or take a minimalistic approach. Now, we can’t do that. We know consumers today are more accepting of private brands than ever before, but these products shouldn’t feel like a sacrifice. 

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We did research that indicates things such as packaging perception drive consumer perception regarding the quality that’s inside. As a result, we had to elevate how the product looked on shelf. We want to give the consumer an elevated experience, but also let them know they can save a little money at the same time. I think that’s really important in shaping the future of the private-brand journey.

SB: With the growth seen in private label in recent years, have we reached a point where either retailers or consumers are offering their thoughts on new products they would like to see?

RW: Being a wholesaler and a retailer is a tremendous advantage for SpartanNash. We receive a tremendous amount of data from our stores that are customer-specific to their preferences and desires for product expansion. They’re voting with their wallets. Additionally, social media has been a tremendous asset to us, not just for storytelling, but also receiving feedback from consumers about what they think about our products, and also what they would like to see developed. Once you’ve built that relationship [with consumers], they’re not shy. We have also used our social media channels to test packaging concepts to see what our customers respond to the best.

SB: We’re seeing improved consumer perception of private label products. How does this change the product development approach at SpartanNash?

RW: It gives us the confidence to stretch a little bit more than we have previously. We know consumers are now understanding what we are delivering through our private brands. As a result, innovation is now something we embrace rather than fear. In the past, launching a premium private label line would have been a more difficult conversation. Now, this change in perception of private label products has allowed us to remove the internal barriers we may have created for ourselves. 

SB: Are there plans for further expansion of Finest Reserve, and, if so, what categories may be added?

RW: The launch has been very successful, and there will be growth and expansion in the future. We’ll be introducing coffee very soon, and we’re going back to Italy for imported dried pastas and pasta sauces. We’re also looking at some specialty condiment areas like specialty mustards and things of that nature. The brand has filled a very important need, not only for the consumer, but also for the retailers that carry our products. Growth is the word at SpartanNash, and that certainly resonates through the Finest Reserve brand. There’s no stopping us now!  

Finest Reserve: The Products

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