Commentary From Our Chairman / CEO


Ten Products & Programs That Made a Difference in 2001
By Mike Sleeper, Chief Executive Officer, Imperial Distributors, Inc.


New non-food items by the hundreds pour into supermarket shelves every year and dozens of new programs and setups are initiated or expanded. Last year was no exception. As always, it was a busy time with a good number of new products and programs scoring standout success. Overall, the trend in non-foods was towards upgraded product, quality enhanced through technology and innovation and increased higher unit value which fueled total non-food dollar volume–at a time when dry grocery sales were flat.

Of the numerous new entries and programs, these ten stood out as star performers in 2001.

1. BEST WOMENS HBC ITEM IN 2001. Disposable shavers were said to be taking over the men’s wet shaving business. But one manufacturer, Gillette, focused on improving their replaceable blade system and reversed the tide, first with Sensor and then with Mach 3. The women’s shaving business, however, stayed largely in disposables – but now Gillette has done it again with its new Venus shaver. Introduced in late 2000, and firmly established market share in 2001, Venus was a better product that provided a higher ring and grew the entire women’s shaving category.

2. BEST CHILDREN’S HBC LINE IN 2001. Several licensed kiddie HBC products came out in 2001, but the launch of J&J’s new line of Harry Potter Toiletries for Children was spectacular. Almost instantly, it captured a big share of the children’s shampoo/hair care/bath care market. Themed on the awesomely popular series of books and the record-breaking movie release, the new brand was the most successful HBC children’s line for 2001.

3. BIGGEST CONSUMER TRADE-UP IN THE SUPERMARKET FOR 2001. Weber’s Gemini Gas Grill raised the price-tag bar to new heights, $450. This seasonal staple with price point for supermarkets worked well because it was in line with the toughest discounters’. Because of its high ring, the grill–actually outsold in sheer dollar sales most summer seasonal GM SKU’s, and beat out the traditional $99.00 gas grill import.

4. BREAKTHROUGH IN ORAL CARE IN 2001. Significant advances in oral care were made last year with a new product that provides both value and efficiency for supermarket consumers. Procter & Gamble’s Whitening Strips put technology to work to bleach teeth at a $40 price point, which although high for the oral department, was well below the $400 cost at the dentist’s office.

5. FASTEST GROWTH CATEGTORY IN 2001. The nutrition/power bar category has been growing steadily, but its 2001sales advances were so remarkable that it became the No.1 growth leader in the important vitamins/supplement/nutritional area. It’s volume prominence and new-item vitality transformed it into a separate product classification, aided by supermarkets’ emphasis on Whole Health.

6. BIGGEST NEW FORCE IN GENERAL MERCHANDISE FOR 2001. Seasonal non-foods is the fastest growing of GM’s major categories and it was fueled by home décor items, which took off last year as never before. Centered on such events as Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, home décor built even more momentum from the effects of 9-11. The national tragedy imparted a consumer mind change that included a need for closeness to home and family.

7. MOST SUCCESSFUL NEW NATIONAL BRAND IN GENERAL MERCHANDSIE FOR 2001. A grocery-store standard, long and short handle brushes and brooms became a staple in non-foods many years ago. It’s been a steady provider of sales and profits with constant product innovation and packaging improvements. But in 2001 Mr. Clean, was licensed to the Butler Co. who devised a new, very attractive line with technical improvements at a price point for its long and short handle stick goods and brush and brooms that took this category to a new level.

8. BEST DIVERSIFICATION IN A PRODUCT LINE FOR 2001. The primarily seasonal business of coolers has spun off a new category that became firmly established last year. The soft insulation wraparound was applied to a multitude of colorful, fashion-oriented products for a 52-week market for lunches, travel, holidays and the school and office. From wrapped bottles to full-size carriers, this high margin line formed a new category of its own.

9. BEST ADVANCE IN CONSUMER CONVENIENCE FOR HBC ITEMS IN 2001. American enterprise and technology with product innovation for the grocery store shelf, once again delivered a product break through in Dove’s new premoistened cleaning cloths from Unilever. It pops up like paper tissues and is impregnated with the same ingredients as their facial soap.

10. BIGGEST CATEGORY UPGRADE IN 2001. Of all the GM categories in all the supermarkets, it was kitchenware, which made the greatest advances in 2001. Upgraded in quality, styling, ergonomic designs, hot colors, and new materials and heftier pricing, kitchen tools, gadgets and related cookware increased in sales like never before. The kitchen center concept came into its own in 2001 as a large numbers of supers gave this category more in-line space and more promotional support.

Thanks to the manufactures, brokers, distributors and retailers for making 2001 another great year for supermarket non-foods.

A happy and prosperous New Year to one and all. May the new year continue to bless the supermarket industry with more new and exciting non-food products and categories in 2002

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