Bill Bradshaw, executive vice president at MMI, said the significant growth of the past year has brought with it a challenge every company would love to see—staying ahead of the game and keeping up with the opportunities. But by finding the right people and keeping the company’s current staff motivated, the difficulties have been manageable.
“We’ve focused on morale, creating incentives and giving ownership to our employees,” said Bradshaw. “We’re all in this together, so we meet regularly and over-communicate so no one is blindsided at any point in the process.”
Collaborating with integrity
Companies trust MMI with their private label brand development because of its long history of collaborating with integrity. The company’s founder, Herbert Pease Sr., started the company as a brokerage firm catering to private brand development. In each step he took, including handing the company off to his children, he embedded honesty.
“I’ve heard many companies say they see MMI as a company of integrity,” said Bradshaw. “When it comes to collaboration, we’re transparent with our retail and wholesale partners on each step of the process, including how we spend the commissions to drive their private brand.”
Most retailers have 200 suppliers that make up their private brand program. The commissions from each supplier range between 2% and 3%. By pooling those commission dollars together, MMI can have a larger pool of dollars available to combat the trends. With some customers, millions of dollars become available.
“Our competitors’ agendas are different than ours in that regard,” Bradshaw said. “They don’t necessarily collaborate with the retailer. We report back every month what we’ve done, how we’ve spent the money, and what the results have been in terms of sales, penetration, and profitability.”
MMI handles business with its suppliers in the same way. Bradshaw said the company’s top 30 suppliers make up 80% of the commissions that come through its door. By injecting transparency, integrity, and collaboration into each step of the process, MMI further secures its place as a leader in the private brand marketing industry.
To help its customers manage their businesses, MMI developed partnerships with Agentrics, a software solutions company handling data mining, bid processes, and supply chain management; and Sun Branding Solutions, a graphics lifecycle-focused company.
With Agentrics, MMI works on a platform called Product Lifecycle Management. The Internet-based tool allows all involved businesses to collaborate, giving retailers a complete view of their private label program. Retailers invite their suppliers to upload the specifications of each item in the business partnership. Once that system is populated, retailers can search and source their programs with more efficiency.
“Retailers can pull up nutritional information, or, if there is a peanut scare tomorrow because of ingredient issues, they can pull up every supplier that has a peanut ingredient, contact them from the system with an e-mail, and let them know a recall just happened,” said Bradshaw. “They get results back faster than when they went through numerous databases to
see what’s going on.”
The platform’s abilities go beyond enabling the vendors to contact suppliers. It can also be used as a full project management tool. If a retailer is launching a new category, it can put the entire creative brief on the system, state what it wants to accomplish, and then go to various departments for approvals to weed through issues.
“Once the item goes active, you build a history around that item when you test the product or when you have a consumer issue that might come up on that specific product, and you can load it into the system,” Bradshaw explained.
Through its partnership with MMI, Sun Branding Solutions’ lifecycle graphic tool can “talk” to Agentric’s product lifecycle management tool. If a designer were working on a label and the ingredient deck changes, for example, the label would automatically upload into the Agentrics system and update it there as well.
Sun Branding Solutions’ system also enables retailers, suppliers, and other stakeholders see the full variety of design possibilities, submit approval, or submit request for changes online. This ability reduces the amount of time it takes a product to actually hit store shelves, which could take anywhere from three months or a year, and whittles it down to three months or less.
“These partnerships give us opportunities to build relationships with customers we couldn’t previously reach because we can show them how they can be more efficient in their processes,” said Bradshaw.
One of the toughest markets for private label manufactures to break into is that of the Hispanic shopper. This demographic tends to stay loyal with brands they grew up with outside of the US and often overlook the private label option.
To find a way to create loyalty with this demographic, MMI partnered with New American Dimensions, a publisher, and Food Marketing Institute. The three companies built a questionnaire for more than 1,000 Hispanic shoppers in 10 major markets, asked questions about their shopping habits, and used that information to publish a book that is due later this fall.
“We’re just finishing up the final proof of the book, but the findings are fairly interesting,” said Bradshaw. “There is certainly opportunity for private brands to grab Hispanic shoppers’ loyalty.”
In Texas alone, for example, 51% of the first graders are Hispanic. In 20 years, those will be the state’s primary shopping demographic. “We see this book as an opportunity to get ahead of the game and see what could happen by breaking through to that demographic,” said Bradshaw.