Store brands, often called “own brands,” have certainly come into their own. Some retailers, like Trader Joe’s, almost exclusively sell private label products. Overall, this category of manufactured goods represents about 20 percent of all products sold at grocery, drug chain, and mass merchant stores. Yielding a higher margin compared to national brands, like Tide or Doritos, the industry is poised only to grow and offer lesser-known, but highly successful, career paths.

In November, seven Texas A&M University students became the first Aggies to attend the Private Label Trade Show and University Outreach program in Chicago. The event attracts 2,800 booths exhibitors from 70 countries with over 5,000 buyers and visitors’ eager to discover innovative new products catering to modern consumer taste pallets, from organic spices, gourmet baked cheeses, to mango Sriracha beef jerky. Some of the attendees included companies partnered with the Center for Retailing Studies in Mays Business School.

Supply chain major and M.B. Zale Leadership Scholar Allison McGraw ’18 said, “I loved this experience! The opportunity to shadow a supplier on day one and then a retailer on day two allowed me to build a more complete understanding of the grocery business.” McGraw will intern next summer with PepsiCo/Frito Lay.

Mentor companies included Hormel Foods, Wegmans, H-E-B, Walmart, Whole Foods, Eurocan Pet Products, and 45 others. Fifty students from nine universities participated in the University Outreach program hosted and generously underwritten by the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association.

Packaging and design expert Deborah Ginsburg, founder of Stategia Design, coached Aggie entrepreneur McCalley Cunningham ’18 about the branding of her End Hunger granola bites. While many of the trade show’s snack products emphasized nutrition, Ginsburg recommended that Cunningham more prominently articulate the product’s social good – to feed a hungry child with each purchase. “Packaging must communicate ingredients and allergens, but it should also showcase the maker’s inspiration and brand promise,” Ginsburg explained.

Former JCPenney intern and marketing major Alexandra Marks ’18 shadowed T.Marzetti, a maker of salad dressings, dips, and croutons. Her mentor, Tom Ewing, Director, Retail Channel Business, demonstrated how to make quick connections with expo attendees, generate leads, and strategize post-event communication. Marks said, “I’ve participated in classroom sales role-play activities,” she said. “Seeing a manufacturer pitch for business and interact with existing clients in the fast-pace environment of the trade show taught me that a proper business deal should have both parties feeling good, which means much of the trade show has to do with maintaining positive relationships.” The next day, Marks shadowed Whole Foods Market buyer Lauren Winstead, who Marks credited with providing “an excellent example of how to be kind and professional while also being direct about retailer requirements when talking to exhibitors.”

Kelli Hollinger, Director of the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University, said, “All of the national brand retailers who partner with Mays’ Center for Retailing Studies have robust private label businesses. However, these career paths may not be well-known by students. By partnering with PLMA, CRS can promote jobs in product development, sales, and packaging design, while building new corporate contacts.” She concluded, “Retailers are innovators in all areas of business from accounting to real estate to IT. Attending this trade show opened another opportunity for Aggies.”