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Tops sees results after improving private-label offerings

Tops Markets rebranded, revamped and refreshed – and it’s working.

The grocer is only half finished overhauling its 2,400 no-name products, but already said it sees the payoff. Sales of private-label products have increased and customer feedback is positive, the company said.

Two years ago, Tops started completely reworking its private-label products from the inside out. Each product is reformulated. Tops worked with its vendors to incorporate cleaner, simpler ingredients and eliminate ingredients that turn off customers, like hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, and preservatives.

Tops worked with Buffalo advertising agency FARM and design team Daymon to design the packaging. Product packages now either depict a product’s ingredients or evoke a time and place. Tops shredded wheat cereal, for example, shows strands of golden wheat at the top front of the box, and a bowl of cereal in a breakfast setting on the box’s lower front.

Chantel Parker, a Tops customer in the Town of Tonawanda, said the new private-label foods look more appetizing. She said health and savings are important to her and her family and she can get them both without buying brand names.

“I have been buying more of them than I used to, especially the cereal,” she said. “It’s a much better deal and the kids like it.”

Private-label items also bear a new Tops logo. The red diamond shape is chopped in half and nestled onto the Tops logo like a roof onto a house. It now says Tops Brand Products. Its new tagline is, “home made happy.” Each package still bears the “president’s promise” money-back guarantee.

The higher-end package designs and reformulated recipes the company came up with better reflect Tops quality, the company said. The previous packaging was unappealing and made Tops products look cheap, the company’s research showed.

New independent research, conducted since the product overhaul has taken effect, found shoppers are identifying Tops with such qualities as “fresh, inviting and affordable.”

It’s an important indication of the overhaul’s success.

“Customers are the voice of our business, and they’ve had a really favorable response so far,” said Andrew Brocato, a Tops spokesman.

The company is also expanding its line of private-label organics. Organics are a growing, higher-margin product area, as are private-labels. Consumers tend not to be as intensely loyal to brands when it comes to organic foods, and are more likely to try private-label organics, providing a big opportunity for Tops.

The revamp allows Tops to generate more unit growth and margin from the shelf space already dedicated to private-label products, Tops President John Person said in a conference call.

“Having the right mix of private label and national brands is a balancing act,” he said.

The company now has 172 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Massachusetts. It recently acquired six Hannaford and Stop & Shop stores, One of the stores is in Massachusetts, giving Tops its first presence in that state.

Tops expects to complete its product rollout by April.

email: schristmann@buffnews.com

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