Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Loblaws' President's Choice brand is highly regarded by Canadians, and Wisconsin food exporters may benefit from selling to the store chain.

The Canadian grocery sector is highly competitive. Given the current strength of the U.S. dollar against the Canadian dollar and the sky-high price of produce and other imported foods, market forces are creating an uptick in private label sales. For cash-strapped shoppers, buying generic can be an economic choice, which makes private labels an important tool for both retailers and suppliers.

Loblaws is the largest Canadian-based grocer, holding close to a 20 percent share of the Canadian market. In addition to offering a wide range of household products, the company operates in-store pharmacies and offers financial services in Canada. The company operates through three segments: retail, financial services and choice properties. Loblaws’ competitive advantages are its low prices for private label items and value-added merchandise services such as financial, apparel, houseware and giftware. Its superstore format offers a one-stop shopping experience with the “Atmosphere of Box” similar to Walmart or Costco. Loblaws’ strategic position has led a private label/coalition program that has allowed for the retailer to be at a leading competitive edge over Walmart and other retailers who have dramatically changed the dynamics of Canada’s grocery retail space. Higher-quality private labels have been growing steadily for some time in Canada, with over 1,500 private label items available. Loblaws launched the President’s Choice brand in the 1980s, and has been operating on a long-term trend to offer more variety in its premium label lines. Many Canadians see President’s Choice as equal to major premium brands but with a lower cost, and it has become a major draw for shoppers.

Retailers are experimenting with new concepts to attract natural health consumers. Loblaws launched its flagship branded store in Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, which features an emphasis on healthier food and beverage options, organic produce and in-store dietitians to help select healthier choices. The company has also launched an ultra-premium line: the gourmet-inspired PC Black Label, which includes upscale products such as pure maple syrup, Thai purple rice, and beet and goat cheese cappellacci.

Loblaws’ private label program offers unique opportunities for food processors who offer quality products that fit into current Canadian consumer trends toward ethnic diversity and the “foodie culture” ingredient palate. Current popular trends include: basic foods with added vitamins, minerals and other bioactives; foods with added soluble fiber and yogurts with probiotics; drinks with herb blends; and margarines with phytosterols. These companies stand to benefit from the Loblaws channel to market to Canadian consumers.