CVS Health’s Brenda Lord highlights consumer trends influencing the retail giant’s store-brand portfolio

Drug Store News interviewed Brenda Lord, vice president of private brands and quality assurance at CVS Health, about the retailer’s private-label program.

Drug Store News: What are some of the significant trends you are seeing in consumer demand for private-label products?
Brenda Lord: Our customers are at the heart of everything we do, and our team is responsible for creating innovative products and product lines that customers can’t get anywhere else. We do this by relentlessly looking at customer insights and identifying trends and opportunities in the market for innovations. We’ve been listening to and working with our customers to engage and meet their needs in ways others haven’t.

Guided by current shopping behaviors and consumer feedback, signaling further shifts toward value, transparency and sustainability, our store-brands launches this year across health, grocery and beauty were created to satisfy unmet customer needs. The expansion of these exclusive lines goes beyond the comparison to products that are typically associated with store-brand lines, and instead offer premium products at affordable prices. We’ve seen that younger and health-minded consumers are responding positively to our exclusive offerings, noticing the purpose, passion, quality and value across our store-brands portfolio. Based on customer feedback and current trends, we also found that our customers were looking for more alternatives in health care, requesting transparency from the brands they love and aspiring to make a positive impact on the planet.

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This past year, consumers were looking for solutions to support their overall health. According to Nielsen, U.S. dietary supplement sales rose by 51.2% in March as COVID-19 spread, with CVS’ vitamins and supplements category surpassing sales of cold and flu products for the first time. As a result, we expanded our Live Better by CVS Health line to include new offerings, which emphasized trending ingredients like mushrooms, ashwagandha, echinacea, apple cider vinegar and more.

In another example, we noticed a change in coffee habits with increased at-home consumption, the importance of sustainability and consumers’ desire to feel good about the brands they support. As a result, we launched Gold Emblem Fair Trade Certified Coffees. Because it’s Fair Trade Certified, customers can feel good knowing that it empowers farmers and protects the environment. CVS is the first drug store to offer 100% Fair Trade Certified products within its exclusive store brand.

Another trend consumers embraced this past year as their snacking habits changed was an inclination toward bold flavors and buying bigger family-sized packs in the grocery sector as many shoppers across the country were traveling less and working from home. In keeping with these trends, we offered larger sizes in some of our popular items like nuts and trail mix, and launched new items like the Gold Emblem Extreme Hot Cheese Popcorn that offer the boldness customers are hungry for. 

Many consumers adopted self-care at home last year, and it is still a strong trend in our stores. Male consumers especially are investing in their self-care and grooming. We launched a new brand, Goodline Grooming Co., which encompasses more than 35 items across shave, skin care, tools, and bath and body. The brand was built for guys, by guys, using a panel of 90 “guys” to inform all aspects of the brand. 

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DSN: How important is sustainability to the private-label consumer?
BL: Customers are asking smart questions about the products they buy and/or put in their bodies, and we know that one of the things they’re looking for are brands that prioritize and promote sustainability. Our customers are increasingly conscious of product sustainability and supply chains.

Sustainability is a core area of focus. As a company dedicated to improving people’s lives through innovative and high-quality health offerings, we are vigorously working to ensure that customers have access to affordable, accessible, sustainable options across our store-brands portfolio. In our Total Home Earth Essentials line, we recently introduced compostable bamboo plates and cups, birch utensils from Forest Stewardship Council-managed forests, and bio-based dish soaps free from parabens and phthalates — all high-quality, sustainable solutions that help customers make eco-friendly swaps in their home without a hefty price tag.

We’re on the lookout for even more innovation in sustainable and minimized packaging, and anticipate more collaboration in the industry to support this.

DSN: How is CVS working to meet these demands in its private brands?
BL: Trust and transparency within each of our product lines is of the utmost importance, so in 2017 we removed parabens, phthalates and the most prevalent formaldehyde donors from all our store-brands lines. This move was due partly to our journey towards more sustainable products that satisfy consumer expectations, and to further deliver on our commitment to safety, quality and trust.

Today, consumers want more from brands and products, and expect large organizations to be transparent and purposeful. In 2020, we began an assessment of our store-brand packaging materials made up of plastic. By surveying select store-brand suppliers responsible for producing a large percentage of our plastic packaging within the store-brands portfolio of products, we will gain a better understanding of the impacts within our supply chain and inform meaningful sustainable packaging targets, leading with our store-brand products.

Another step we took last year was to join the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s How2Recycle program to begin including detailed recycling icons and instructions on our store-brand product packaging. The How2Recycle label includes details on the type of packaging material, which components of the packaging are recyclable and directions for how consumers should prepare each component for recycling, such as rinsing.

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We have already begun adding How2Recycle labels to some of our products, including CVS Health Vitamins and Total Home, which will begin shipping to stores by the end of 2021. 

To further our commitment to providing quality and innovative products that are sustainable, we announced the expansion of our Live Better by CVS Health line in June of last year. ... All the packaging in the Live Better line is at least 80% recyclable, with many simply requiring consumers to remove specific elements to allow for easy recycling. For instance, with some vitamin bottles the customer may need to discard a small foil seal or cotton, but the bottles and caps themselves are fully recyclable.