Friday, April 20, 2018
Business

Millennials drive grocers like Publix and Winn-Dixie to feature food produced around Tampa Bay

TAMPA — For two years, Winn-Dixie sold Mike's Pies under the grocer's label.

The pies sold well. But this year the supermarket changed its mind: Mike's Pies would be sold as Mike's Pies. Now the made-in-Tampa pastries sport the company's lime green label at more than 500 Winn-Dixie bakeries, where a 9-inch pie sells for $7 to $8.

Now Winn-Dixie is selling more of Mike's Pies. Sales are up 57 percent for the company, which employes 64 people locally and makes up to 30,000 pies a week.

"They realized it's a better opportunity to sell our brand rather than theirs," said Mike's Pies owner Michael Martin.

For the last several years, consumers have increasingly reached for local or regionally produced items. Grocery stores have taken steps to highlight those products, and the small businesses behind them say it has made a big difference.

"I think what's happening is everyone's looking for that local brand they can associate with in the marketplace," said Martin, who is married to former WFLA-Ch. 8 news anchor Gayle Sierens.

Consumers between 18 and 35 years old are the largest population in the country and their shopping trends have drastically changed the market.

"Millennials are asking: Is this healthy, is this local?" said David Fikes, vice president of communications and community/consumer affairs for the Food Marketing Institute.

If that pie is made at your hometown bakery, there is a perception that it will be more fresh and made with better ingredients, he said.

"There's some sense of that personalization of knowing where it came from and trusting where it came from," Fikes said. A greater variety in brands with creative labels can also give supermarkets an edge over their competitors.

With special branding to highlight its local products, Publix Super Markets has pinned down the demands of its younger shoppers, said spokesman Brian West.

"Millennials have driven things now for the last several years," he said. "Particularly for produce in the last few years we have made more of an effort to promote the fact that those items are grown locally when that's the case."

Thank this trend for buzz words like "made in Florida" and "100% natural" or products with a person's name in the title.

Cammie Chatterton, owner of Tampa-based Bay Food Brokerage, spends her days working between grocery stores and the small businesses that sell to them. She said that new products will not make it on the shelf without those attributes.

"I joke all the time that I'm really tired of the word millennial," she said. "I'm at corporate Publix three to four days a week working on promotions, and at every meeting the word comes up."

One company, CDS Hot Sauce Products, apparently hit the market at the perfect time to capitalize on the trend.

Its Tabañero Hot Sauce launched in Publix's 1,300 stores this summer. Founded in 2011, the Boca Raton company grew its brand by selling first to restaurants. Thanks to its younger population, Tampa was a hot market for them, said chief operating officer Danny Vitelli.

"That it's made in Florida is a strong selling point for us," he said. "The millennials demographic is embracing the fact that it's all natural, you can read the ingredients list and understand it."

A combination of factors, including a rising demand for spicy condiments, has put CDS in a strong position as the hot sauce industry reached a $1 billion valuation, Vitelli said. This year, the company is on track to sell 7 million bottles of its hot sauce.

Mona Gale was way ahead of the local movement when she founded Mona's Granola out of her home in Bradenton in 1981.

"Back then Publix was run by the Jenkins family, and at that point the only thing on the shelves was sugar cereals," she said. "Within two weeks it just sold out and they were just asking for more."

As Publix has grown, so has Mona's Granola. She said that when a new store opens, the product automatically ends up on the shelf. Gale credits millennials with a large part of her success in recent years.

"People are much more educated today," she said. "Millennials are smart enough to realize they don't want a bowl a sugar for breakfast."

Contact Alli Knothe at [email protected] Follow @KnotheA.

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