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In early 2012, at the urging of Eric Ryan, co-founder of Method, Target gathered the founders and chief executives from leading natural-product companies together in San Francisco. Two years later, the retailer is unveiling "Made to Matter -- Handpicked by Target," a unique program that is giving 17 brands a platform for launching their products.
"My pitch [to Target] was, 'We're all entrepreneurs, we all know each other. Just get us in a room. If you get us in a room, something good will happen,' " Mr. Ryan explained. "We challenged ourselves to think about where we thought natural was going. ... The initial idea was, let's create some sort of collective platform with Target -- sustainability is intangible, let's make it tangible."
Each of the participating companies has committed to providing Target with at least one new item that will be exclusive to the retailer for at least six months. In all, 120 products will be marketed as "Made to Matter" with a special green seal. They will be promoted on end caps in store, as well as through a major fall marketing campaign, led by Deutsch, Los Angeles. A video explaining the program was handled by Target's internal team.
About half the products are line extensions -- new flavors, colors or scents -- while the other half are completely new products. Ella's Kitchen is introducing an electrolyte beverage for kids in September, for example. And Method is launching Air Refresher, a non-aerosol air enhancer spray, in August.
Mr. Ryan said he believes the program, which will last at least into 2015, is causing participating brands to up their innovation game. "We're working on the pipeline, thinking what items are we going to submit to Target?" he said. "We view this as a really meaningful platform to accelerate the agenda of wellness."
Target is no stranger to exclusive offerings, with a bevy of design and retail partnerships dating back to 1999. "Made to Matter," however, is unique in that it requires consumer-packaged-groods brands to develop new products for the retailer.
"Innovation was core to the idea from the beginning, because these are all market-leading brands we already sold in our stores, so it had to be more than just marketing the brands we already sell," said Jeff Jones, Target's CMO. "We want this seal to become recognized by consumers and to become a shortcut for consumers, so they know they're making a good choice for their family."
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The program will increase the number of exclusives Target has in categories, including baby, beauty and personal care, grocery, and healthcare and household. Ultimately, the goal is to bring attention to sustainable brands but also to move consumers around within the segment.
"End caps are incredibly important real estate in the store. ... When we pull together a story on an end cap, not only does it highlight the brands, but hopefully [consumers will say], 'I love Chobani, why am I not eating Evol breakfast sandwiches?'" Mr. Jones said. "It will hopefully drive trial around products the guest is not already buying."
Mr. Ryan explained that a customer's typical journey in the natural space first includes consideration of what's being put in their bodies, then what's being put on their bodies, and lastly, what's around them. "We're hoping to really accelerate adoption of wellness-based products. We hope that there's a ripple effect on the industry," he said. "If I can get more of the people loving Chobani and consuming Vita Coco to think about what's going on around their body, we all benefit from that."
The brand's included in the program are: Annie's Homegrown, Burt's Bees, Chobani, Clif Bar & Company, Ella's Kitchen, EVOL,