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29 November 2019

The PLMAs 2019: The best bits from the recent Chicago exhibition

The private label trade show on a titanic scale ran from November 17 to 19.

Equator Design was delighted to attend of this year’s PLMAs (PLMA stands for Private Label Manufacturing Association). The Chicago trade show – one of several events the organization hosts, including those in Amsterdam and Shanghai – welcomes more than 1,300 companies from 55+ countries, representing a wide array of businesses, from major supermarkets and drug chains to convenience stores, wholesalers, discounters, and of course online retailers too.

Boasting at least 30 international pavilions, this annual show has been running for 35 years and is one of the industry’s biggest yearly events. PLMA’s Chicago show is a firm favorite here at Equator – located just a 30-minute drive from our studio at the Civic Opera Building, downtown Chicago.

Attending the PLMAs to facilitate connections with retailers from all around the US and Canada was VP of Business Development Ed Holden. Here he shares his best takeaways from the action-packed three days…

Ed says: “For me, walking the floor is far better than being tied to a stand. There were lots of suppliers we deal with and retailers I wanted to connect with – and everyone wants to have a good chat about what’s going on in the industry. There’s simply a great calibre of people presenting and participating at the PLMAs, and it’s been excellent hearing from them and interacting with them. We always want to get our creatives front of mind, that’s why it’s great to get people our senior team members of [Michael] Duffy and Jen [Gaeto] here.

This year, inclusion was a huge topic. At the WISE (Women Impacting Storebrand Excellence) event on Sunday, Jen and I listened to presenters share poignant stories which were incredibly moving, about the personal journeys they have had in the industry, followed by discussions on the need for diversity.

The best analogy for diversity was an orchestra, in that our industry needs all players in order to play the correct tune, from trumpets to cello, violins to harps – we all contribute.

Applying this to Equator and how we work, we have varying specialism all working together to make the sweet music in private brand, from strategists to designers, color managers to pre-press artists… all hitting that perfect note and never letting the beat drop.

We have a diverse representation, but all companies, including ours, can do better to ensure representation across the departments and right up the chain of command. Prejudice exists everywhere, but we need to take steps to overcome it, remaining mindful of gender and diversity at all levels while making the environment as inclusive as possible.

CBD was a big theme, with projected sales in the US expected to skyrocket in the next five years alone as retailers like CVS and Kroger starting to sell the products in store. It’s really taken off in the last six months, but there’s much more expected from the market. Some retailers are stopping the sale of cigarettes, responding to changes in consumer mindset. As they demonstrate that wellbeing is core to their brand messaging, they are replacing cigarettes with CBD. It will be interesting to see how the continued legalization of marijuana across the US impacts these developments.

Ecommerce was another big topic. The interrelationship between ecommerce and private brand continues to develop across North America, with retailers like continuing to push the boundaries with unique design.

The PLMAs are one of the best events we do all year, and we’re already looking forward to the next one. It’s also great to see the progress of the industry at this show, as year in year out, there are new interesting products and innovative designs to compete with national brands.

We look forward to continuing conversations with many retailers from the show, but if we missed you please feel free to drop through an email to me on as to how we can grow your brand.”