Meet Julie Griffin: L&B Director of Private Brands
If we could snag one office at the Lunds & Byerlys headquarters, it would definitely be that of Julie Griffin, our director of private brands — not for the beautiful view or the cushy chair, but for the fantastic snacks. Julie’s office is a veritable pantry of all the tasty L&B products she’s helped create, from kettle chips to Victorian brittle to caffeinated sparkling water.
Is she a chef? No, but she works with chefs, producers and manufacturers to create our premium L&B branded goods — many of which you won’t find anywhere else. “Of course we’re in business to sell wonderful food,” Julie says, “but our big goals for the L&B brand are to surprise and delight our customers, and while we’re at it, make life a little easier by giving them another choice for family meals and entertaining.”
It all started with famous Frango chocolates
Julie has spent her entire career delighting customers: A native Michigander, she went to college at the University of Michigan for economics. After school, she and her husband moved to Chicago and she took a job in the buying office at Marshall Fields. As a new buyer, she worked in home goods and apparel and soft goods, but when a more senior position opened up in the gourmet food department for a chocolate and confections buyer, she jumped at the opportunity. “I had always been interested in gourmet food,” she laughs, “but I had absolutely no experience or training in it or confections, so it was a huge learning curve.”
“I basically started my career with Frango chocolates,” she adds. “I learned a lot about managing private label products — and did a lot of growing up — with that chocolate.”
When Dayton’s bought Marshall Fields in 1991, Julie and her family came to the Twin Cities so she could manage gourmet foods, confections and wine for the store. “It was a great place to work,” she says. “Back in those days, we traveled all the time for gourmet food — we’d make trips to Europe for chocolate and wine. I just loved it.”
In 2001, Julie brought all that experience to Lunds & Byerlys. “I’ve got an amazing job here,” she says. “Most of my day is spent developing private label food stuff, soup to nuts — looking at the next great food product we’re going to introduce, which can come from trends in the food world, customer requests or an idea we have something we want to invent from scratch.”
The secret to great merchandising: you have to try everything
You won’t be surprised to hear Julie was behind our decadent L&B Sea Salt Caramels, which she developed with a local chocolatier. “At 27 stores, we’re small enough to work with small-to-medium-size producers,” she explains, “and that’s a real treat because they’re so passionate about their product and ready to grow. If they’re local, we get to go to their manufacturing plant and work with them, sampling the foods they’ve created for us and tweaking flavors.”
And that’s the interesting thing about the premium L&B brand: Julie and our partners work together to create new and unique products for the brand — that means that most of the time we’re not just pasting an L&B label on an existing product.
For example, Julie and her team recently worked with a small but extraordinary craft kombucha brewery in Madison, Wisconsin, to launch L&B Kombucha.
Julie says our bottles start with 100% organic, award-winning Rishi tea, and she and her team worked with the brewery to create proprietary flavors — a process that involved sending samples and tasting notes back and forth. In the end, they landed on Blueberry Basil, Hibiscus Ginger, Raspberry Mint, Macha and Jasmine. “We went through quite a few rounds to come up with combinations that are refreshing and delicious,” Julie says. “They’re not too sweet, not too vinegary and they’ve got just the right amount of effervescence — not as much as most kombuchas, just enough to tickle the palate.”
Of course, there is the rare perfect product: Last year, someone on Julie’s team stumbled on a bottle of dill pickle hot sauce. “It sounded so strange,” she admits, “but we said, bring it in and we’ll taste it — well, we all loved it. It’s different for sure, but really good, so we got in touch with the supplier and now it’s bottled, packaged and on our shelves.”
“You have to try everything,” she adds, “because you just never know when you’re going to find something really delicious.”
People, salmon and spice blends — a few of Julie’s favorite thing
We asked Julie to think about the hundreds of projects she has launched in her career and give us a favorite — one thing she looks forward to every week. To our surprise, she answered L&B spice blends, which season everything from corn on the cob to fish and pizza. “Some of this goes along with what we’re all trying to do — eat more good, clean, healthy food,” she says. As empty nesters, she and her husband will pair a great protein, like our Sixty South Salmon, with some asparagus or broccolini and flavor it all with L&B olive oil and spice blends. “It’s a delicious way of eating a very healthy dinner. When we go home to stay with family, we always take L&B seasonings with us, so we can prepare things the same way there.”
Lest you think that Julie spends her entire day with a tasting spoon in hand, there’s more to launching new products. On the logistical side of things, there’s pricing, merchandising — figuring out where a product will go in the store — training our FoodE Experts on new products and packaging design. In fact, this week Julie is working on a 100 percent compostable paper bag for our L&B grade A potatoes. “Food has to taste great, of course, but there are other pieces of the puzzle, like sustainability, that are important to our customers and our community right now,” she says, “and we’ve got to pay attention to those things, too.”
So Julie wasn’t kidding about her soup-to-nuts job! From tasting a product to getting it labeled and on our shelves, there are a million little details to attend to, and she says she couldn’t do it without her colleagues — the best part of her job. “We have such a fantastic team of merchants at Lunds & Byerlys I enjoy working with all of them,” she says. “With me at this spot in time, the twilight of my career really, it’s so fun to have some fresh faces coming in, people with new ideas and approaches. And of course, there’s all the colleagues that have been here with me for many years — it’s a family and I really like it.”