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FRESH FOOD: Promotions: Raking it in

With autumn in full swing and Halloween right around the corner, the "haunt" is on for crafty fresh food promotions that will help make it easier for grocers to pick up sales while the leaves are still falling.

"With vacation season behind us, fall promotions are especially successful because everybody is buckling back into their routines in preparation for spending a lot more time at home," notes Quinton Neely, produce manager at the Hen House Market in Merriam, Kan.

Fall promotions also translate into robust opportunities for other key reasons, Neely continues, including heightened consumer interest in festive home decorating that sets the stage for more frequent visits with family and friends.

From a culinary standpoint, autumn-themed displays are especially well suited to generate incremental sales by playing up to consumers' appetites for foods and flavors associated with cooler temperatures, says Neely. "Sales are rather flat this time of year, during the gap between now and Thanksgiving, so it's especially important to create unique displays that generate excitement and additional sales in the process," he adds.

Cross-promotions are also key in the autumn, notes Neely, pointing to main-course salad components, apples and caramel candies and wraps, apple cider, and cinnamon sticks, as well as other traditional fall favorites such as garlic, fresh herbs, nuts, potatoes, peppers, and, of course, pumpkins.

Indeed, building a great pumpkin display is a subject Neely knows a little something about. Starting with a base of 1,600 locally grown Magic Lantern pumpkins, Neely unveiled his dazzling pumpkin patch promotion in mid-September as an extension of Hen House's "Buy Fresh/Buy Local" campaign that ran throughout the summer. The successful high-profile campaign focuses on bringing the best items grown and produced by family farms in and around metro Kansas City to the grocery chain's shoppers, according to Neely.

Given his aggressive attitude and competitive prices, the frost barely has time to settle on Neely's pumpkins before it's time to restock. "We'll go through all 1,600 of them easily. The base price right now [in mid-September] is two for $10, but as we get closer to Halloween and the display starts selling down, we'll do an inventory of exactly what we estimate we're going to need, based on the previous year's volume."

Neely says he'll also likely run a few specials, "like three for $12, to keep interest high and sales moving, but some shoppers have already started doing early-fall decorating and are picking up two and four at a time. But as we get further into October, some of our customers really get into it and buy 10 at a time."

Gourds and squashes put the finishing touches on Neely's pumpkin-palooza, which he says is part of an inner-company display contest among the 30 Kansas City, Kan.-based Ball's Food Stores group that includes 14 Price Choppers, 14 Hen House Markets, and one Ball's Neighborhood Market.

"The contest really creates excitement among store personnel to get creative and put their best foot forward with seasonal displays that use all the bells and whistles available," says Neely, quipping that "it seems pretty obvious who's going to walk away with the pumpkin display prize this year!"

Cheese aims to please

Fall is a "gouda" time for cheese promotions, as well. As part of an ongoing campaign to encourage healthy snacking, Sorrento Lactalis, Inc., maker of Sorrento and Precious cheese products, has rolled out a sweepstakes across nearly 1,000 grocery stores nationwide.

Through a partnership with Schwinn bicycles, Buffalo-based Sorrento's "Smart Snack on Wheels" tour will give away a 26-inch High Timber Schwinn bicycle to one participating customer at each store.

The promotion, developed and managed by marketing communication agency Eric Mower and Associates (EMA), also includes a separate nationwide sweepstakes that offers a grand- prize family vacation valued at over $3,000, plus four Schwinn bicycles. An FSI announced the sweepstakes in 35 million Sunday newspapers nationwide in late August.

According to Maggie Mathers, Sorrento product manager: "We found through research that cheese is the No. 1 snack food in America. Moms and other busy adults alike want a healthy snack they and their children can feel good about eating. String cheese is nutritious, portable, and fun to eat. Through our partnership with Schwinn, we are encouraging an active lifestyle, smart snacking, and an activity -- bicycling -- that the whole family can enjoy together."

Participating grocers were given customized in-store graphics, including aisle danglers, 2.5-foot-by-4.5-foot standers, and other POP displays. The promotion kicked off in August in Pathmark stores, and continued rolling through the end of September to Ingles, Bi-Lo, Foodmax, Food World, Giant, Martin's, and Tops. Customers were automatically entered to win when they used loyalty cards to purchase Sorrento Sticksters, Shapesters, and Stringsters. The separate family vacation sweepstakes runs through Dec. 31.

Heluva Good Cheese, a division of Sodus, N.Y.-based HP Hood, along with the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, has teamed up once again for the Heluva Good $100,000 Kickoff for the 2005 football season. This is the third consecutive year that Heluva Good has sponsored the promotion, which includes POS displays at Ohio Giant Eagle stores and in-stadium coverage at Browns home games.

When using their Giant Eagle Advantage Card, Ohio consumers are automatically registered to win two free tickets to the next Browns home game. Then, during that game, if the Browns return their first-half or second-half kickoff for a touchdown, the Heluva Good ticket winner takes home a check for $50,000, while the cheesemaker and Giant Eagle pitch in to donate $50,000 to the Cleveland Browns Foundation, a philanthropic arm of the Browns that provides charitable outreach to the northeast Ohio community. Owners of winning tickets are also treated to special seating at the game and a goody bag filled with fun stuff.

"Over the past three years, ticket winners have had a blast at the Browns games," notes Neil Giudice, Heluva Good's brand manager. "No one as of yet has won the big-money prize, but we have gotten many letters from winners thanking us for a great day that they'll never forget."

Aggressive promotions

In addition to the game-day promotion, which runs throughout the regular football season, Heluva Good staffers hand out free dip to tailgaters before the home games. "It's a huge party," says Giudice. "What better place to try our real sour-cream dip? We have people come looking for us because the people the next car over told them how good our dip tastes. Browns fans are the most loyal fans in the league, not to mention some of the most fun people you would ever want to meet. Our goal is turn them into loyal Heluva Good fans, and the results of the last two years show that we're doing just that."

Also renowned for its sharp promotions is the Madison-based Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB), which this fall is hamming it up with Fort Atkinson's Jones Dairy Farm over everyday sandwich-based meals.

The two Wisconsin-based partners rolled out seven new contemporary ham-and-cheese recipes, featuring award-winning Wisconsin cheese and Jones' Farm Fresh & Tender hams and Canadian bacon, at grocery stores nationwide.

"The new recipes are right on trend," says Nick DeRose, director of sales, retail grocery channel for WMMB. "They're easy to prepare, and the combination of specialty cheeses and premium ham really delivers flavor. This is the combination demanding shoppers are seeking."

At presstime WMMB had kicked off yet another partner promotion with Gallo of Sonoma and Carr's crackers, to give away a food lover's dream vacation in "A Distinctive Trio of Trips" sweepstakes. The lucky winners will each receive one of three all-expenses-paid trips to the Sonoma County Showcase of Wine & Food in California, the Kohler Food & Wine Experience in Wisconsin, and the Coventry Food Festival in England.

The promotion begins Oct. 15 and will be supported with advertisements in national consumer magazines such as People, Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Cooking Light, Southern Living, and Sunset. Public relations, in-store advertising, and product demos, all designed to increase wine, cheese, and cracker sales, will add further support to the sweepstakes.

Retailers in 30 states will also receive Gallo specialty wine racks and incremental displays. Carr's prepacked cracker shippers for deli and wine departments will be available to operators with stores in those states eligible for the sweepstakes. A pairing guide will feature serving suggestions for all three brands, along with coupon incentives for Wisconsin cheese, Carr's crackers, and Gallo of Sonoma wines, where applicable by law.

Dairy products have also benefited from an aggressive round of promotional activities, thanks largely to the efforts of the Rosemont, Ill.-based American Dairy Association/National Dairy Council, which continues to focus on dairy and weight loss via its 3-A-Day of Dairy campaign. The scope of the effort this fall has centered on encouraging moms to "Tackle it Today with 3-A-Day" by including dairy in their weight-loss plans.

A free interactive CD is available in select retailers to provide weight-loss tips and resources with the purchase of milk, cheese, and yogurt (one each) during the same shopping trip, beginning in September.

Consumers who miss the CD at their local supermarket are able to obtain one by visiting for details on how to order it. The 3-A-Day team is also offering consumers the opportunity to receive a NFL Team Cooler featuring their favorite team's logo by mailing in a receipt showing the purchase of milk, cheese, and yogurt (one each) during the same shopping trip, along with a check covering the $9.99 shipping and handling fee. Order forms are also available on

Leveraging buzz

Consumer outreach also invites women to visit and sign up to be a 3-A-Day Mom, which in turn will enable them to receive an e-newsletter with recipes, expert nutritional advice, and chances to win great prizes like a three-day spa getaway sweepstakes or a trip to the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii.

Television and print ads emphasizing dairy's help in trimming the waistline as part of a weight-loss plan have been appearing this September and October. In addition, more than 7,000 sampling events are in progress throughout the promotion at select retailers nationwide. Starting in January, 3-A-Day has promotions that will include milk, cheese, and dairy in Super Bowl game-day celebrations.

Driving brand awareness, increasing market share, and developing strong trade partnerships for Sara Lee's premium- quality deli product line were the three goals of a major promotional radio marketing campaign launched this fall by CRN International in Hamden, Conn., a radio-based marketing firm.

The consumer and trade radio marketing campaign employed the reach and intimacy of local radio to deliver powerful brand messaging, combining an integrated strategy consisting of a variety of tactics to surround the consumer, including contests, "FSI Madness," fixed-position radio-personality endorsements, 30/30 Plus trade marketing, sponsorships, and brand and product mentions.

"The Sensational Deli Sandwich Contest" aimed to leverage the buzz around National Sandwich Month in September by driving consumers to the Sara Lee Web site to submit their own deli sandwich recipes featuring Sara Lee brand deli meats and cheeses. A $5,000 grand prize will be awarded to one national winner, with additional runner-up prizes.

"Radio helps us target our messages to the individual tastes of our consumers in a very interactive manner," says Russell Mackey, director of marketing for Sara Lee Deli in Downers Grove, Ill. "The campaign includes a strong strategic framework and a variety of touchpoints that are geared to best meet our objectives of involving the consumer and strengthening our relationship with them."

Based on the success of the first phases of the campaign -- the first of which, called "The Sara Lee Great Deli Sweepstakes," ran from May through June, while the second, The Sensational Deli Sandwich, ran during July and August -- CRN is developing a third phase that's scheduled to run in the spring of 2006 and will target the 25- to 54-year-old market (70 percent women, 30 percent men) with a household income of $75,000-plus.

The campaign's overarching theme is set to highlight "the lunchtime eating occasion," to build equity for the brand and leverage ad dollars for more trade participation. The third round will aim to continue generating local excitement for the Sara Lee deli brand, with integrated brand messaging into station programming to communicate key elements of the brand's positioning. The campaign elements will include endorsements, product placement segments, office lunch-party contests, FSI contests, sponsorships, Web support, trade marketing, and sales force incentives.

Iron-clad success

Flat iron steak, developed by America's beef producers through the Beef Checkoff Program, was the main ingredient of a unique in-store cookoff event that took place in late September in Cincinnati-based Kroger's signature Houston store. The event pitted four premier local chefs in an Iron Chef-style challenge to whip up the most delicious quick and easy beef main dish using flat iron steak.

The competition, the first of its kind for the Centennial, Colo.-based National Cattlemen's Beef Association and joint sponsors Kroger and Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson, was part of a monthlong promotion that Kroger launched for flat iron steaks in 200 Texas stores. The steaks, provided by Tyson Fresh Meats in vacuum-packed case-ready format, retail for $4.99 every day and $3.99 on promotion.

Chef Doug Atkinson of Carol's at Cat Spring Restaurant ultimately won the tie-breaking competition with his Peppered Flat Iron Steak With Black Eyed Pea Succotash dish, which was chosen by a shopper who was asked to step in to cast the winning vote. The chef donated his $500 purse to the Austin County Food Bank.

Natalie Carter, NCBA's retail marketing account manager, says the event was "lots of fun, complete with a play-by-play narration just like the real [Iron Chef] show."

Carter says the event provided the opportunity "to showcase the flexibility of the product and take the flat iron full circle from retail to restaurants," which she says is generally how consumers learn about beef cuts and cooking methods.

Flat iron cuts range in size from six to 14 ounces and resemble a flank steak in shape. They can be found in the meat case in Houston exclusively at Kroger. Growing in popularity, the up-and-coming steak item can now also be found in 20,000 casual and white-tablecloth restaurants.

Peanuts for Wal-Mart

Charlie Brown and his friends have once again returned to Wal-Mart stores nationwide for the second year with activity books, stickers, point-of-sale materials, and recipes designed to make learning about and eating fruits and vegetables part of Halloween fun. Shoppers visiting approximately 1,700 Wal-Mart supercenters and Neighborhood Markets on Oct. 8 were encouraged to "Treat Yourself to Good Health" by eating a greater variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.

As the latest in a series of quarterly 5 A Day The Color Way "retailtainment" events being delivered to consumers through an innovative alliance between the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) and Wal-Mart, the event was supported by health-minded suppliers, among them leading members of the fruit and vegetable industry.

Colorful signs directing shoppers to the produce department, where children received a Peanuts Halloween-themed activity book and stickers, greeted shoppers. Linda Brugler, PBH's nutrition marketing manager, worked with the foundation's chef to create party-themed treats showcasing fruits and vegetables.

Shoppers were also offered samples of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy products from supporting suppliers.

Treat Yourself to Good Health is the seventh event sponsored by PBH and Wal-Mart, and the third of four events staged this year; five more are planned for 2006. Previous events featured the Fantastic Four, Peter Rabbit and friends, Shrek 2 characters, and Marvel Super Heroes including Spider-Man.

"Educating consumers about the Color Way message has an impact on sales and consumption," says Bob Gregg, the Wilmington, Del.-based foundation's v.p. of partner marketing. According to consumer research gathered earlier this year by ACNielsen for PBH, consumers who were aware of the Color Way message purchased more fruits and vegetables, in both dollar amount and volume, than consumers who reported that they weren't aware of the Color Way message. Color Way-aware households added as much as $111 in additional fruit and vegetable purchases to each household's annual grocery tab.

Partner-marketing efforts such as the Wal-Mart events are part of a broad effort by PBH to create a food environment that prioritizes fruits and vegetables.
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