FRESH FOOD: Super Bowl Promotions: Fresh gains yardage

Save for the 70,000 or so lucky fans who'll attend Super Bowl XLII live at the University of Phoenix stadium, the great majority of Americans will enjoy the big game by cheering -- and feasting -- in the comfort of their own homes, or as a guest in someone else's house. And increasingly, fresh foods are emerging as play makers in those celebrations, as well as in the sales lifts enjoyed by retailers that promote fresh aggressively as part of an overall Super Bowl offering.

The world's most-watched single-day sporting event has evolved into a hugely popular eating celebration, running neck and neck with Thanksgiving as the largest food consumption day of the year.

To prepare, many grocers are already putting on their game faces and orchestrating well-planned, high-visibility fresh food promotions for Super Bowl.

That's a smart play, say vendors on the sidelines whose fresh products are ripe for game-related promotions at retail.

Ali Leon, director of fruit, vegetables, and corporate communications for Irwindale, Calif.-based Ready Pac, says as the popularity of Super Bowl promotions continues to gain additional yardage with each passing year, "[w]hat we've noticed is that while most retailers have historically focused mainly on beverages and salty snacks, retailers are expanding their promotions to include more perimeter items, including meat, deli, and produce."

Sales of fresh ready-to serve convenience products in particular are growing substantially, notes Leon. "Items like fresh fruit and vegetable trays, premium bagged salad kits, refrigerated pico de gallo, and fresh guacamole and bruschetta spreads are basically the stars of most Super Bowl menus these days."

The Super Bowl sales lift, while significant, still falls short of that of the other major holidays, admits Leon, however.

"When we look at the indexing for holidays like New Year's, Christmas, and Memorial Day, we are seeing anywhere from a 150 percent to 200 percent lift," she notes, while the Super Bowl scores about a 125 percent lift, "which tells us there is still room for additional growth with the types of convenience products that the produce department offers."

To that end, Leon recommends that retailers formulate a strategy that offers " a one-stop Super Bowl shop with cross-promotional and complementary items," like beverages, chips and crackers, deli meats and cheeses, dips, and fruits and vegetables.

The centerpiece of this one-stop strategy is a display that includes both refrigerated and dry components -- a station where consumers can pick up everything they need for a Super Bowl spread.

While setting competitive prices is always a factor, Leon says mounting an aggressive promotional offense is what matters most.

"There is generally a little more elasticity with major holiday prices, since shoppers are often buying on impulse and are willing to pick up what best suits their needs and fits their quality requirements," she explains. "The real key to capitalizing on Super Bowl is to drive awareness with highly visible displays and compelling merchandising featuring eye-catching graphics and displays that draw consumers in -- especially when they may not be thinking about fresh fruits and vegetables as a primary option. Merchandise the fresh items together, so it becomes a natural purchase."

That price elasticity dovetails nicely with current trends toward smarter eating and the proliferation of value-added fresh items in the market. That's why retailers ought to be encouraging fans to make sure there are healthful and nutritious foods on the menu.

Leon says Ready Pac is contributing to that proliferation via new premium fresh-cut fruit combinations, including grape, blueberry, and cantaloupe; strawberry, kiwi, and mango; a "super fruit medley" (cantaloupe, pineapple, grape, strawberry, kiwi, red/green apples, blueberry, and blackberry); a berry blend (strawberry, blueberry, and blackberry); tropical fruit with lemon dip; apples with cinnamon creme, and a fruit-cheese-vegetable combination tray.

"Premium fruit blends, especially those that include fresh tropical fruits and berries, are growing 34 percent faster than nonpremium fruit," she adds.

Along with the new premium blends, Ready Pac has also changed container sizes for some of its fruit selections. "We understand that a serving size may vary depending on the fruit combination and consumer preference," says Leon. "So we've adjusted our container sizes to better fit what shoppers want -- both individual- and party-sized fruit trays."

Showcased in crystal-clear plastic containers so consumers can instantly see the product quality, the premium fruit combo trays also feature a top-of-the-package label designed to appeal to female shoppers, who do the bulk of Super Bowl party goods buying, if not the actual consuming.

Leon further recommends retailers put up their Super Bowl displays as early as possible, to spark awareness and interest.

"As soon as the January New Year's holiday is complete, those displays should be ready to go," she notes. "Interest in the Super Bowl really starts to pick up at that time, because the playoffs are in full swing, so awareness just continues to build."

Taking full advantage of the buildup window is crucial to any retailer's strategy, says Jarrod Sutton, Midwest retail marketing manager for the Des Moines, Iowa-based National Pork Board. "The timing of the game the first weekend of February gives retailers a heck of an opportunity during the three-week buildup prior to actual event, to get creative with all the products that fit so well with the occasion," he notes.

It's also a prime time for the Pork Board producer-members. As the headline event of the first quarter -- a period that otherwise tends to put up softer sales numbers in the weeks leading up to Easter -- "the Super Bowl helps carry post-holiday momentum right through the first part of February," says Sutton, "with a great theme that gives our retail partners a tremendous opportunity to feature and promote the versatility and flexibility of pork.

"We're now seeing pretty sizable displays in grocery stores, and quite a few in meat departments," he continues, "and I believe most of the top retailers in the country, including Meijer, Giant Eagle, and Kroger, are doing a great job, and taking advantage of the Super Bowl with displays and ad features."

The Pork Board's game plan centers on "helping consumers get creative with meal solutions and recipes for quick and easy party food, while communicating ease and proper preparation techniques," notes Sutton. Ribs are an especially great item for parties and tailgaters, he adds.

However, getting consumers to understand that pork is a versatile choice with regard to meal planning and cooking methods is one of the key challenges the pork industry faces. Game day is thus an ideal opportunity to "communicate some of those copy points back to our consumers, which can hopefully lend to a fun eating experience with our products."

The hope is that meat eaters will have already linked pork to the gridiron. The protein's production cycle puts a large amount of product in the marketplace in late September through October, the latter of which is National Pork Month and also "right in the heart of football season."

The Pork Board's "Other Tailgate" fall promotion aims to draw football fans to pork at a time of year when many of them are suffering from fowl fatigue and burger boredom. The checkoff-funded campaign is "a great grass-roots platform" for tie-in activities at store level, says Sutton.

With the "buy local" movement continuing to gain momentum, Sutton says the Other Tailgate also offers opportunities to conduct events not only with local pork producers, but also with colleges and universities, "to grill and sample products on-site at the actual events."

This fall the Pork Checkoff has teamed up with a variety of packers, state organizations, and selected retailers to sponsor a number of 2007 college football games in six states from September through November.

"Football and tailgating are to pork producers what Thanksgiving is to turkey producers, only we get to hit this hard for three months," says Rick O'Fallon, Sutton's western Pork Board counterpart.

For its part, the Beef Checkoff is helping retailers promote beef as the ultimate tailgating protein, in partnership with A.1. Steak Sauce and Marinades, via a free-standing insert that will reach over 35 million consumers when it drops Sept. 23.

"The FSI will serve as a reminder to choose beef for tailgating events, offering $1 off beef with the purchase of any A.1. Steak Sauce and Marinades [item]," says Randy Irion, director of retail marketing for the Centennial, Colo.-based National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which contracts to manage retail programs for the Beef Checkoff.

With football games a highly popular venue for tailgating, Irion says the FSI will run with radio support in over 470 newspapers in 38 markets, and is designed to increase incremental beef sales at the kickoff of tailgating season.


Pork Board tackles college football promos

The Pork Checkoff this fall is teaming up with a variety of packers, state organizations, and selected retailers to sponsor a number of 2007 college football games in six states, including Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, and Utah, from September into November.

"College football's tremendous base and media coverage make this a great promotion for America's pork producers, especially since the fourth quarter is typically the period with the largest supply of pork," says Rick O'Fallon, western division retail marketing manager for the National Pork Board.

Here's a sample of some top pigskin picks for the Pork Checkoff this fall:--University of Colorado vs. Colorado State University: The Colorado Pork Producers, the Pork Checkoff, Farmland Foods, and King Soopers of Denver joined together to promote what has to be the largest football rivalry in the Mile High City. With a game day of Sept. 1, local radio stations KOSI, KEZW, and KQMT broadcasted a total of 145 commercials for the two weeks of Aug. 8 through Aug. 22, encouraging consumers to visit their local King Soopers supermarket. When shoppers bought a Farmland bacon product and a Farmland pork tenderloin with their King Soopers Loyalty Cards, they were entered to win four club-level VIP seats to the game.

--Boise State University: Last year's Fiesta Bowl winners are back this fall with the Pork Checkoff, the Idaho and Colorado Pork Producers, Albertsons, and Sara Lee Foods. A two-week, 117-commercial radio campaign on KBOI and KIZN will drive Boise consumers into their local Albertsons to enter to win VIP seats and admission to the Sara Lee/NPB VIP tailgate area to enjoy free food and beverages before the Oct. 7 game pitting the Boise State Broncos against the Idaho Vandals.

--University of California-Davis: The new stadium at the UC-Davis campus will host a grill tailgate area with the Pork Checkoff, Sara Lee Foods, and Savemart Stores of Sacramento for the Oct. 27 UC-Davis-South Dakota State football game. The Sacramento radio stations KZZO and KYMX will run a two-week radio blitz offering Savemart shoppers VIP seats and admission to the Sara Lee /NPB VIP tailgate area for free food and beverages prior to kickoff. In addition, the Nov. 17 UC-Davis/University of California-San Diego game will feature another sponsored event with Safeway Stores, Johnsonville Foods, and the Pork Checkoff.

--Apple Cup Football: The largest college football event in the Pacific Northwest, which matches up the University of Washington against Washington State, will kick off this fall with Albertsons stores in Seattle, the Pork Checkoff, John Morrell, and Forest Glen Wines. Consumers will be directed to the nearest Albertsons by 135 commercials from Seattle's Star 101.5 FM to secure coveted VIP seats to the Nov. 18 game.

--Civil War Football: When Oregon's biggest college football titans, the University of Oregon and Oregon State, clash on Nov. 25, the game will be preceded by a pork promotion centered on John Morrell pork, the Pork Checkoff, Forest Glen Wines, and Albertsons stores in Portland. Consumers will be encouraged to win VIP seats to the big game via 52 commercials on Portland's KUPL Radio.

--Utah football: The Utah and Colorado Pork Producers are joining with the Pork Checkoff, Hormel Foods, and Albertsons stores in Utah to promote the state's biggest college game of the year on Nov. 30, featuring Brigham Young University vs. the University of Utah. Radio stations KODY and KOSY of Salt Lake City will drive consumers into Albertsons stores to enter to win VIP seats to this exciting game.
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