GROCERY: Touchdown!

The supermarket industry has had its share of fumbles, but this year it was given a handoff when the Super Bowl was moved from the last week of January to the first week of February, granting retailers an extra week of overtime to sell salty snacks, cheeses, dips, beer, soft drinks, and other necessities of armchair quarterbacks.

"It's good that the Super Bowl moves a little bit later -- provided there are more playoff games, and not just a void in between," says Gary Pfeil, general manager at Roche Bros. in Wellesley Hills, Mass.

"Whenever the game is, you're going to do the business during that week," says John Mahar, director of operations at Green Hills, a Syracuse, N.Y. independent. "That's always a big week for us with our deli sandwich platters, our snacks, and we do a nice job with shrimp on that weekend."

The shrimp bowl

Indeed, shrimp is gaining in popularity because it's being advertised and featured more often. Industry leader Contessa, for example, used a radio campaign this year and plans on doing one again next year. "Contessa's Super Bowl radio campaign focused on educating consumers on the ease and convenience of preparing Contessa shrimp as a game-day meal or appetizer," says Juliet A. Boghossian, marketing manager at Contessa Food Products in San Pedro, Calif. "We reminded consumers that Contessa's shrimp is already hand-peeled, cleaned, and deveined, to put their anxiety at ease and build their confidence with preparing shrimp at home." She notes that Contessa has been pushing that message year-round.

"We offer consumers convenience, a healthy option, and flavorful shrimp 365 days a year," says Boghossian. "However, for the creatures of habit that seem to think chips and dip are the only game-day option, we wanted to remind them that Contessa shrimp is easy to prepare and is sure to score big points at your party."

February game day

If those creatures of habit are still parking themselves in their Barcaloungers on the last Sunday in January, all ready to tune into the game, they're going to be mighty disappointed. Super Bowl XXXVIII was played Feb. 1 of this year, and now the game date has been permanently moved.

While newspapers have reported that the National Football League has been negotiating with the television networks to start the season a week later and move the playoffs and Super Bowl even deeper into February to capitalize on the TV ratings sweeps period, an NFL official told Progressive Grocer the Super Bowl will be played on the first Sunday in February "for the next several years."

But that extra week ought to be enough for retailers and vendors to score extra points. "A February Super Bowl would probably extend our season," says Dennis Newnham, chairman and c.e.o. of the Steak-Umm Co., the Pomfret Center, Conn.-based manufacturer of Red-L frozen hors d'oeuvres. "The supermarket chains are going to want to maintain our product because they get very good volume and sell-through during the Super Bowl."

Newnham adds that after the big game, most stores drastically cut back on their frozen hors d'oeuvres offerings. That's why manufacturers do their best to seize the opportunity that the Super Bowl offers.

Manufacturer General Mills usually promotes its frozen snacks during the Super Bowl period with an FSI. "Totino's Pizza Rolls are a party food, and you can argue that our competition is popcorn, ice cream, and things like that," says Martin Abrams, marketing manager, Totino's Pizza Rolls at General Mills in Minneapolis. "That's why we've partnered with our snack division, including Pop Secret, Gardetto's, Chex Mix, and Bugles, to create a Halftime Snack Time promotion where you buy two salty snacks and get a free box of Totino's. We did it last year and plan on repeating it again for next year."

Abrams is looking forward to having the game in February again. "We get a really nice bump in sales around New Year's, and so we want to make sure the people can consume that product before the Super Bowl hits. If the dates are too close together, you might not get that bump, so February is fine," he says.

It's also a fine time to have a Bud Bowl. The telecast of Super Bowl XXXIX on Feb. 6, 2005 will mark the 17th consecutive year that Anheuser-Busch has been the exclusive malt beverage category advertiser during the game.

"The Super Bowl allows Anheuser-Busch and all companies to reach the largest television viewing audience of the year," says Rick Oleshak, a spokesman at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis. "There is no other media event in which we can reach so many beer drinkers at one time, which makes this a very efficient media buy for us. Anheuser-Busch has been the exclusive beer advertiser on the telecast since 1989, and we have it locked up through the 2006 Super Bowl.

"Our award-winning creative lineup typically features commercials for the world's best-selling beer brands, Budweiser and Bud Light, along with an ad promoting responsible consumption," Oleshak adds. "Anheuser-Busch's Super Bowl ads have been judged by consumers and media to be the most popular for the past six years in polls conducted by various media publications."

Salty snack manufacturers are also gladly anticipating game day.

"The Super Bowl is a great selling opportunity," says Mark W. Miller, v.p. of marketing at the Bachman Co. in Wyomissing, Pa. "In the snack business, when groups get together, whether it be Memorial Day, Labor Day, or a summer picnic, those are all drivers for our category, and the Super Bowl is a great opportunity, as well."

So are the playoff games. "Who is in the playoffs leading up to the Super Bowl really becomes a factor," says Miller, noting that if the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants or Jets, or New England Patriots are in the playoffs, then it bodes well for his company, which distributes its pretzels, potato chips, and other salty snacks throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Bachman's Super Bowl promotions vary from year to year, and the company won't determine what it's featuring for Super Bowl XXXIX until this fall. "It tends to be larger bags because people are getting together in groups, tailgating parties, etc.," says Miller.

Big cheese promo

Each year the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board scores a touchdown with its members and retailers by organizing football-themed joint promotions with retailers. "We've done everything, including a mammoth promotion where the retailer will bring in a big, mammoth wheel of cheese; cut it up; and create a festive atmosphere by merchandising supplemental items like crackers and snacks," says Nick DeRose, director of sales, retail grocery channel at WMMB in Madison, Wis.

"We'll also have promotions with a lot of retailers, where they'll do a theme ad or group ad promoting anywhere from five to 12 or more varieties of different Wisconsin cheeses," says DeRose, adding that more retailers are dedicating a specific segment of the cheese case to Wisconsin cheeses. "They'll have signage, descriptor cards, and recipe suggestions, and they're making that part of their Super Bowl extravaganza," he notes.

"Our point of sale, including signs and different kinds of charts, pairing guides, etc., all goes to help people understand that they can do a lot more with gorgonzola than just put it on a salad," continues DeRose. "Around Super Bowl we will see spikes in specialty and natural cheese varieties because it is really a time when people are putting more thought and effort into doing something along a different line, rather than just nachos."

People put more thought and effort into everything around Super Bowl time. "Everyone rallies together for the Super Bowl, and if they are not Super Bowl fans, they look forward to at least seeing the commercials," says Bachman's Miller. "There's a lot of creativity there, and people look forward to seeing the Super Bowl ads."

No wonder consumers are buying the large-size bags of snacks for game day. There's just too much excitement occurring on the TV screen to make an extra trip back to the kitchen.
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