ALL TOGETHER NOW ... OR NOT

Integrate or segregate? That is the question facing most supermarkets putting in new lines of natural products. But sometimes, a combination of the two is the answer.For example, natural cleaning products are finding a hybrid home outside the natural product sections in stores where they are partially integrated within conventional category aisles.Raley's, West Sacramento, Calif., and the Dallas/Fort

Integrate or segregate? That is the question facing most supermarkets putting in new lines of natural products. But sometimes, a combination of the two is the answer.

For example, natural cleaning products are finding a hybrid home outside the natural product sections in stores where they are partially integrated within conventional category aisles.

Raley's, West Sacramento, Calif., and the Dallas/Fort Worth division of Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, have taken an approach to natural, environmentally friendly cleaning products best described as segregated/integrated.

Raley's segregated a four-foot section of natural cleaning products within the cleaning products aisle. The set includes Seventh Generation, Burlington, Vt., and Sun and Earth, Norristown, Pa., among other brands. The section is organized by category and differentiated from the rest of the aisle by green stripping in the molding of the shelf in about 85 of the chain's 118 stores, said Julie Steffan, grocery category manager for the chain.

"From a business point of view these categories are very underdeveloped, I can see growth in sales. Again, it goes back to awareness. Not only is it important to carry these products because of the environmental issues, but from a business point of view, I think it's important that retailers at least have the option for their customers," Steffan said.

Segregated/integrated sections offer retailers a best-of-both-worlds option, said Jim Wisner, president Wisner Retail Marketing, Libertyville, Ill. While many retailers start with a segregated natural and organic section, Wisner said integration is probably the direction for retailers in the future. Segregated/integrated offers a compromise.

"If you go segregated/integrated, one of the really nice things about it is that you begin to expose your mainstream shoppers who otherwise would probably blow right past an organic department. Now all of a sudden they see products in context with what they normally buy, and these products become a choice at the point of sale."

Albertsons' 224-store Dallas/Fort Worth division took a similar approach to its natural cleaning products, segregating a four-foot section, also marked by green stripping, of Seventh Generation products into its nonfood aisle in addition to an integrated facing of high velocity products with its conventional category counterparts. The dual merchandising strategy was designed to draw more attention to the products, which are carried in all the division's stores, said Michelle Little, category manager grocery for the division.

Albertsons is focusing on natural and organic products in all the categories it can as part of a company strategy, Little said. By segregating the natural cleaners and paper products in one section, the division hopes to make it easier for consumers to pick out environmentally and naturally oriented nonfood products.

"There's a customer base out there that is aware of these products and seeks them out. And there are other people who, once they are made aware of it, begin to feel passionately about it and decide to make a change to try it," Little said.

Eventually, Albertsons would like to reintegrate natural cleaning back into product categories once consumers are aware of the products, Little said.

Raley's also segregated the natural cleaning products to increase consumer awareness of the category and plans to segregate a four-foot section of environmentally friendly paper products in their respective aisle, which will include recycled tissues, paper towels, napkins and toilet paper.

Seventh Generation, the supplier of all Albertsons natural cleaning products and a line of Raley's, sees a segregated/integrated merchandising approach as the ideal in-store presence, said John Murphy, senior vice president of sales at Seventh Generation. It allows natural brands to build consumer awareness in a section of the store all shoppers visit, he said.