LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Home is where the heart is, and retailers in Arkansas have found it's also where the pocketbook opens the widest.
Arkansas retailers have been building sales of locally produced groceries year-round by tying into "Good Work, Arkansas," a state-sponsored promotion run by the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission that emphasizes the importance of the grocery industry in the state.
The state food processing sector employs more than 50,000, with Tyson, TCBY yogurt, ConAgra, Gerber, Rice Land, American Greetings, Borden, Allen Canning, Kraft and First Brands among the companies calling Arkansas home.
Running each May, the promotion includes point-of-purchase materials and a Governor's Cup display-building contest with categories for both chains and independents.
Anita Crow, communications specialist at the AIDC, said this is the ninth year of the program and that "a large majority" of the state's supermarkets participate on some level.
"The grocers are what really makes it work," she told SN. "It is a win-win situation where they have increased grocery product sales, and in turn the food manufacturers profit from that, too. Every year we are having greater and greater success with the program. Last year we had $9 million in reported sales, and the actual figure was likely much higher," she said.
The event was hyped in an advertising supplement in "The Arkansas Democrat Gazette."
"About 20 companies participated with an advertisement and
accompanying feature article, including retailers. In the first week of the program, both Kroger and Harvest Foods had features on Arkansas products. Both chains continued and tagged 'made in Arkansas' on certain items in their ads," Crow said.
Elwood Whitfield, grocery merchandising coordinator at Harvest Foods here, said his chain is participating in the display-building contest, and heavily promoting its involvement. Last year Harvest Foods won a Governor's Cup award.
"For the last couple of years we have done a four-week TV program. We get co-op sponsorship from 10 different sponsors and we run a lot of Arkansas products ads throughout the month. We have two major features a week for four weeks that are major, major features in our print medium," he said.
"At the beginning of the month we did a full page on nothing but Arkansas products," he added.
Whitfield said the promotion has given Harvest Foods a boost in sales of locally manufactured products that lasts long after the promotion concludes.
"I think the sales increase we see from the promotion helps to carry through the rest of the year. There is some proprietary interest in Arkansas-made products," he said.
John Hamilton, marketing director of Wal-Mart Supercenters, Bentonville, Ark., said although Wal-Mart Supercenters did not participate in the contest, it used features and signs in the stores to support local products. The signs remain up all year.
He said the promotion and related signs "not only support the product, but also support the community involvement and surrounding businesses and vendors that also do business in those areas. The primary reason for [doing] that is to support them."
Karen Ramsey, assistant advertising manager at Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., said this year Harp's awarded a 1995 Pontiac Grand Am as part of its Great Arkansas Giveaway promotion conducted at the 16 Harp's stores in the state.
"We broke with our campaign on April 26, and each ad highlighted three or four Arkansas items. We basically put a little state logo and where it was produced next to the item. In the stores we have banners that said 'Good Work, Arkansas,' along with shelf signs," she said.
"We had a great, great response to the sweepstakes. In fact, we were overloaded with calls on Friday morning when the winner and second-prize trip to Branson were drawn," she said.
Ramsey finds such promotions not only build sales, but also store loyalty and civic pride.
"Special deals are given during that time on most products, and we give extra effort to highlight them. It is a good time to hit those. Plus we have several items from the state that are really good items, so it is an added bonus. People become more aware of the products, realize they are good items from the state, and so they support it," she said.
Roger Burks, senior vice president at Mad Butcher, Pine Bluff, an operator of nine stores in the state, said his company uses large displays and price reductions to promote Arkansan products.
"We do a real deep cut on some local items to get the people to try them and see the quality on them compared to some of the other brands. When we have a sale it reminds the people that 'hey, this is an Arkansas product and we need to support it,' " Burks said.