BIRDSEED IN THE PRODUCE DEPARTMENT IS A NO-BIRDBRAINER

Selling birdseed in the produce department isn't necessarily an idea that's "for the birds." Indeed, the produce department can maximize sales of the category because, with its wider aisles, it has more space to devote to large displays.Even better, the maintenance-free category has a shelf life that's forever, and the margin -- at 40% to 60% -- isn't chicken feed.According to one produce director,

Selling birdseed in the produce department isn't necessarily an idea that's "for the birds." Indeed, the produce department can maximize sales of the category because, with its wider aisles, it has more space to devote to large displays.

Even better, the maintenance-free category has a shelf life that's forever, and the margin -- at 40% to 60% -- isn't chicken feed.

According to one produce director, the growing variety of birdfood available these days requires some hefty space, but it's space that earns its keep.

"Our rings are very good and there's no shrink. The worst that can happen is a bag gets ripped, and we can take care of that. Not only that, birdseed sells all year round. And then when the first snow comes, volume really goes up. We certainly sell more of that category than if it were in the grocery aisle," said Torrey Taralli, produce director at 20-unit Victory Super Markets, Leominster, Mass.

Birdfood suppliers agreed, telling SN they believe the supermarket's produce department is the logical site for merchandising birdfood, the site that can get the most sales out of the low-maintenance, high-margin category.

"It would be best for total-store sales," said one manufacturer. He also said he believes some of the big chains are "really missing the boat" by keeping the category in the pet aisle or seasonal aisle where it's often overlooked.

"Not every customer goes to those aisles, but they do walk through produce," he said.

Victory carries between 15 and 20 stockkeeping units of birdfood all year, a number that would not be possible if the seed were displayed solely in grocery, Taralli said.

"There are so many different varieties now. There's food just for cardinals and there's thistle, and several blends. We've had the product in the produce department for 25 years, and sales have steadily increased. Part of the reason for that is the increase in variety," Taralli said.

Victory dedicates varying amounts of space in produce to the birdfood products, depending on the size of the store, and the time of year. But after the Christmas holidays, massive displays in the middle of the aisle will replace tables that now hold butternut squash and pumpkins, and other seasonal and holiday items, Taralli said.

Like Taralli, other retailers commented on the ease of selling birdfood. They point out that more and more people are feeding backyard birds, a conclusion supported by manufacturer research showing some 40% of U.S. households regularly feed the birds.

Before the first snowfall comes, some produce departments will build displays in the middle of the aisle or expand in-line shelf displays by lots of linear feet. Among them, in addition to Victory Supermarkets, are Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., and Quillin's, LaCrosse, Wis.

"We'll put a pallet of 50-pounders right in the middle of the aisle and in a snowy week, we'll go through the whole pallet. That's in addition to smaller sized bags -- 5- and 10-pounders -- we'll sell, too," said a source at Quillin's, a nine-unit independent. Quillin's is revving up for winter now with more varieties coming in this week, and bigger displays are planned, the source said. She agreed that produce can sell more birdfood because it can allocate space for big displays and the mass displays themselves drive more sales.

The department provides high visibility for the birdfood which, to a great extent, is an impulse buy, retailers said.

"In 95% of our stores, the produce department is first in line, so people will see the birdfood right away. It reminds them if they don't already have it on their shopping list," said Victory's Taralli.

Come winter, Price Chopper devotes 20 linear feet of shelf space in produce to birdfood in at least one high-volume store, and last year, the 96-unit chain began to stack 25-pound plastic buckets of a birdfood blend at the mouth of the aisle in that store and some of its others. All the chain's units have a minimum of four feet of shelf in produce dedicated to birdfood, with SKUs numbering in the 20s.

That chain also starts off the season with a shipper of plastic bird-feeders in produce. "They sometimes attract the attention of a customer who doesn't already buy birdfood. They see the feeders and think about it, or think the kids might like to feed the birds, and who knows, it might be the beginning. They might keep it up," said one birdfood supplier.

Other retailers told SN that they sometimes merchandise other bird-related items like cakes of suet and suet holders with the birdfood in the produce department.

Price Chopper really makes a big thing of merchandising birdfood, an Albany, N.Y., observer told SN. The chain uses a number of point-of-sale materials provided by its supplier. For example, it posts colorful signs that tell what foods cardinals prefer, and what birds winter over in the region.

Most manufacturers such as Kaytee, Chilton, Wis., offer sales support materials that help educate customers about birdfeeding.