BOTTLE-TOP COLLAR HELPS PROMOTE DAIRY SALES

MINNEAPOLIS -- Retailers participating in a "Bottletopper" promotion on gallons of fluid milk report increases of up to 5% in fluid-milk sales.The program is centered on a paper collar affixed to gallons of milk that are embossed with cents-off coupons for related items in the dairy case and in other parts of the store.Safeway and Ralphs were early participants in the promotions, and this fall, Ukrop's

MINNEAPOLIS -- Retailers participating in a "Bottletopper" promotion on gallons of fluid milk report increases of up to 5% in fluid-milk sales.

The program is centered on a paper collar affixed to gallons of milk that are embossed with cents-off coupons for related items in the dairy case and in other parts of the store.

Safeway and Ralphs were early participants in the promotions, and this fall, Ukrop's Super Markets, Vons, Farm Fresh and all divisions of Hy-Vee are among those that have jumped on board.

Albertsons' Denver division, participating for a second time, saw a 5% increase in fluid-milk sales during the two weeks its gallons were topped with the doughnut-shaped coupons. Meanwhile, supermarkets in other parts of the country have seen record coupon redemption, as well as significant boosts in milk sales.

Nash Finch Co., a wholesaler/retailer headquartered here, launched its second such effort this year on gallons of private-label milk in its corporate-run retail stores. The most recent effort was spurred by the success the company had with the coupons in 112 of its stores earlier in the year, officials said.

"Coupon redemption was very high, 10% to 15%, and we think private-label sales were up. There was good movement, but I don't have the year-to-date numbers in front of me. It was a strong promotion," said John Paul, director of store brands at Nash Finch.

Anchored with a coupon for General Mills cookie mix, that bottle topper also featured coupons for Nash Finch's private-label chocolate syrup and frozen bagel bits. Sometimes, bottle-topper promos feature other dairy products. For the California Milk Advisory Board, such an effort in a test run at Ralphs Supermarkets represented a double whammy. In addition to selling more milk, the coupons promoted California Real Cheese.

"We did it in all 300-plus stores in California -- a million bottle toppers -- and it worked very nicely. From there, we took it to Safeway. From all indications we have, the promotions on average, at different stores across the country, lift fluid-milk sales anywhere from 1.5% to 4%," said David Freedheim, sales consultant for CMAB in Modesto.

Buoyed by that success, the CMAB participated this year in additional bottle-topper promos.

The coupons, usually two or three of them on the bottle topper, create a theme such as "breakfast," or are for things one would be apt to eat with milk -- such as cookies or cereal, Freedheim said. The test run at Ralphs had a breakfast theme and was headlined, "Get an A-Plus in Breakfast."

The coupons on that topper were for 25 cents off on a loaf of Sara Lee bread, 35 cents off on a dozen Egg-Land's Best eggs, and 30 cents off on any size package of California Real Cheese with the CMAB seal. Another run in Albertsons' Denver division this year involved all dairy products, including Land 'O Lakes butter and California Real Cheese.

"It makes the dairy case look attractive because the coupons add color to it. It attracts attention, and I think people maybe pick up an extra gallon just to get the coupons," Freedheim said.

Here's how it works: The marketing coordinator, Minneapolis-based Connect Communications, matches up the partners in the promotion -- for example, the California Milk Advisory Board, Post cereal and Oreo cookies -- and pays the dairy to put the coupons on the gallons, usually private label, for 10 days. The coupons, however, can be redeemed over a longer period of time.

Some retailers have reported that customers take the coupons immediately to the grocery aisle or further down the dairy case to pick up the products that are featured on the bottle topper. And that's an added bonus because the shopper leaves the store that day with a fuller cart, said Mike Klabunde, managing director of Connect Communications.

"It's a colorful point of reference to pull people to the dairy case and then send them to all four corners of the store with those coupons. We work with manufacturers the same as with an FSI, but this is particularly effective because the milk case has 98% household penetration. The manufacturers buy the coupon space and we put them on at the retailer's distribution plants," Klabunde said.

The brightly colored bottle toppers are definitely eye-catchers in the store, observers have told SN.

"They break up that sea of white. They're the size of CDs," Klabunde said.

While Connect Communications, who has patented the Bottle Topper promo, finds the partners, those partners have some say about who they'll be sharing space with on the toppers, Freedheim at CMAB said.

Some of the marketers who have participated include Kraft, Post, Nestle, Hershey's, Seattle's Best, Johnsonville and Nabisco; participating retailers have included Acme, Big Y, Rainbow Foods, Supervalu and Publix.

One consultant, a veteran of the dairy industry, said he sees it as a win-win-win situation.

"Research I've seen suggests that people almost always drink milk as an accompaniment to food. So the cross promotion is excellent," said Jerry Dryer, a Chicago-based dairy marketing analyst and consultant.