CARTOON STARS SELL PRODUCE AT ALBERTSONS

BOISE, Idaho -- Albertsons is reaching back into the cartoon archives to promote fresh fruits and vegetables to a new generation of kids at more than a thousand stores throughout the country.The lobby areas at three large-lot Northern California Albertsons stores hosted a gang of animated characters that 30-something parents became acquainted with on Saturday mornings when they were growing up.According

BOISE, Idaho -- Albertsons is reaching back into the cartoon archives to promote fresh fruits and vegetables to a new generation of kids at more than a thousand stores throughout the country.

The lobby areas at three large-lot Northern California Albertsons stores hosted a gang of animated characters that 30-something parents became acquainted with on Saturday mornings when they were growing up.

According to a company source, the events in Watsonville, Roseville and San Leandro attracted crowds of up to 350 people, all of whom had the chance to participate in watermelon- and orange-eating contests, decorate pineapples, and visit with the likes of Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw and Magilla Gorilla.

The three-store event celebrated a larger nationwide promotion, designed exclusively for Albertsons, teaming up the Atlanta-based Boomerang/Cartoon Network, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Sunkist Growers and the National Watermelon Promotion Board.

"The Wacky Days of Summer" runs through Labor Day, and is a special initiative growing out of the retailer's regular "Item of the Month" program, according to officials. In this case, the first-ever promotion of this scale includes all 177 stores in the Northern California division, and 1,272 participating Albertsons stores in 37 markets across the country.

While just 22 of the stores have such festive, live events planned, all participating stores are making good use of colorful banners, posters, bag stuffers and bin wrappers that feature the cartoon heroes eating fruits and vegetables.

Activity/recipe booklets, too, feature such fun items as banana splits that substitute balls of watermelon for the usual ice cream, and kabobs of cut fruit. They're all simple and kid-friendly activities that parents can supervise, according to organizers.

In addition to the obvious benefit of spotlighting fruits and vegetables, and thus increasing sales, the use of the particular cartoon characters helps bridge the generation gap, said Stacey Larson, president, Consumer Effects, the sales promotion company that's orchestrating the promotion.

"Through Boomerang, parents get to introduce their young children to these colorful stars that are still wonderfully fun and familiar," Larson said.

Albertsons' big benefit is the ability of the promotion to target two sets of consumers at one time, and it includes recipes that are appealing to both. That's important, Larson said, because the recipes will generate repeat business.

"What's unique about this promotion is that the characters speak to both consumers: the adult and the child. Adults grew up with Yogi and Huckleberry Hound, and now thanks to Boomerang, this generation is, too. The company on its Cartoon Network has been featuring the classic cartoons, and through market research they've found that the shows are rated higher than some of the more mainstream cartoons of today," Larson added.

All participating stores have prominent displays of the items being promoted, but in the stores with events, the "displays are particularly aggressive," and moved into the lobby area. More than a simple intercept, they serve as a colorful backdrop for the antics of the cartoon icons and for the parent/kid events, the Albertsons official said.

Some of the point-of-purchase materials actually catch the eye of both consumer sets almost simultaneously because they're posted at different levels.

Wendy McManus, marketing director at the Orlando, Fla.-based Watermelon Promotion Board, pointed out that bin wrappers get kids' attention immediately, and at the same time, the parent sees the product and maybe the recipe card holder.

"The bin wrappers get the cartoon characters down to the kids' eye level," McManus said, noting the wrapper puts children face-to-face with Magilla Gorilla eating watermelon, while Mom sees an appealing, piled-high display of the fruit.

"It's unusual for a small board like us to be involved in a campaign like this. It originated on our end with the cable company, Boomerang. They have all-American cartoon characters, and they wanted to hook up with the all-American fruit."

Notices in Albertsons' ad circulars call attention to "The Wacky Days of Summer" promotion, and in selected markets, radio spots are being used to announce the in-store events.

Among the specific sponsor items promoted were cut and whole, seed and seedless watermelon; bulk valencia and 4-pound bags of oranges, lemon and grapefruit; whole pineapple and cantaloupe. The displays were both within the produce department and in a special lobby-area setup in those stores hosting events.