COMING OUT ON TOP

As the seasons change, so do customer preferences in dessert toppings.While retailers successfully cross merchandised syrups with ice cream this summer, they are now shifting their gaze to whipped toppings and frozen fruit. These items become more popular in the autumn months."During the holiday season we promote Cool Whip quite heavily, usually with a remote coffin case on the end of the gondolas,"

As the seasons change, so do customer preferences in dessert toppings.

While retailers successfully cross merchandised syrups with ice cream this summer, they are now shifting their gaze to whipped toppings and frozen fruit. These items become more popular in the autumn months.

"During the holiday season we promote Cool Whip quite heavily, usually with a remote coffin case on the end of the gondolas," said Charles Jones, senior buyer at Scolari's Food & Drug, Sparks, Nev.

"From Nov. 1 through December, we promote [whipped toppings] about four times," he continued. "Depending on the pricing we get, we'll promote private label or Cool Whip."

Andy Knoblauch, vice president of sales and marketing at Coborn's, St. Cloud, Minn., explained that whipped toppings are popular during the holiday season, as a complement to pies and flavored gelatin.

During the holiday season, Coborn's uses bunker displays to merchandise pumpkin pie with whipped toppings.

John Harden, grocery merchandiser at Byrd Food Stores, Burlington, N.C., agreed that Christmas and Thanksgiving are prime times when it comes to whipped toppings.

"We do a lot of promoting during the holidays. We take an endcap coffin case and merchandise Cool Whip close to the frozen pies or fruit," Harden said.

He said his stores sell large amounts of frozen fruit during the holiday season. The frozen fruit is promoted in conjunction with frozen pumpkin and apple pies and whipped toppings.

In a similar vein, Lou Scaduto Jr., dairy/frozens supervisor at Food Circus Supermarkets, Middletown, N.J., cross merchandises frozen fruit, whipped toppings and pound cake.

"We do a summer dessert endcap with blueberries, strawberries, pound cake, Cool Whip and private-label topping.

"Sometimes we put a side wing on the endcap or run it across the top of the coffin case," he said. On these Food Circus will merchandise syrups, walnuts and similar items.

Scaduto promotes whipped toppings frequently, he noted, but not always at a deep discount.

At the Copps Corp., Stevens Point, Wis., an average of 8 feet is devoted to about 18 SKUs of Cool Whip and private-label toppings, said Peter Crawford, frozen-food director.

Next to the whipped toppings are the frozen fruit items -- about 20 SKUs of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, peaches and mixed fruit, in various sizes.

"Fruit is used more with dessert items, and ends up as part of a cake or in some other recipe," said Crawford.

"Whipped toppings are seasonal, from October through December, and there's a good spike at the beginning of the berry season," he continued.

At the same time, while the frozen-fruit business continues year-round, there's a decline when fresh berries are available in late summer, Crawford noted.

Although most retailers promote syrups and dry ice cream garnishes primarily in the summer, Knoblauch of Coborn's will cross merchandise and promote Mrs. Richardson's syrups with Kemp's Old Fashioned Ice Cream at the end of this month.

Customers can use an in-ad coupon and get one bottle of syrup free with the purchase of two half-gallon rounds.

"This is the first time we are trying a free topping with ice cream," said Knoblauch, who expected the promotion to do well. He will stack the syrups next to the ice cream in cut cases, so customers can pick them up easily.

Mrs. Richardson's has continued to have in-ad coupons, and Coborn's has been able to move a lot of syrups a result. The toppings come in 10 varieties, including fat-free and low-fat.

Coborn's carries about 50 SKUs of syrups and dry toppings, including chocolate and other flavored syrups; nuts; and sprinkles. They are normally merchandised with ice cream cones, with the entire section running from 4 to 12 feet. The sections are put as close to the ice cream as possible, said Knoblauch.

"Toppings are a good category," he continued. He promotes syrups about six times a year and frozen whipped toppings eight times a year. According to Knoblauch, ice cream syrup was "wildly successful" this summer, since he bought prebilled and precut pallets for the first time and was able to pass savings onto consumers. The cut cases were stacked up on the floor, next to the ice cream.

Scaduto of Food Circus estimates that his stores stock about 30 SKUs of toppings, which generally remain in the grocery aisle during the winter months.

At Pay Less Supermarkets, Anderson, Ind., ice cream syrup is sometimes cross merchandised with the ice cream, said Bill Metzinger, grocery buyer. Stores that cross merchandise use stand-up displays.

"It depends on the store," Metzinger said. "At the end of the aisle in large stores, there's a 4-foot toppings display on an end bay."

His stores also try to get syrups and dry garnishes as close to the ice cream as possible. Metzinger noted that summer is the best season for these toppings, but there are surges during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Not surprisingly, he does most of his promoting in the summer.

Syrups and dry ice cream garnishes at Scolari's are shelved right at the end of the ice cream, which is in doors at the end of the freezer aisle.

"We promote once a month, starting in May and ending in September. We sell about 85% of toppings during that time frame, excluding Hershey's chocolate syrup, which is more of a milk additive than an ice cream topping," Jones said.

Like other retailers, Harden at Byrd Food tries to get syrups and dry toppings as close to the ice cream as possible. In stores with coffin cases, they sometimes are merchandised on top of the ice cream.