EASY WRAPS

Convenience is driving the growth of gift wraps at supermarkets as retailers and suppliers work to make it easy and affordable for shoppers to buy wraps and accessories.This year "Wrap and Go," developed by American Greetings, Cleveland, hit the aisles, offering time-pressed shoppers the convenience of buying an ensemble package containing the extras -- tissue, bow, box, tag -- that make a gift package

Convenience is driving the growth of gift wraps at supermarkets as retailers and suppliers work to make it easy and affordable for shoppers to buy wraps and accessories.

This year "Wrap and Go," developed by American Greetings, Cleveland, hit the aisles, offering time-pressed shoppers the convenience of buying an ensemble package containing the extras -- tissue, bow, box, tag -- that make a gift package complete, for $3.95.

The mix includes miniroll combos of eight smaller rolls of high-gloss, solid-colored wrap with coordinating printed bow. Gift box coordinates are packaged with a printed shirt box, gift enclosure, coordinating cord and tissue. Also, gift-bag coordinates feature themed gift bags with matching tissue, and gift-wrap combos contain gift wrap with matching gift enclosure and bow.

Hallmark, Kansas City, Mo., will roll out a 4-foot display this spring featuring value-added merchandise in economically priced multipacks and large rolls with extra paper for both its Ambassador Cards and Expressions From Hallmark brands.

The display will "attract that value-priced gift-wrap customer, letting her know these items are in the store," said Julie Licklider, the supplier's marketing strategist for everyday gift wrap.

Ambassador has also introduced value-priced items like a rainbow pack of tissue papers in pastel and primary colors priced at $2.29. A multi cello-pack of two-roll wraps retails for $3.99. It is usually priced at $5.98. A package of three pastel- and primary-color ribbon spools is priced at $2.99.

The convenience of multipacks also plays a major role in gift items like bags, tissue and curled cascade ribbons and bows, said Licklider. In the case of the roll wraps, "these are normally sold individually, but putting them together gives the consumer value," she said.

Gibson Greetings, Cincinnati, is going in a similar direction, with jumbo rolls that contain 40 square feet, 60% more paper than a regular roll, that retail anywhere from $1.99 to $6.99. These are merchandised on value endcaps.

The trend to accessorize is producing higher rings at the cash register. Referred to in the industry as "suite" marketing, the trend has all major suppliers designing their gift wraps in themes and providing shoppers with a complete coordinated look that includes not only gift wraps, but other accessories, such as party goods, paper and plastic dinnerware and candles.

For example, Gibson came out with summer designs called Hometown USA, Summer Market and Catch of the Day that tied in to all the above-mentioned subcategories with unique themes and styles.

"Card and gift-wrap shoppers are usually multiple purchasers interested in themed products," said a source at Supervalu, Minneapolis.

The trend to theme gift wraps has become "incredible, and people like the gift bag, wrap, tissue paper and bow to all coordinate with that [same] kind of look," said Dianne Woellner-Krupp, general manager of partyware, gift wrap, candles and stickers at Gibson.

Retailers hoping to cash in on the themed approach must "give the consumers the ability to look like Martha Stewart even though they are not. It's 'I created this with loving hands but I bought it already made,' " she asserted.

Whether buying value-added wraps, bows and gift bags or trading up to higher- price-point decorative choices, today's consumers expect convenience and wide gift-wrap assortments at supermarkets, said retailers. Gift-wrap racks account for 3% to 8% of supermarket greeting-card volume, according to various sources.

Most retailers said they are expanding gift-wrap space in greeting cards, on seasonal sets and endcaps, and cross merchandising products in wine and bakery areas. Food-channel retailers on average devote 4, 8 and in some instances up to 16 feet of space to wraps and bags, according to buyers and vendors.

With social-expression departments generating 30% to 50% margins, Supervalu retailers are making an effort to squeeze out additional space, said the nonfood source at the wholesaler, who asked to remain anonymous.

As 450 retailers serviced by Supervalu's Midwest Region in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., expand their seasonal aisles and floral sections, "it will open up new cross-merchandising opportunities for secondary gift-wrap displays with $2 to $3 rings," said the wholesaler.

The typical gift-wrap consumer is about 40 years old, much younger than prime greeting-card customers, according to Lisa Egensperger, gift-wrap product manager at American Greetings. The pace of today's lifestyles has shifted the type of gift-wrap purchases to more convenience products, said Egensperger. "Yet

the consumer doesn't want to compromise style," she added.

"Supermarkets are much more forward-thinking than 10 years ago, offering fine wines and top-of-the-line colognes. There's no reason that customers shouldn't expect to find beautiful gift wraps as well," said Woellner-Krupp of Gibson.

She pointed out that the quality of gift wraps now sold in supermarkets used to be available mostly through department stores.

An indication that shoppers want convenience in the category is the increase in gift-bag sales, which is projected to grow at an annual rate of 6%, according to Gibson research.

"People want interesting designs like textured bags and styles with applications and different handles in a standard 8-inch by 10-inch size," Woellner-Krupp said.

She said retailers generally price gift bags overall from 99 cents for a value-added bag up to $3.99 for a standard size, and up to $5.99 for larger shopping bags, a size that's growing in demand due to larger gifts, the manufacturer said.

Interest in gift bags is soaring, said Ray Wallace, the nonfood director at Cub Foods' Georgia division, Lithia Springs, Ga.

"People use gift bags more frequently than ever. They'll stick a wine bottle into a small bag with some tissue paper," he said. More stores, therefore, are cross promoting them in other sections, he added.

Cub displays its gift wraps, including bows and bags, in 12 feet of space. Priced between $3 and $5, the bags are cross promoted on shadow boxes and racks in the wine department.

At American Greetings, decorative gift bags now account for about 30% of core gift-wrap purchases, compared with 8% in 1989, said Egensperger.

Gerland's Food Fair, Houston, cross displays its Expressions From Hallmark gift wraps in other departments such as the wine shop to trigger impulse sales, said Alex von Sehrwald, nonfood director. "Gift wraps are very seasonal, especially at Mother's Day and Valentine's Day and the fourth quarter," said von Sehrwald.

The seasonal aisle is becoming a much more strategic location for cross merchandising gift wraps. "More Christmas gift wraps are outposted away from the main-line department," said Tina Howard, Ambassador's marketing strategist for seasonal gift wraps.

Howard said the gift-bag mix was expanded with a snowman bag with a raised pom-pom hat priced at $2.79 to $3.49, an interactive Barbie dream house with doors that open for $3.59, and ethnically themed gift bags with scenes of children playing and Christmas icons.