EXCESS BAGGAGE

A spate of new products is opening up the storage bag category, causing retailers to re-evaluate their departments and dump out the stale or redundant stockkeeping units.A notable trend driving new products is that consumers are freezing more foods and looking for bags suited to that purpose. In addition, suppliers are trying to expand the category with specialized items, such as bags designed to

A spate of new products is opening up the storage bag category, causing retailers to re-evaluate their departments and dump out the stale or redundant stockkeeping units.

A notable trend driving new products is that consumers are freezing more foods and looking for bags suited to that purpose. In addition, suppliers are trying to expand the category with specialized items, such as bags designed to keep fresh vegetables fresher longer, different-sized bags specifically for freezer use, and a wider array of count packs.

For supermarkets, the trends call for a continuous juggling act within a category that, for the most part, is not getting more shelf space.

One trick is to balance consumer acceptance of specialty items, such as vegetable storage bags, against continued fondness for standby items that offer appeal on either price, versatility or both, said retail buyers contacted by SN.

"Food storage has grown over the last year with us. People are freezing more fresh fruits and vegetables," said Ed Kessler, general manager-buyer for C&K Markets, Brookings, Ore.

Retailers said some of the latest product concepts are drawing positive reactions from shoppers so far.

At Phoenix-based Abco Markets, for example, "vegetable bags are doing well," said Rich Vanderluit, the chain's grocery merchandiser.

"There's a lot of new products coming out," said Calvin Dale, grocery buyer for H.G. Hill, Nashville, Tenn. "Most recently, the vegetable holders with the little holes seem to be doing well."

At this early stage, however, most retailers said it is hard to tell to what extent sales of specific products are being driven merely by manufacturer promotions.

Steve Schmitz, assistant manager for Jerry's Enterprises, Edina, Minn., said that while sales of vegetable storage bags look good, "you don't know how much of that is because of it being a good item or because of the manufacturer coupons on a new product. In any case, right now they're doing OK."

Likewise, Bob Benner, grocery buyer for Haggen, Bellingham, Wash., reported that he, too, has taken on the new vegetable and freezer storage items, but hasn't had them long enough to form a clear picture of how they will affect overall movement.

Retailers also noted that the category is being influenced by consumers making more serious price comparisons, in part encouraged by the increasing diversity of comparable products at different price points.

For instance, at a major East Coast chain, the private-label, 50-count resealable sandwich bag sold for $1.39, compared with $1.89 for the Ziploc brand. The 100-count Ziplocs were $2.99, while the chain's label retailed for $2.59. In addition, Glad weighed in with a "30% more," 130-count product for $2.99.

That is five SKUs representing basically the same item. This level of product duplication is prompting retailers to purge the slowest movers to make room for the new bags on the block.

Retailers on average are handling 80 SKUs in the food storage category, said industry sources.

Chains generally devote between 8 feet and 16 feet to the section, depending on store size. The average section covers about 12 feet. That pattern hasn't changed despite the new product introductions, and is not likely to in the near future, retailers said.

"More and more companies are coming out with more and more products. They feel that there's more business in the category of storage bags," said Forrest Ulrich, dry grocery buyer at Seaway Food Town, Maumee, Ohio. "But I can't tell you that the sales results are proving them to be right."

Ulrich said he won't be adding space. Instead, he moves out other products to make way for the new and improved items.

"That's what happens. When a new one is presented, we look at what we're carrying, and one that is moving less volume gets the ax. So it's usually replacing one for another," Ulrich said.

Other retailers described a similar approach. "We just keep moving out the slow movers to make room for the new products coming from companies such as Dow, Mobile and Hefty," said Dale of H.G. Hill. He also expressed some concern that manufacturers are getting too carried away with overly specialized items, such as sealable snack bags.

"Consumers realize they can just use the sandwich bags to store their snacks," reasoned Dale. "And I think that even some manufacturers are starting to realize that the market may be saturated. Some of the new products have been taken off the market, a victim of the numbers."

Jerry's Schmitz also boots the slowpokes. But it isn't so much moving out a particular kind of product but rather getting rid of the duplication -- the various sizes and counts.

"Often, more than one manufacturer makes a bag. For instance, a compactor bag is a very slow mover -- probably the slowest mover in the category; but you have to have it because it's a one of a kind item. However, you don't need three SKUs of a compactor bag," he said.

Schmitz used a tall, kitchen trash bag as an example of where space may be garnered for newcomers. "We had five different tall kitchens, ranging from 12-counts to 90-counts. So, perhaps, we may get rid of a 90-counts and one of the middle numbers."

"With the new items, you have to eliminate the slower movers. You have to get rid of the duplication," said Abco's Vanderluit. "If you have two gallon food storage bags, you simply move the slower of the two out."

Retailers said they're not having to eliminate their private-label products, which are making strong inroads in the food storage category.

C&K's Kessler reported that while the new special-purpose products are creating excitement, sales of name brands have "slowed drastically and private label -- Western Family is our label -- has taken over."

Jimmy Jones, grocery buyer for Ingles Markets, Black Mountain, N.C., agreed that customers are definitely buying more private-label products. It represents a value to them, he said.

Mike Pitman, director of merchandising for Metro Markets Westown, Dayton, Ohio, said that although the more expensive brand-name products are carrying a hefty share of the business, there are plenty of shoppers who look for the lower prices.

Indeed, in his market, the nonresealable bags still sell better than the fashionably popular, sealable varieties. The nonresealable products may run 20 cents to 30 cents less than the zippables, "and you get more bags," he explained.

Pitman sees old vs. new product sales dividing along demographic lines. "The more upscale customers are buying more of the [Dow's] Ziploc products. The average, price-conscious person is buying the cheaper product," he said.

Most of the retailers interviewed said there isn't a particular type of storage bag approaching obsolescence. However, C&K's Kessler pointed to the old twist-ties as a possibility.

"The one thing that is not selling as well as it used to is the hand-tied garbage bags, but other than that, we just move out things through attrition," said Kessler. "I think you're finding more particular items that are being emphasized by a company like Glad [that are doing well], or not being emphasized by each of the manufacturers -- whether it's Hefty or private label -- that seem to be going by the wayside."

While most of the attention has been in the food storage arena, Kessler also indicated that some tall kitchen trash bags and 33-gallon garbage bags have shown some noticeable sales increases.