FOOD 4 LESS REAPS HEAPS FROM PILE OF SPUDS

MASSILLON, Ohio -- A Food 4 Less store here celebrated National Potato Lover's Month in a big way, by constructing a 30-ton display of Idaho potatoes that included special prices, cross merchandising with other departments and sampling sessions.The display, which store officials are calling a world's record, measured 20 feet by 30 feet and rose more than 15 feet into the air. According to Tim Miller,

MASSILLON, Ohio -- A Food 4 Less store here celebrated National Potato Lover's Month in a big way, by constructing a 30-ton display of Idaho potatoes that included special prices, cross merchandising with other departments and sampling sessions.

The display, which store officials are calling a world's record, measured 20 feet by 30 feet and rose more than 15 feet into the air. According to Tim Miller, store manager, the entire display of 24 pallets, holding 10-pound bags of Idaho potatoes, sold out by the end of the promotion one week later.

"It was fantastic to see," he said. "People just kept buying and buying, and it was amazing to see this huge pile of potatoes dwindle to nothing."

Indeed, the promotion outdid itself, he added, since the store had to order four additional pallets of product that enabled the store to honor the sale price -- 98 cents per bag -- through the end of the week-long event. Miller estimated that the store sells about six pallets during an average week.

The store's produce manager, Randy Ricker, was on a post-promotion vacation, and unavailable to speak with SN. But Tom Winters, produce operations manager for Fleming Cos.'s Massillion division, said it took five people and 60 hours to construct the display.

"The potatoes came in and we all chipped in Friday night helping to arrange the display so that it was ready to go first thing Saturday morning," he said. "The display caused us to restructure the whole shopping pattern."

The triple-wide produce aisle, which takes up about 6,000 square feet of the 50,000-square-foot store, was cleared of dry display tables to accommodate the massive mountain of starch, which arrived binned up. The "1st Prize"-label potatoes were sourced from Keegan, Inc., Twin Falls, Idaho. The reduced prices were advertised in local newspapers as part of the effort.

Fleming has been working with independent retailers in Ohio to execute such spectacles, of which this is the third. Most recently Winters and Sam Groah, a Fleming produce specialist, helped Lancaster Festival Foods, Lancaster, Ohio, create a 3,500-case navel orange display in January. And, last October, Fleming helped Bag-n-Save, Dover, Ohio, build a record-setting banana display, complete with a thatch-roof hut and an animated band of life-size, mechanical apes [see "Bag-n-Save Bags Biggest Banana Promo Title," SN, Nov. 22, 1999].

The timing of the promotion was actually twofold, according to Winters: Not only is it Potato Lover's Month, but a defense against the publicity surrounding a soon-to-open supercenter operated by Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart.

"We're helping our retail customers with an awful lot of special events like this," Winters said. "Sizzle sells, and you can't beat the attention that events like these bring about."

The Fleming division, also based here, currently handles 242 produce accounts in a variety of price-impact formats that operate in the state. All of them are small, independent operators who rely on the wholesaler and its personnel to fend off challenges from retail giants that are increasingly opening new markets in emerging suburban areas like Massillion, which is due west of Canton and about 20 miles south of Akron.

In this promotion, Fleming and Food 4 Less brought in the Idaho Potato Commission, Boise, Idaho; and Kraft Foods, Chicago, to assist in the promotion. The trade organization lent the likeness of its "spokes spud" Spuddy Buddy, and Kraft supplied products such as its Cheez Whiz spread that were cross-merchandised near the display, and served on baked potato samples distributed to customers.

The previous potato display record was held by Jubilee Foods, another Fleming-supplied store, in Cheektowanda, N.Y. Ironically, the Fleming warehouse covering the Buffalo, N.Y. region is closing, and all stores, including Jubilee, will be now handled by the Massillon division that includes Winters' produce team.