HOT MONTH

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The banner of "Easy Home Meals With Frozen Food" resulted in another banner showing for the annual March contest run by the National Frozen Food Association here.Total U.S. supermarket frozen-department sales grew nearly 6% over strong 1998 numbers during National Frozen Food Month, according to Information Resources Inc. figures provided by the NFFA. Dollar sales growth in frozens

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The banner of "Easy Home Meals With Frozen Food" resulted in another banner showing for the annual March contest run by the National Frozen Food Association here.

Total U.S. supermarket frozen-department sales grew nearly 6% over strong 1998 numbers during National Frozen Food Month, according to Information Resources Inc. figures provided by the NFFA. Dollar sales growth in frozens was stronger than the rest of the supermarket categories that Chicago-based IRI tracks, the NFFA said. The increase in the other 239 supermarket categories was 3.9% in dollars vs. a 5.9% increase for frozen food.

"The industry has really embraced the tag line, 'Easy Home Meals With Frozen Food,' " said Lori Pohlman, vice president for communications for the NFFA. Entry after entry showed supermarkets making the frozen-food aisle a center for meal solutions, she said. "There were a lot of demos so people could see how easy it is to prepare the products." Indeed, the message from the industry is to keep this theme for next year, "to drive this message home with consumers," Pohlman said.

See the box on Page 36 for a list of Gold and Silver Penguin winners.

Here are a few snapshots of how the winners came home with the gold.

Harris Teeter: Best Retail Chain (50 Stores or more) and Best Display.

Harris Teeter and Acosta-PMI, both in Charlotte, N.C., were jointly awarded the Golden Penguin for the best retail display. The chain also won the top award for best retail chain in the large-store category.

Stuart Atha, senior business manager at food broker Acosta-PMI, worked with the Harris Teeter chain through its advertised specials, and also decorated unit 202, in Concord, N.C., the store that was awarded the Penguin.

The Concord store's display featured snow-covered mountains towering above the freezer doors, which put customers in the mood to buy frozen foods.

A couple of unique features sparked this year's competition, chainwide, including a giveaway of a 1999 Dodge Strata to a customer using Harris Teeter's frequent-shopper card. "We ran many demos, which is not unique, but does drive volume. We had some Tyson chicken demos, some Stouffer demos on the new Skillet Sensations, which really drove some good volume, and some TCBY demos," recalled Atha.

The car giveaway was sponsored by Heinz, Mrs. Smith's, Birds Eye and Stouffer (owned by Nestle). Stouffer had a direct mail piece out to about 38,000 customers, and the broker offered the entire Red Box line at 25% off. As a customer, Harris Teeter purchased just about $1 million of Stouffer's products for the promotional period, Atha told SN. "We saw a lift of almost 200% on some items," Atha said.

Wegmans Food Markets: Best Overall Store Effort.

At Wegmans' Ithaca store, mockups of the Jolly Green Giant decorated the front end, and, in the frozens aisle, entrees from Wegmans own label were prominently displayed.

"We were trying to push everything. We basically look at [the contest] as a competition to make our whole department look good," said assistant manager Rob Clearwater.

The Wegmans unit did some cross merchandising, such as displaying sundae toppings along with ice cream, he said.

Kings Super Markets: Best Retail Chain (10 to 50 Stores).

Kings Super Markets, Parsippany, N.J., winning a Golden Penguin in the category of best medium-sized retail chain, published a frozen-food brochure that was new this year, and also ran an essay contest for school children in its trading area that had been successful in the past.

Ron Kamin, frozen-category manager for the chain, said Kings has won before, in both the local contest sponsored by the Eastern Frosted Food Association, Ringwood, N.J., and the national effort. The EFFA gave Kings first place for the 14th year in a row, in the one- to 25-store category. In the national contest, Kings this year won its 14th award in the last 16 years.

"Our White House Station store built a living room set, using real furniture, and had a family of 3-foot-tall penguins watching a VCR," Kamin said. That display won first place from the EFFA, he added.

Skis positioned around the living room came from a local ski shop. The penguin family and customers watched a continuous loop of a National Geographic show on Antarctica. "Kids loved it," said Kamin.

King's new brochure, called "The World of Variety Every Day," stressed the Top 10 reasons to buy frozen food.

The brochure also featured shelf-life guidelines, as well as buying and storage tips, Kamin said. "And we included four recipes, so it was really a well-rounded in-store piece." It was available for customers at Kings' nutrition and information kiosks.

National Frozen Food Month is the most important promotion Kings has, Kamin said, and it has been built up over the past 20 years. By now, the program contains 40 elements, from balloons to sales-incentive contests, consumer sweepstakes and character parades. "The big advantage is that it increases customer traffic into the frozen aisle, and it brings new customers in to take a closer look at the variety that we carry," Kamin said. There is a residual effect beyond the month of March, as customers who may have been attracted by the price promotions discover that the frozens aisle is really "a store within a store, full of wonderful diversity."

Supervalu Central Region: Best Retail Wholesaler Division.

Supervalu's Central Region in Xenia, Ohio, provides sales programs for 302 retail stores, which range in size from 6,000-square-foot "mom-and-pop" units to 218,000-square-foot units of biggs' superstores in Cincinnati.

Executives took an organized approach to the NFFM, by meeting with vendors and brokers back in November to discuss ideas and make plans.

"One of the biggest problems for us is to get all our independent retailers excited," said John Beyer, promotions manager for frozen food at the Central Region headquarters. Vendor-broker teams were assigned to groups of stores to oversee them and create displays for March. By January, the teams had come up with more than 430 items for the March Frozen Food Month booklet. These additional promotions gave extra incentives for retailers to run the items, Beyer said.

Since the theme was meal solutions, Supervalu put programs together every week for a complete meal, like an entree, a French-fry product, a snack and a dessert, Beyer said.

The time frame offered for Frozen Food Month was Feb. 19 to April 8. "Our goal was to increase retailer support and participation, and, therefore, to increase frozen-food sales and profit," Beyer said.

This they did, helping to attract retailer support by offering frozen-food managers a Supervalu logo wristwatch for taking part in the promotion. Supervalu also offered prizes for its own local contest.

Sign-up kits were shipped to stores and included point-of-sale materials that Supervalu purchased from the NFFA. Headquarters added a disposable camera to the packet, so that retailers could photograph their displays and send them in with contest entries.

"If they sent pictures back, we sent [the frozen-food managers] a $50 gift certificate they could spend at the store," Beyer explained. Bigger prizes went to the first-, second- and third-place winners for large, medium and small stores.

The region spent more than $3,500 in gift certificates, and received more than 600 photos. Compared with previous years, this showing marked a 300% increase in participation. Regional personnel were pleased that frozen-food sales increased 14.7% over those for March 1998, for the Cincinnati/Dayton area, Beyer said.

1999 GOLDEN PENGUIN AWARD WINNERS

Overall Store Effort Wegmans #71, Ithaca, N.Y.

Retail Chain (Less Than 10 Stores) Harmon City Inc., West Valley, Utah

Retail Chain (10 to 50 Stores) Kings Super Markets, Parsippany, N.J.

Retail Chain (50 or More Stores) Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C. Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla. Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif.

Retail Cooperative Roundy's, Pewaukee, Wis. Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J.

Retail Corporate Wholesaler Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City.

Retail Display Harris Teeter #202, Concord, N.C. with Acosta-PMI, Charlotte, N.C.

Publix #95, Largo, Fla. with Acosta-PMI, Tampa, Fla.

Retail Wholesaler Division Supervalu Central Region, Xenia, Ohio

1999 SILVER PENGUIN AWARD WINNERS

Overall Store Effort Wegmans #17, Hornell, N.Y. Wegmans #31, Syracuse, N.Y.

Retail Chain (Less Than 10 Stores) biggs, Milford, Ohio

Retail Chain (10 to 50 Stores) Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass.

Retail Chain (50 or More Stores) Albertson's (Western Washington division) Bellevue, Wash.

Albertson's, Tolleson, Ariz.

Albertson's, Southern California, Brea, Calif.

Ingles Markets, Black Mountain, N.C.

Key Food, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif.

Winn-Dixie Stores -- Jacksonville Jacksonville, Fla.

Retail Cooperative Certified Grocers of Northern California, San Ramon, Calif.

Retail Display Abco Foods #438, Glendale, Calif. with Advantage Sales & Marketing, Phoenix

Publix #236, Palm Harbor, Fla. with Acosta-PMI, Tampa, Fla.

Retail Wholesaler Division Fleming Cos. SLC Product Supply Center Salt Lake City

Roundy's Westville Division Westville, Ind.