HOW SUPERMARKETS ARE RESPONDING

The supermarket industry is rousing itself from the comfy merchandising attitude that has come from being the leader in candy sales volume. In many cases, operators have been getting truly proactive for the first time in years, with a little help from their candy vendor friends.Here's a sampling changes being made among chains interviewed by SN."We're trying to offset the competition with more rigid

The supermarket industry is rousing itself from the comfy merchandising attitude that has come from being the leader in candy sales volume. In many cases, operators have been getting truly proactive for the first time in years, with a little help from their candy vendor friends.

Here's a sampling changes being made among chains interviewed by SN.

"We're trying to offset the competition with more rigid deals and with seasonal promotion and increased advertising," said Peter Jost, head grocery buyer at Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. "We're really getting into the situation where we're not just sitting back and accepting the fact that mass merchandisers are taking the business away.

"We've also gone to a central buying group on seasonal promotions. Basically," said Jost, "in the past, each store manager or grocery manager wrote their orders. Now, we've gone more to vendor presentations here in the office and group buyers buying for the stores."

Jost said these vendor presentations are also used to come up with a merchandising game plan.

"We'll enlist the support of our vendors to help develop displays, get that information out to the stores and help assist them in putting in those displays," he explained.

"To take some of the seasonal business back from the mass merchandisers, what we're doing is having a contest at retail to get the stores involved in setting up a large seasonal display," said Mimi Peck, grocery buyer at Copps Corp., Stevens Point, Wis.

"And we're combining it with all the vendors, not just one major vendor. We're joining forces with Mars, Nestle and Hershey's to try to get that business back."

The first fruit from Copps' new arrangement will be picked this Halloween, said Peck. The displays will be set up in the chain's 13 Copps Food Center stores, which are its higher volume units.

Store employees working on the displays will be given a certain percentage of the three major manufacturers' candy to showcase, she said. However, other candy and seasonal novelty items also will be on the display, probably on a unit-by-unit basis. The whole point, she said, is "to get the stores involved in thinking seasonal candy."

Anderson, Ind.-based Pay Less Supermarkets is turning to multiple retails to edge out the competition, according to Rod Boni, grocery merchandiser.

"Two for $3, two for $4, two for $5 -- we're using multiple retails to try and get some additional sales, and also try to offset the price comparison with the low prices that the mass merchandisers are using," he said.

"And, of course, since candy is largely impulse sales, the mass displays sell well, so we're trying to ensure that we display candy in good locations."

Boni also is in the process of revamping his gondola candy to include more peg items, a product format that's growing in popularity among retailers.

"Because of their high visibility, peg items are selling. We are right in the middle of remerchandising all of our stores in the candy gondolas to devote more space to peg," he said.

Keeping the same average of 24 gondola feet, Boni is attempting to figure out how he can add more peg items, yet still keep the

lay-down bags. "We're very careful, because there's a lot of dollars in the lay-down bags and the packaged goods. We don't want to give up sales on lay-down bags just to get the pegs, which, in most cases, are lower priced.

"So we're tightening up a little, trying to add a shelf where we can to add linear feet," he said. "We're remerchandising in the same amount of space."

"The manufacturers have introduced a 10-pack candy, but they've reduced the size of the bars slightly," said Bob Downum, chief operating officer at Acme Markets of Virginia, North Tazwell, Va. "We're seeing a lot of sales in that. We think people are looking at it and they don't feel as guilty because they're eating a smaller amount of candy.