INDUCEMENTS OFFERED FOR SEASON OF HEARTS

For Valentine's Day, supermarkets offered various incentives from contests to free merchandise to pull shoppers into their greeting-card departments and nonfood aisles.American Greetings, Cleveland, Ohio, estimates that almost one billion Valentine's Day cards were exchanged this year industrywide. The holiday has grown in importance as the second-largest seasonal card-selling period of the year.

For Valentine's Day, supermarkets offered various incentives from contests to free merchandise to pull shoppers into their greeting-card departments and nonfood aisles.

American Greetings, Cleveland, Ohio, estimates that almost one billion Valentine's Day cards were exchanged this year industrywide. The holiday has grown in importance as the second-largest seasonal card-selling period of the year. Valentines are said to represent 12% of annual greeting-card sales.

Grocery stores appear ideally suited to merchandise valentines, since 85% of all Valentine's Day cards are purchased by women. This year, chains like Kroger Co., Cincinnati, and Giant Food Stores, Carlisle, Pa., executed well-thought-out seasonal campaigns tied to their card departments.

Kroger's Louisville KMA conducted a "Reveal What's in Your Heart" contest. A mailer describing the contest and how to win was sent to 81,000 households near the chain's area stores.

Customers were asked to go to Kroger stores to find the winning match to their mailing piece, which was posted on card-department signage. Prizes were a Caribbean cruise for two, one of 10 diamond tennis bracelets or $1 off three Forget Me Not cards. Co-op ad funds supported the program, said an American Greetings spokesperson.

King Soopers, Denver, using a direct-mail campaign, sent information to 50,000 of the chain's top 30% of greeting-card customers to pull them into its Expressions From Hallmark departments.

The mailing detailed a plush Love Bandit raccoon doll, retailing for $4.99 with the purchase of three EFH cards. King Soopers offered a $1 savings off the doll's cost, bringing the retail to $3.99 for those making purchases with their club card.

At St. Louis, Mo.-based Schnuck Markets, customers who purchased three EFH cards received a fourth card free and were registered to win a free dinner for two at a Hyatt Regency restaurant. On Feb. 7 and Feb. 14, greeters were in stores to encourage consumers to purchase cards and register to win.

Promotions like this, "if executed correctly at retail, can result in a 3% to 5% sales increase," said Pete Malone, marketing manager, supermarkets, Hallmark Cards, Kansas City, Mo.

Indeed, to get the most mileage from such promotions in the personal expression category, "retailers need compelling promotions that differentiate them from the competition," added Malone.

Weis Markets, Sunbury, Pa., flagged floral and candy products with valentine card purchases. Customers could take $1 off any candy or floral item with the purchase of three greeting cards. The chain hung $1 coupons on a 9-inch by 14-inch sign in its card sections.

ShopRite, the retailer-owned co-op of Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., gave Valentine's Day a big play in its weekly roto supplement and discounted its Ambassador cards by 30%.

The ShopRite weekly roto devoted ad space to Gifts for Special Valentines, with merchandise ranging from valentine plush priced at $3.99 to $9.99, and a Mattel Valentine Barbie, tagged at $9.99.

Other items were valentine kids' cards, for $1.99, and holiday-themed gift baskets from $5.99 to $9.99. Assorted video titles including Disney's "Winnie the Pooh Un-Valentine's Day" were priced from $9.99 to $12.99.

At Albertson's, Boise, Idaho, 9-inch pink muslin teddy bears, which were decorated with hearts, were given away free with the purchase of four greeting cards. The teddy bear normally retails for $6.99, according to the Hallmark supplier.

Giant Food, Landover, Md., played up its Philadelphia-area Super G store locations as "Valentine's Headquarters," offering a free Ambassador card with the purchase of three others.

Displays of holiday nonfood were arranged on grocery gondolas, in-line sets and tower stands in grocery and greeting-card aisles. Selections included: Beanie Boppers, $3.99; Valentine love magnets, $1.99; Looney Tunes Valentine color and activity books, 99 cents; an 18-inch Valentine bear, $9.99; assorted Valentine's Paper Magic, package of ten, $1.49; and Dakin stuffed animals, priced from $9.99 to $20.

Acme Markets, Malvern, Pa., gave Valentine's Day its due in several departments including video rentals and promotional areas. The retailer also ran a 72-hour sale on a collection of sell-through "Romantic Videos," priced at $7.99.

In an ad for the titles in its weekly shopping guide, Acme told shoppers to "turn on the romance and fall into a love story with one of these romantic videos." Titles included "Pretty Woman," "Somersby," "Only the Lonely," "Ghost," "White Palace," and "Mad Love."

Acme also featured Disney's animated "Hercules" video at a shelf price of $16.99 with an Acme club card. Acme also devoted ad space to 6-inch by 6-inch, and 12-inch by 7-inch Valentine Color-Clings, priced at 99 cents and $1.49, respectively; Luv Bug Beetles, 2 for $3; and Papermagic Valentine cut-outs, 3 for 99 cents.

Additional Acme Valentine items were two packages of 30 to 32 Cleo or Papermagic assorted boxed valentines for $3; a 24-inch valentine bear, $9.99; a 27-inch Softee Q bear decorated with hearts, $19.99; and a 12-inch musical bear with lighted cheeks, $11.99.