'ITTY BITTY' TREATS TAKING A BIG BITE AT UKROP'S

RICHMOND, Va. -- Aimed at capturing more business from families with small children, a new initiative at Ukrop's Super Markets features a fresh strategy for marketing bite-sized treats in the bakery, as well as a revamped children's menu with kid-friendly packaging in the food-service department.In a nod to the influence children have over their parents' purchasing decisions, the retailer rolled out

RICHMOND, Va. -- Aimed at capturing more business from families with small children, a new initiative at Ukrop's Super Markets features a fresh strategy for marketing bite-sized treats in the bakery, as well as a revamped children's menu with kid-friendly packaging in the food-service department.

In a nod to the influence children have over their parents' purchasing decisions, the retailer rolled out the programs in late March, following several months of preparation. Already, it has generated interest, positive feedback and increased sales.

"We're targeting adults through children," said Nancy Wingfield, food-service director for the 27-store independent. "Hopefully, we can continue to market and grow this business."

In the bakery, Ukrop's Itty Bitty Bakery Bite-Sized for Kids ties together several small-scale baked treats that appeal to children. New items include mini muffins, mini cupcakes and mini chocolate chip cookies. Also in the mix are products such as brownie bites, rainbow cookies and doughnut holes that have been on the bakery menus for years. The retailer calls attention to the products in a variety of ways. Customers find stickers on the designated items, displays in multiple areas of the stores, and bright yellow signs with product photos. Ukrop's featured certain products at regular and discounted prices in store advertisements.

The initiative is another way to target a desirable consumer -- parents with children living at home, who tend to spend more than other consumers. Ukrop's is also using the programs as a way to fend off increased competition from new and remodeled Wal-Mart and Kroger stores in the region.

Though in its infancy, the promotion already has paid off. Sales figures for the first two weeks indicated overall unit sales of the featured items were up 35% compared to the same period last year, which included the Easter holiday, a company official told SN.

"We have several stores that doubled their unit sales for these items, despite the fact we were up against Easter week last year," Janell Schleeper, category manager for the retail bakery, told SN. "I'm very pleased."

Made at Ukrop's two central bakeries, all of the products are sold in the stores packaged, with some items also for sale in the service cases. Some products caused a buzz right away. The mini cupcakes, which are made of yellow batter with a buttercream icing, are popular with consumers looking to feed school and scouting groups or classes at day care centers. Sold by the dozen for $3.19, the one-ounce cupcakes were rolled out the week of March 10.

"My bakery managers have been very excited about the mini cupcakes," Schleeper said. "The kids love the icing."

Since bakery purchases often are not viewed as essential and sales are impulse-driven, it is important for retailers to generate excitement in the department. That's true even for a retailer with a successful bakery program like Ukrop's. Bakery transactions already make up about 4% of store sales, which is about double the industry average, and the department attracts close to 27% of customers, based on cash register receipts, Schleeper said.

"It's really important to have products displayed in high-traffic areas of the stores," she said, noting in addition to the bakeries, the Itty Bitty products have been set up on tables in the front of some stores, as well as in the deli departments at others.

"The majority of people in stores don't have the bakery on their list," she said. "You have to take the bakery to them. The kitchen deli area is a great spot."

To reach out to their youngest consumers, the bakeries for years have given away rainbow cookies to kids of all ages. Not surprisingly, cookies have been a strong seller with parents, Schleeper said.

In developing the program, Schleeper said she and other officials focused on targeting families. That meant not only developing, choosing and highlighting appropriate products, but setting appropriate prices, too, since parents often are price-conscious consumers.

"We offer 12 mini cupcakes at the same price as six large cupcakes," Schleeper said. "Now you can feed 12 children for $3.19."

Ukrop's plans to feature the items in ads around Memorial Day, and again at the end of summer and back-to-school time.

In the food-service department, officials borrowed a few ideas from quick-service restaurants, which have targeted children and parents for years with kid-friendly meals. Ukrop's found two new packaging designs for the freshly prepared foods to make them more appealing to children -- and it tweaked the menu. Featuring seven items, the children's menu includes popcorn chicken and corn dogs, which are new.

"We've always had good foods for children, but not the best packaging vehicles," said Wingfield, who credited Bob Hirasawa, Ukrop's restaurant business manager, with spearheading the program.