JAMMIN' WITH JELLIES

Specialty products are adding new life to the jams and jellies category, although old favorites, like strawberry jam and grape jelly, are still popular.Even with the changing nature of breakfast and big sales increases in alternatives to toast and jam, jam dollar sales have stayed strong in the grocery channel for the past three years, according to ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill.Fruit spreads, low-sugar

Specialty products are adding new life to the jams and jellies category, although old favorites, like strawberry jam and grape jelly, are still popular.

Even with the changing nature of breakfast and big sales increases in alternatives to toast and jam, jam dollar sales have stayed strong in the grocery channel for the past three years, according to ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill.

Fruit spreads, low-sugar jams and jellies and gourmet items are continuing to grow, said Andy Carrano, spokesman for A&P, Montvale, N.J., but the No. 1 item is still the 2-pound Welch's grape jelly, followed by the 2-pound Welch's grape jam.

Low-sugar is growing, with strawberry and grape flavors among the most popular stockkeeping units of the category, Carrano told SN.

Jellies and jams are a $671.9 million category, led by Smucker's, with three entries, for a total of $224 million, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago. Even though the category declined by 2% in dollar sales, it was up by 2% in units, according to IRI.

Next highest in sales is private label, with sales of $150.5 million for the year ended March 28, according to IRI. Welch's follows, with $79 million, followed by Polaner All Fruit, with sales of $36 million.

Jams are versatile, since they can be used in cooking, as well as on toast, and they're said to be among the more profitable items in the grocery department. Their strongest season is now, the back-to-school period, retailers said.

As for products aimed at children, Carrano mentioned the chain has Smucker's Snackers -- peanut butter and jelly with crackers -- and, he said, "We are looking at a new squeeze peanut butter being offered by a company named Visionary Brands."

At the Fancy Food Show held in New York in July, Columbia Empire Farms, Sherwood, Ore., which already makes a number of jams, showed a new kid-friendly offering in a plastic squeeze bottle. Called Doodleberry, the jam comes in seedless deep purple marionberry, a type of blackberry that flourishes in Oregon's Marion County; seedless triple berry, seedless strawberry, and strawberry with seeds. Already in stores in Oregon (WinCo Foods, Wizer's, Your Northwest stores) and in Fred Meyer units in six states, Doodleberry jam will soon be in Safeway stores, said Linda Strand, one of the two national sales managers. Strand told SN that retailers she has talked to about the product say that jams in squeeze bottles turn faster, since consumers tend to use them up more quickly at home.

Sarabeth's Kitchen, based in New York, the maker of the orange-apricot marmalade that won a prestigious award at the Fancy Food Show last month, is carried in A&P's Food Emporium units and in Kings Super Markets, Parsippany, N.J., and in some Associated Markets in New York, according to Bill Levine, vice president of the company and husband of Sarabeth Levine, president.

This is an upscale specialty, with a suggested retail of $7.99 for an 18-ounce jar, but sometimes it sells for much higher than that.

"It's cheap at the price," insisted Bill Levine. "We ship to Japan, Canada, England, as well as all over the U.S.," he added. This upscale jam can be found mostly in gourmet markets and specialty stores like the company's biggest customer, Williams-Sonoma. Sarabeth's comes in 13 flavors of various spreadable fruit. A preserve has 65% sugar, noted Levine, "and ours has less sugar than that, so we have to call it a fruit spread. We tell people it's lower in calories and has less sugar. I believe that helps to sell it."

Since jams are versatile and can also be used as ice cream toppings, glazes and baking ingredients, Sarabeth's Kitchen is working with a food consultant to create a recipe booklet, which should be in stores this fall.

"We are planning to make shelf-talkers out of the recipes, for supermarkets and specialty shops -- a tear-off kind of thing that will hook on the shelf," he said. Kings Super Markets cross merchandises Sarabeth's products near the bakery counter and near the ice cream, besides on the jam shelf, Levine said. "We actually demo it right out of the jar, or sometimes on little scones. Kings loves the product; it's doing very well," said Levine. Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats Markets carry another Fancy Food Show winner, the red bell pepper and ancho chili jam from Earth & Vine Provisions, Loomis, Calif., said Tressa Cooper, president. She described ancho chili as a mild chili pepper with a sweet, raisin-like flavor, with "heat just enough to be bold but not overwhelming." During the slow cooking process the jam condenses into a bold, full-flavored product. "It's not over-pectined; you can spread it; it's soft, so you can use it as a glaze on ham or a roast, and as a marinade too. It's also outstanding over cream cheese or brie," said Cooper, who creates the flavors. Suggested retail is $6.50 to $8, she said.

The five A.J.'s Finer Foods, in Phoenix, owned by Bashas' Markets, Chandler, Ariz., as well as Rice Epicurean Markets, Houston, carry Earth & Vine's jams, Cooper said. She said Rice Epicurean does a lot of endcaps and displays, and the chain recently had " a big California promotion" that included her jams.

At A.J.'s, "Our mix is 80% gourmet, and 20% conventional," said Joe Ahern, catalog specialist. "We have a very small line, maybe one or two Smucker's [items]. It's up to each store, but our cross-section is of lines like Hediard, Earth & Vine, Stonewall Kitchen, Fischer & Wieser and Wilkin & Sons. Another winner that I presented was the Sarabeth's Kitchen; we are just bringing this collection in now," said Ahern.

Featuring many small independent manufacturers with special flavors does limit how many conventional jams and jellies can be stocked, since A.J.'s stores are on the small side -- 25,000 to 30,000 square feet. "Generally, we pride ourselves on doing as much as we can in the Southwestern specialties, but we don't limit ourselves to that. We try to look for as many of the gourmet products as we can, including European ones."