KEEN ON ICECREAM

AUSTIN, Texas -- From its old to newer stores in this region, H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, excels in ice-cream merchandising.iler has made some changes in its merchandising program, moving away from coffin cases in favor of the upright freezer cases.These new cases increase the visibility of the products and provide more shelf space, which has boosted sales by 25%, according to an ice-cream

AUSTIN, Texas -- From its old to newer stores in this region, H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, excels in ice-cream merchandising.

iler has made some changes in its merchandising program, moving away from coffin cases in favor of the upright freezer cases.

These new cases increase the visibility of the products and provide more shelf space, which has boosted sales by 25%, according to an ice-cream distributor who did not want to be identified.

SN visited four Austin-area H-E-B stores, including its Central Market-banner unit. Following are descriptions of the ice-cream departments at all four stores.

CENTRAL MARKET

H-E-B's four-year-old Central Market store stocks ice cream in five upright freezer cases at the beginning of the frozen-food section, next to the frozen pies, fruits and hors d'oeuvres.

Even though the store is relatively new, the ice-cream section has already undergone some changes. As the store has grown, it has expanded its "Healthy Living" section of vitamins and natural beauty products, which has reduced the space in front of the ice-cream section.

But the store has made the best of the limited ice-cream space. It alerts customers to the section with a small "ice cream" sign that hangs from one of the cases.

Like most H-E-B stores, the ice-cream section at this store heavily emphasizes Blue Bell, a popular regional brand based in Brenham, Texas.

In Texas, Blue Bell gets 62 cents of every dollar spent on ice cream. The store stocks the full Blue Bell line, including reduced-fat and -calorie varieties.

The section also contains Dreyer's, Breyer's, Healthy Choice and Starbucks, along with Newman's Own ice cream, which is available in new flavors like Obscene Vanilla Bean and Pistol Packin Praline Pecan.

While the department is relatively small and basic, Central Market has placed another eight upright freezer cases filled with ice cream at the end of the Byzantine maze of aisles leading to the checkout lines. A large "ice cream" sign hangs above freezers.

Specialty and healthy items are the focus of the section. Reduced-fat varieties include Mocha Mix, Haagen-Dazs and Cascadian Farm. Nondairy products by Tofutti, It's Soy Delicious and Rice Dream are also carried.

In addition to ice cream, there is a large assortment of juice bars and sorbet.

Specialty selections include Austin's Amandine French Sorbet, which sells for $3.59 for a half pint, along with Justin's Ice Cream Co. and Out of a Flower Inc., which produces such flavors as White Chocolate & Poppy Seeds, Southern Coffee & Marc de Bourgagna and Cinnamon Basil. A half pint of Out of a Flower costs $5.29.

Also offered are Ben & Jerry's and Haagen Dazs, with a full selection of their premium and low-fat varieties, frozen yogurt and sorbet.

Central Market takes advantage of cross-merchandising opportunities in the frozen section. To the left of the freezer cases is a 3-foot shelf stocked with waffle cones, syrups and other ice cream-related products. Like everything at Central Market, the rack includes basic as well as more unusual selections.

For instance, while there's Hershey's Syrup, which sells for $1.57 a bottle, there's also Raspberry Caramel sauce from The Mansion at Turtle Creek, $11.49 a bottle; Rowena's Praline sauce, $6.49 a bottle; Silver Palate caramel pecan sauce, $5.99 a bottle; and Paradigm Haute Fudge Cafe Espresso sauce, $4.99 a bottle.

Though other H-E-B stores don't carry Out of a Flower products, they do carry a wide variety of ice-cream products, depending on their size.

SOUTH CONGRESS H-E-B

A newly expanded and renovated H-E-B is located at South Congress Avenue, south of downtown Austin, in a neighborhood with a large Hispanic community.

The ice-cream section is centrally located in the middle of the store with the other frozen foods, near the checkout stands. An arch of ice-cream cone boxes provides a creative entrance to the aisle.

The wide, inviting section has 20 upright freezers dedicated to ice cream, roughly 50 feet in length. Small signs that hang above the cases divide the section into "ice cream," "novelties" and "premium." Six cases are filled with sandwiches, ice-cream bars, Popsicles and yogurt pops.

The store has a large selection of lower-priced ice creams, such as Blue Bell and H-E-B's Hill Country Fare and Royal Maid. Royal Maid takes up three cases. While one case is devoted to national brands like Breyer's and Dreyer's, three are allocated for Blue Bell and two for Royal Maid and Hill Country.

Ben & Jerry's, Starbucks and Haagen Dazs share two cases. Four cases are dedicated to better-for-you items by Dreyer's, Blue Bell, Royal Maid, Healthy Choice and Breyer's, among others.

Although there is one shelf of ice-cream cones near the ice cream, most of the related products are located an aisle away, where many customers may miss them.

A six-layer shelf is stacked with a variety of syrups by Dove, Smucker's, Hershey's and Mrs. Richardson's. Another endcap promotes Hill Country Fare's 59-cent ice-cream cones and maraschino cherries at $1.99.

BURNET ROAD H-E-B

The ice-cream selection is more limited at the H-E-B on Burnet Road, one of the older, smaller stores in Austin. The ice-cream section is located toward the front of the store, near the checkout stands, across from the soft drinks and behind the other frozen foods.

A large "Ice Cream" sign draws attention to the wide aisle. Sixteen freezer cases are filled with a variety of ice creams and related products. The section stocks 17 varieties of frozen fruit bars by such manufacturers as Mama Tish's, Welch's, Lemon Chill, Fruttuoso Sorbetto, Dreyer's and Minute Maid.

Four uprights are filled with frozen ice-cream desserts, including such brands as Dove, Oreo, Snickers, Eskimo Pie, Drumstick, Good Humor Weight Watchers, Popsicle, Cookie Face, Klondike and Blue Bunny. Seven uprights are dedicated to ice cream, both premium and other varieties.

The store stocks a large selection of the H-E-B Hill Country Fare and Royal Maid brands, as well as its seasonal Texas Seasons brand. Texas Seasons, which changes throughout the year, uses Texas fruit in its varieties. There's also a smaller selection of Dreyer's, Breyer's and specialty brands like Ben & Jerry's, Starbucks and Haagen-Dazs.

Although better-for-you items are the hottest segment of the ice-cream market, the store has only three cases filled with "lite," diet and frozen-yogurt varieties from Dreyer's, Ben & Jerry's, Royal Maid, Breyer's and Healthy Choice.

The Healthy Choice shelves were nearly empty as early as 11 a.m. "I can fill it up today and it will be gone tomorrow," said an ice cream distributor who services the H-E-B.

BRAKER LANE H-E-B

The H-E-B on Braker Lane and Highway 183 in North Austin, one of the larger stores in the area, has 24 ice-cream cases that cover about 72 feet -- encompassing an entire side of an aisle. The section is located near the back of the store, close to the other frozen foods and next to the beer section.

Although there is little signage, the well-lit section is easy to find because of its size. Large "Costs You Less" signs are posted above value-priced products, such as Royal Maid, $2.79 for a half gallon, and Blue Bell, $3.97 for a half gallon. A half gallon of Dreyer's costs $4.29.

Several cases are dedicated to freezers, ice-cream sandwiches, bars, drumsticks and a large assortment of Popsicle products, including Lick a Color and the Sherbert Cyclone. H-E-B's Hill Country Fare and Royal Maid ice-cream brands fill two freezer cases and five cases are dedicated to Blue Bell products.

Another case is filled with Dreyer's products. The store stocks the entire assortment of Ben & Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs ice creams, yogurts and sorbets.

This store has five cases filled entirely with better-for-you brands, including Healthy Choice, Blue Bell, Royal Maid and Breyer's.