KROGER HELPS PARENTS PICK HEALTHY BTS LUNCH ITEMS

CINCINNATI -- Kroger Co.'s Cincinnati/Dayton Kroger Marketing Area here is helping parents select healthy back-to-school lunch box options for their children with a Lunch Buddies shelf-tag system.The bright yellow and red shelf tags feature a blue cartoon character lunch box, along with the Food Guide Pyramid. The tags show where the food is on the Food Guide Pyramid and offer a serving suggestion.

CINCINNATI -- Kroger Co.'s Cincinnati/Dayton Kroger Marketing Area here is helping parents select healthy back-to-school lunch box options for their children with a Lunch Buddies shelf-tag system.

The bright yellow and red shelf tags feature a blue cartoon character lunch box, along with the Food Guide Pyramid. The tags show where the food is on the Food Guide Pyramid and offer a serving suggestion. For example, sherbet is billed as "A cool, refreshing treat for after school," while bagels are "great in your school lunch or as an afternoon snack."

The tags are placed throughout the store, with the greatest concentration in Center Store, where 18 items are included. Lunch Buddies items include angel food cake mix; animal crackers; graham crackers; canned fruit; fruit bar cookies, such as Fig Newtons; peanut butter; pretzels; raisins; rice cakes; unsweetened apple sauce; and ready-to-eat cereals.

Frozen items include frozen fruit juice bars, frozen low-fat yogurt, low-fat ice cream and sherbet.

Officials at Kroger did not return phone calls seeking comment on the system, although a company source confirmed the Cincinnati/Dayton KMA is using the tags as part of a back-to-school promotion.

Lunch Buddies is being marketed by Creative Data Services, a St. Louis-based manufacturer of retail price shelf labels and the provider of the Nutri Guide program. Retailers purchase kits containing brochures, ad materials, ceiling danglers, press releases and the shelf tags. Prices range from $29.95 to $69.95 per store, depending on the size and assortment of the kit.

Janet Brooks, product manager for Nutri Guide at Creative Data Services and creator of the Lunch Buddies program, said Lunch Buddies is designed to help supermarkets garner a larger share of back-to-school sales by providing their customers with more "in-store theater" and "shopping solutions," as well as providing a unique customer service.

Brooks believes the Lunch Buddies program can help supermarkets win back sales not only from fast-food restaurants, but also from the school cafeteria.

"I developed the Lunch Buddies program because I believed supermarkets had a back-to-school marketing differential they weren't exploiting," Brooks said. "Everyone promotes their appropriate general merchandise, paper goods, binders, pens, pencils, etc., during this period. Only supermarkets have the ability to merchandise food for back-to-school lunches."

Brooks said although the program is designed for the back-to-school period, retailers can keep the shelf tags and other materials up for a longer time.

"We designed the program to be fairly durable. It can remain up for quite a long period of time," she said.

Brooks said Lunch Buddies also helps supermarkets because it allows them to place the shelf tags under whatever specified item they wish, allowing them to partner with a certain manufacturer or promote their store brands. However, the shelf tags must be placed under the specified item. For example, the angel food cake mix shelf tag cannot be placed under a box of layer cake mix.

"We specifically look for the products that we think are healthier alternatives," she said.

Launched last year, Lunch Buddies has also been introduced this month in Buttrey Food & Drug Stores, Great Falls, Mont. The program is being offered at Copps Corp., Stevens Point, Wis., for a second year. Officials at Buttrey could not be reached for comment, while officials at Copps declined comment.

Brooks said Lunch Buddies is also being used by several independent retailers and was tested by Marsh Supermarkets, Indianapolis, last year.