LICENSED DRIVERS

Characters from the silver screen are expected to have starring roles in supermarket nonfood promotions this year.Partyware, bakeware, greeting cards and toys featuring characters from Disney's "Toy Story" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" will be placed at high-traffic checkouts, in video departments and at seasonal sections, retailers told SN. Mattel's Barbie also is expected to be a hot licensed

Characters from the silver screen are expected to have starring roles in supermarket nonfood promotions this year.

Partyware, bakeware, greeting cards and toys featuring characters from Disney's "Toy Story" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" will be placed at high-traffic checkouts, in video departments and at seasonal sections, retailers told SN. Mattel's Barbie also is expected to be a hot licensed nonfood item.

The majority of movie-themed licensed items will come in the form of plastic Hunchback action figures priced at about $1.99 and Esmeralda dolls ranging up to $19.99. Esmeralda is a character from "Hunchback." Many retailers will look for these and other licensed products at the annual American International Toy Fair, which runs from today through Feb. 19 in New York.

" 'Toy Story' and 'Hunchback' will be the hot items this year," said Joe Kolavo, buyer and supervisor for general merchandise and health and beauty care at Strack & Van Til Supermarkets, Highland, Ind.

"Hunchback," an animated movie set for a midyear release, is expected to have wide licensing appeal, Kolavo said. He predicted there will be solid sell-through opportunities with Hunchback-related items. One reason for this is strong manufacturer support of branded goods. For instance, greeting card suppliers like Hallmark, Kansas City, Mo., are not only offering movie-themed greeting cards, but also other licensed goods, including partyware, gift bags and stickers. There also will be a host of other related licensed goods, including "Toy Story" and "Hunchback" trading cards by Skybox, Chapel Hill, N.C. "Now that these trading cards are on the market, I may consider buying them and displaying them along with our other trading cards at the checkstand area," said Deborah Romero, trading card buyer at Hughes Family Markets, Irwindale, Calif. "We'd also try to tie them in with the sell-through video release when it comes out. I'm always interested in entertainment cards."

At Strack & Van Til, "Hunchback" and "Toy Story" bowls, plates, cups and cutlery will be priced at about $2.99. When "Pocahontas" is released to home video later this month, it will carry "Hunchback" trailers, which Kolavo predicts will build even a stronger awareness for "Hunchback" toys.

While at the toy fair, Kolavo plans to book regular and seasonal orders for plush animals and other toys. He also hopes to meet with manufacturers that normally concentrate on larger chains.

"We'll meet with manufacturers that we don't usually do business with," he said.

One of the main concerns with licensed items is deciding how much product to stock. Many retailers book merchandise early to ensure that there are enough supplies to meet the demand.

"We're planning on placing orders in early March for May to June deliveries," said Kolavo of Strack & Van Til. Other retailers plan to do the same. "My guess is that there will be a big demand for Hunchback, so we'll have to get our orders in early, probably late this month," said Bev Althage, a nonfood buyer at Associated Grocers, Seattle. Retailers also must consider what kind of shelf life licensed goods will have.

"You may think the toys will sell, but you never know. When the 'Power Rangers' first came out, I jumped on it, and it was a good thing I did because they were all over the place," Althage said. "We are pretty selective in what we pick in licensed toys," said Pete Edmonds, category manager for toys at United Grocers, Portland, Ore. "A lot of this depends on the movies they are tied to. We don't want to inundate stores with too much merchandise."

"Toy Story" is expected to have long-lasting appeal, but in selected items, such as Mr. Potato Head, one of the main characters featured in the computer-animated movie, said Jeff Gurchik, nonfood buyer at E. Bierhaus & Sons, Vincennes, Ind.

"I don't think its popularity will be like the Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers," Gurchik said.

Meanwhile, nonfood items will continue to be influenced by longtime favorite licenses, such as Batman, Spiderman and Barbie.

"Batman will remain strong, especially with the new movie coming out. Also, a Spiderman movie expected this summer will create a lot of interest in the X-Men," Gurchik said. Associated Wholesale Grocers Valu Merchandisers Co., Kansas City, Kan., has heard that "Toy Story" products are supposed to be strong throughout the year, said Tim Urban, general merchandise buyer. He said Barbie and Hot Wheels also will have longevity.

While at the Toy Fair, Urban will look for "Hunchback" items as well as other licensed toy opportunities.

"Action figures are the key areas. I'll also look for trends and promotional import-type items," he said. Valu Merchandisers will launch its first new toy program for retailers this year. The mix will focus on seasonal and holiday products. Many of the licensed products in the assortment will be timed to break with the releases of movies and home videos, said Urban. Toys priced from about $10 to $15 "should be the strong-

est sellers in supermarkets," Urban added. He said orders for licensed goods are placed at least six months ahead. More time may be given if imported merchandise is involved. Along with price points, the level of success licensed goods have depends on how they're promoted. Cross-merchandising licensed toys with related grocery tie-in products at high-traffic areas will be a priority for many retailers.