MARCH MADNESS

Encouraging shoppers to visit the frozens department is the linchpin of National Frozen Food Month. To that end, local efforts for this year's March promotion are concentrating on a key prerequisite: wooing retailer support.State and regional frozens councils are rolling out a host of "best display" contests to entice retail employees to back the upcoming torrent of frozens advertising for the annual

Encouraging shoppers to visit the frozens department is the linchpin of National Frozen Food Month. To that end, local efforts for this year's March promotion are concentrating on a key prerequisite: wooing retailer support.

State and regional frozens councils are rolling out a host of "best display" contests to entice retail employees to back the upcoming torrent of frozens advertising for the annual promotion, sponsored by the National Frozen Food Association, Harrisburg, Pa.

"We try to do that every year because that's really where you make it happen. If you can get store clerks excited, they'll pay attention to displays and keep the store looking good," said Mike Argote, president of the Louisiana Frozen Food Council and an account executive at Sales Mark, a food brokerage based in Metairie, La. "That's how we move our business: getting endcaps filled up and the product out."

The Louisiana council is serving up cash prizes to retail personnel who develop eye-catching displays for NFFM, whose national theme is "Leading the Way." Point-of-sale materials with the NFFM penguin logo will decorate end displays and freezer cases, Argote said.

"All of the major chains are tying in: Schwegmann, Winn-Dixie and A&P," he said. "Winn-Dixie normally doesn't let us put up anything point-of-sale-wise, but they've decided to kind of open it up during March, at the discretion of the individual store managers. So we have the OK to put up POS at Winn-Dixie for the first time that I can remember."

A 10-page color insert is planned for area newspapers. On top of that will be a consumer giveaway of a kitchen cabinet set, in-store demos, plus radio and TV spots. "Both Schwegmann and Winn-Dixie will be doing TV aimed specifically at frozen during the month," Argote said. "They both kind of do their own thing with their own themes to get people into their stores, but then they also tie in with us."

The Greater Detroit Frozen Food Committee also is homing in on retailer support, according to Joe Yurasek, vice president at Pfeister Co., Plymouth, Mich. "The Detroit base, led by Kroger and Farmer Jack as retailers and Foodland Distributors as a wholesaler, is going to be delivering strong, month-long 'Leading the Way' sales events in March," he said. "There will be significant in-store display activity."

For example, Yurasek said, Kroger plans to have ad tie-ins with NFFA POS aids and to run a contest in which frozens managers of stores generating the greatest sales gains during March can win a trip to a northern Michigan resort. "Whenever there are incentives involved, they tend to be motivators," he noted.

Yurasek is working with Foodland on developing a training program for frozens managers that will use an NFFA video and handouts to help them convey the benefits of frozen food to consumers. Farmer Jack plans to run weekly ad supplements for frozens as well as a coupon booklet targeting the chain's Bonus Savings Club members, which will be available in stores and by direct mail.

"We're trying to expand NFFM involvement by working with Super Foods and Midwest Wholesale Grocers farther up north," Yurasek added.

At least 1,000 retail clerks, brokers and packers are expected to compete for various prizes in a frozens display contest to be held by the Eastern Frosted Foods Association, Ringwood, N.J.

"We have a huge retail clerk contest, which is one of the grabbers that gets our marketplace really excited," said Mike Ryan, EFFA executive director. "We give incentive to store-level salespeople and clerks to build exciting frozen food displays and erect all of the POS material we provide."

Also planned are an eight-page coupon insert, frozens editorial coverage in area newspapers and radio advertising, including tie-in spots during a radio program called "Food Talk." Retailers and wholesalers participating in the EFFA effort, whose theme is "Invest in Frozen Food," include ShopRite, Pathmark, A&P, Foodtown, King Kullen, Waldbaum's and Kings Super Markets, Ryan reported.

"What's really effective is the support of the retailers. When the retailers find out what manufacturers are in the EFFA program, they tend to support those brands," he said. "For three years now, we've had a 'triple effect,' where retailers in our market supported the frozen brands in our [NFFM] coupon vehicle to a point of 3-to-1 over any other item couponed during March."

Last month the Frozen Food Association of New England, Burlington, Mass., began a series of NFFM kick-off dinners featuring presentations from Bozzuto's, Stop & Shop and Hannaford Bros. executives, said Harold Lombardi, executive director. However, he noted, a frozens display contest is what's expected to fuel retailer interest in NFFM.

"We have 5,000 to 6,000 entries, where the stores are all set up with decorations and displays, either end-aisle or shelf displays. It's quite intricate. So there's a lot going on in stores," Lombardi said.

Supermarket chains involved in the association's NFFM drive are Star Market, Shop 'n Save, Roche Bros., Big Y Foods, Stop & Shop, Edwards Super Food Stores, A&P Foodmart, Shaw's, Price Chopper and various Supervalu independents, he reported. A retail workshop on frozens was held in December, and frozen food "Taste Days" will be held in Boston and Enfield, Conn., in March.

Many supermarket chains also will have retailer or supplier representatives walking the frozens aisles to distribute coupons to shoppers, creating an immediate tie-in with displays.

"We have a big program planned for March. As last year, we will go into supermarkets with demonstrators who will hand out coupon sheets in the frozen food aisles," said Debra Van Der Wiede, executive director of the Southern California Frozen Food Council, Huntington Beach, Calif. "They'll be walking up and down the aisles with a Frozen Food Month apron on handing out the sheets, each of which has about 15 coupons."

Total coupon distribution is projected to reach 13.5 million for NFFM, and the association's effort will cover 1,200 stores and 30 manufacturers, Van Der Wiede said.

"The store demonstrators have been very successful in our market because we reach the consumer in the frozen food aisle and passing by the frozen food aisle," she said. "The demonstrators talk to them and reach out to hand them a coupon sheet."

Other efforts include NFFM signs and shelf tags, retail display contests, a Hawaiian trip sweepstakes for consumers, local charity events and retailer tie-in advertising. "We have strong retailer support once again: Vons, Lucky Stores, Ralphs, Certified Wholesale Grocers' independent stores, Albertson's, Hughes Family Markets and Food 4 Less," Van Der Wiede said.

Frozen Food Month plans were just beginning to take shape at several supermarket chains contacted by SN.

"We're going to work with some vendors and do some in-store demos," said Pat Brooks, director of frozens, dairy and deli for Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif. "Hopefully, our people will get behind the decorating. We normally try to do something. We're trying to pull it together little by little as we have the manpower to do so."

Save Mart also plans some full-page frozens ads centered around the NFFM theme and will participate in a coupon flier assembled by the Frozen Food Council of Northern California, San Ramon, Calif., he said.

NFFM promotions shouldn't focus only on high-volume products, according to Brooks. "When you have a national program, you want to do everything you can with total frozen food. It's been a good program for us," he said. The frozens supervisor for a New Jersey-based ShopRite chain said his stores will have heavy frozens ad and display activity for major brands. "This year, we're also going to promote our private-label items, such as potatoes, ice cream and things like that," he added. "We have a big month coming up. We always do a big ice-cream promotion."

Frozens is promotable year-round, he noted. "Every month you can find something. In the summer, for example, it's ice cream and ices. In the winter, it's dinners and pies because people stay at home," he explained. "We're doing a really good job with frozen food. Our numbers are up." Yet not all retailers and local frozens associations expect a promotional bonanza for NFFM, especially those in nonmetro, small-market areas, where manufacturer ad dollars aren't always forthcoming.

The frozens buyer for a big Southeastern chain plans to have only some NFFM-logo ads and POS aids. "We're planning a little bit of frozen food advertising. [NFFM] has never been that big here. Basically, I just have some ad inserts and things like that -- nothing like you'd get in a big city," she said. Assembling an insert for NFFM is difficult because ad dollars are tight, she said, adding that she had to turn down a local radio station that had sought a tie-in spot from her chain. "It's tough. To run an average insert in our flier in our format is about $150,000 for another four pages," she explained. "I don't have $150,000; I have about a quarter of that."

At the Kansas City Frozen Food Association, Overland Park, Kan., plans for a coupon insert have fallen through, said Larry Walden, executive director.

"We can't get enough manufacturers to put together the insert we've used for the last five or six years. We've had so many manufacturers pull away the monies that we weren't able to put it together this year," Walden said. "I think the larger markets are getting the [ad] monies."