MONEY BAGS

In the never-ending grind of packing lunches and storing leftovers, more and more shoppers are sparing no expense and turning to "luxury" models of food bags.Bags with zippers, produce bags, snack-size bags and other specialty bags are gaining favor with customers, creating cramped quarters in an already tight storage bag category.However, even with the trend toward luxury bags, the bags on the other

In the never-ending grind of packing lunches and storing leftovers, more and more shoppers are sparing no expense and turning to "luxury" models of food bags.

Bags with zippers, produce bags, snack-size bags and other specialty bags are gaining favor with customers, creating cramped quarters in an already tight storage bag category.

However, even with the trend toward luxury bags, the bags on the other end of the spectrum -- "stripped" private-label brands -- continue to thrive as well.

But retailers say the excitement within the category is coming from the high-priced newcomers. As one buyer put it, "The twist ties are on a loaf of bread and that's it. The trend is toward sealable bags."

Indeed, Hefty's recently introduced OneZip storage bags have already gained wide acclaim throughout the industry.

"The first real zipper bag has arrived. Early consumer opinions are good," said Peter Dudis, director of grocery operations at Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass.

"That new bag is an outstanding bag," said Mark Polsky, senior vice president of Magruder Inc., Rockville, Md., when asked about the OneZip. "It's got a real zipper on it. It's a super bag. It's moving great."

"The Hefty OneZip, which has just entered the market, is doing real well," said a spokeswoman for Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C.

Retailers told SN they expect the zipper-type bags to continue doing well.

"That Hefty bag is a quality item," said a buyer with a Mid-Atlantic chain. "People are going to buy that bag at the higher price because they know it's going to do the job. In the past, I don't think they were so sure the bags were going to stay fastened. These look like they will, and that should do wonders for sales. We've put them on end displays to help make our shoppers aware of them."

Chuck Lisi, grocery buyer at Roche Bros. Supermarkets, Wellesley Hills, Mass., was one week away from adding the Hefty OneZip bags when contacted by SN. He said manufacturers generally seem to be trying to upgrade the quality of their bags.

"The convenience in the use of these products is very, very important," he said. "It will be interesting as to whether or not this particular one with the zipper on it is going to do it or not."

He said some people have expressed a surprising concern about the bag. "I had one guy and one lady who said they wouldn't want to give it to their kids because it's stiff on either end of the bag. If it's a young kid, they could poke themselves; it's almost like it's a projectile thing because it's so stiff on either end. I hadn't given it a thought at all."

Gary Medlock, a buyer with Town & Country Supermarket, Salem, Mo., said the OneZip hasn't reached his stores' shelves yet, but similar bags have.

"They've been out here for quite a while. In fact, about the only thing you can get is zipper bags," he said, referring to the many sealable bags on the market. "There is only one or two of the other kind on the market."

That means better quality bags, Medlock said. "The bags are easier to use and they stay shut. That's important to the consumer." Medlock said the quality of most private-label brands has also improved. Private label is a strong player in all segments of the food storage bag category, he added.

A buyer with another Midwestern chain also noted the quality throughout the category has improved.

"The bags are much better today than they were five or 10 years ago," he said. "Even private-label bags have improved, maybe even to the level the national brands were at a couple of years ago."

He has also noticed the trend of increasing stockkeeping units within the category.

"You've got a lot of specialization going on. There's the snack bags and the produce bags; things like that. It all means more SKUs and a tougher task in terms of squeezing things in. We've bumped up the space we give to food bags by 1 or 2 feet in most of our stores."

Medford said it's still too early to tell if the specialization in bags will work.

"You never know what a new item is going to do," he said. "There's going to be a limit somewhere. I don't think it's really there yet."

Dudis said in spite of the increasing number of SKUs, Big Y has held steady in terms of the space it devotes to food storage bags -- between 8 and 12 feet, depending on the size of the store. Regarding the new items, he said the perforated vegetable bags in particular have been well received by shoppers.

But the proliferation of new offerings brought out skepticism in some retailers.

"There's that produce bag that's out now that we turned down the first time around," said Polsky of Magruder. "We didn't want to put it in. But people started asking for it and it's done OK since we brought it in.

"We had some requests for another bag we didn't take the first time around; it's a snack size. It holds three or four cookies. We had to put that in, too," he added. "When the customers hear of something they want, they let us know. I guess when it comes to food storage, they have specific needs and they let us hear about them if a product they want isn't available."

Many retailers cited improvements in private-label quality as a trend that should help the category.

"As the national brands have improved, so have the private-label brands," said a buyer with a Southern division of a large chain. "People are no longer leery of buying private label.

"Quality," he continued, "is extremely important in this category. A food bag that doesn't stay closed or a bag that punctures is bad news. People don't want their food ruined or spoiled and they don't want it to spill out of the bag and onto anything else."

Big Y's Dudis also cited an improvement in private-label quality, remarking that "private label has made a strong presence in the food storage category over the past year or so." As a result, private-label bags have become a "steady" seller, he added.

The spokeswoman at Harris Teeter said private-label bags are the best sellers in that chain's stores. While that's the norm in the industry in terms of sandwich bags, it's unique when it comes to food storage and freezer bags.

According to Nielsen North America, Schaumburg, Ill., controlled brands accounted for 42% of the unit volume and 34.2% of the dollar volume in sandwich bags for the year ended Sept. 10, 1994, down less than 1% from the prior 52 weeks. While their share of the market was down slightly, controlled brands posted gains in both units (0.9%) and dollar volume (3.3%) during that span.

Ziploc continues to lead the way in the food storage section of the category. Indeed, its share outpaced the category's growth. While the category recorded gains of 13.1% in unit volume and 13.4% in dollar volume, Ziploc posted gains of 31.9% in unit volume and 23.9% in dollar volume. Ziploc accounts for 38.5% of the unit volume and 42.1% of the category's dollar volume. Glad-Lock is next with a 23.4% dollar share, followed by controlled brands with a 22.8% share. Controlled brands, however, account for 27.6% of the category's unit volume, compared with Glad-Lock's 21.6%.

Ziploc is also the leader in terms of freezer bags, controlling about 60% of the category in both dollars and units. Glad-Lock is second, followed by controlled brands. That segment of the category is growing rapidly, up 10.2% in unit volume and 11.5% in dollar volume.

Retailers told SN advertising has helped the category.

"Food storage bag sales are being driven by the heavy freestanding insert coupons and manufacturers' in-ad coupons," said Dudis of Big Y. "The category has reacted well to promotional activity, such as in-ad coupons and hot retails."

The Midwestern buyer agreed. "Anytime there's new product activity there's going to be more advertising because manufacturers try to get the word out about their new items. In many cases, that helps the entire category. I think that's happened here."