MORE RETAILERS OBSERVING BLACK HISTORY MONTH

CHICAGO -- Aided by Black History Month programs, more and more retailers around the country will be conducting special ethnic promotions in Center Store during February.Minority vendors are participating in nearly all of Albertson's 14 divisions' Black History Month promotions next month, including the Jewel-Osco stores based here, which have taken part for the past several years.Other chains planning

CHICAGO -- Aided by Black History Month programs, more and more retailers around the country will be conducting special ethnic promotions in Center Store during February.

Minority vendors are participating in nearly all of Albertson's 14 divisions' Black History Month promotions next month, including the Jewel-Osco stores based here, which have taken part for the past several years.

Other chains planning to observe Black History Month include Fiesta Mart, Houston; Giant Food, Landover, Md.; Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass.; Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y.; and Pathmark, Carteret, N.J., to name a few.

"You will see increased sales, but, really, what it does is draw awareness to the items and the culture," said Jack Porter, vice president, Kehe Food Distributors, Romeoville, Ill., which works with five retailers on Black History Month promotions, sourcing vendors and promotions, and working with the retailers on their ads.

Mostly, he said, the program focuses on canned vegetables, baking and coating mixes, spices and barbecue sauces and marinades. Some retailers build endcaps, but signage calling attention to the products as well as Black History Month is what is most noticeable in stores, he said.

"We have a director of diversity marketing, Darryl Humphrey, who is charged with working with minority vendors throughout the year, to bring these products to market," Porter said.

The retailers Kehe works with on this program are Schnucks, St. Louis; Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Farmer Jack, Detroit; Meijer, Grand Rapids; and Jewel.

Jewel's program includes displays and groupings of products from African-American vendors, and also a donation to the DuSable Museum of African-American Culture here, said Karen Ramos, spokeswoman for the chain. The local organization that benefits throughout the rest of the Albertson's chain is different in each locale.

"Products are advertised in our weekly circular that goes out to 4.5 million families. The program highlights some of the African-American vendors and gives them some visibility," Ramos said.

"A lot of companies make the mistake of categorizing minority vendors' products as a minority item," said Andrew Kramer, director of ethnic marketing and specialty foods for Albertson's. Kramer helped to develop the initial Black History Month program at Jewel.

Kramer mentioned, as an example, a low-fat, canned, baked (rather than fried) onion ring product, often used in casserole dishes. It happens to be made by a minority vendor, but it certainly fills a mainstream need, he told SN.

African-American cooking, which in many respects is also Southern cooking, crosses over to mainstream consumers more easily than Hispanic foods, said Gary Greenhouse, who is involved with distributor sales of Atlanta-based Sylvia's line of "soul food" products, like canned black-eyed peas, collard greens, packaged cornbread and fruit cobbler mix.

Pathmark has been very supportive of Sylvia's products, he said, and as a multicultural marketing effort underwrites a gospel choir competition every year at this time that attracts groups from all over the country. Last year, the semifinals were held in Grand Central Station in Manhattan, and the finals were held at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, where Sylvia's first restaurant is located.

Greenhouse also said Stop & Shop, which is a division of Ahold USA, Chantilly, Va., has led that company in recognition of African-American consumers. He added that Ahold is so far the only food retailer to have a presence at the annual meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is held in the spring and includes a trade show.

North Carolina-based Food Lion and Kash n' Karry are supporting a number of local Black History Month events through individual store participation and at the corporate level, said spokesman Jeffrey Lowrance. These activities include sponsorship of a radio station's "Black History Notes" program, support of an awards program hosted by the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, N.C., which commemorates the historic 1960 sit-in in Greensboro, and advertising in various newspaper Black History Month special editions.

"In the past, we have provided in-store promotions with vendors such as Kraft Foods," said Lowrance.

Fiesta Mart, Houston, does a big Black History Month promotion every year, featuring canned vegetables and cornbread, among other products, and distributes a coloring book for kids on a black history theme.

"I think there's a much greater awareness today in reaching everybody," Greenhouse said.

Jamie Miller, a spokesman for Giant Food, Landover, Md., said the chain plans to observe Black History Month by a giveaway of its books, "Profiles in Excellence," which are available at the checkout. These are short, illustrated books that contain biographical information about African-American figures, he said.

Giant, an Ahold company, is also working with Kraft Foods so that customers who purchase Kraft products will be eligible to win tickets to a Washington Wizards basketball game.

A grocery buyer at Fiesta Mart, David Newcomb, "works with some of the store managers to do some really nice things," said Carrie Compian, international and health foods merchandiser for the chain, which also is involved with the Sylvia's line. It sells extremely well year-round, she said, but added that "at this time of year we do more with in-store demos and special pricing."