THE PACKAGING EQUATION

Although frozen- and canned-juice sales are off, retailers are expecting shelf-stable juices in glass and plastic containers to continue to fuel rising category sales through 1999.Information Resources Inc., Chicago, reported that both shelf-stable bottled and aseptic-pack juices were up in supermarkets during the 52-week period ended Jan. 3. The bottled-juice and juice-drink category saw a 6.4% increase

Although frozen- and canned-juice sales are off, retailers are expecting shelf-stable juices in glass and plastic containers to continue to fuel rising category sales through 1999.

Information Resources Inc., Chicago, reported that both shelf-stable bottled and aseptic-pack juices were up in supermarkets during the 52-week period ended Jan. 3. The bottled-juice and juice-drink category saw a 6.4% increase in sales, racking up almost $3 billion, with the lion's share of sales in bottled juices. The aseptic-juice and juice-drink category saw a 5.8% increase and made more than $595 million for the industry, with a 9.2% increase in aseptic juices.

During that period, many subcategories saw significant increases. Bottled cranberry juice and cranberry juice cocktail, apricot juice, pineapple juice, and tomato vegetable/ cocktail juice all saw whopping increases of more than 75%, with cranberry juice registering a 119% spike in sales. By contrast, shelf-stable canned-juice and juice-drink sales were down 3.5%, according to IRI, with sales of $718 million for 1998.

Gary Hemphill, vice president of Beverage Marketing Corp., New York, noted that 100% juice products are growing more than juice drinks.

"For the last two years, juices have had a faster growth than juice drinks," Hemphill said. "In the early 90s juice drinks were popular and now you're seeing a shift.

"What's driving shelf-stable is coming at the expense of the frozen concentrates," Hemphill continued. "Juice is positioned well for health consumers. People today are health-focused and want convenience."

Most retailers agree that juices in glass and plastic packaging are fueling increased sales in the category. Rosauers Supermarkets, based in Spokane, Wash., is a good example. "Glass and plastic sales have exploded," noted Pat Redmond, grocery buyer. Minute Maid is a "major player" in the shelf-stable category, he added, and Tropicana is also competitive.

"You can keep [juice in a glass or plastic container] at home in the refrigerator and reseal it. People trust glass and plastic," he said.

According to Dan Hill, owner of three Bud's Shop & Save stores, based in Newport, Maine, plastic does better than glass because the "number of items that you can get in glass are decreasing rapidly."

Dahl's Food Markets, Des Moines, Iowa, has seen increased sales in the shelf-stable juice category because of the convenience factor.

Ross Nixon, vice president of marketing, said sales of juice in glass and plastic bottles have increased, while items in aseptic packaging have remained flat. Nixon also pointed out that while canned sales are down, new lines of shelf-stable concentrated juices have done especially well. These are 12-ounce cans from Ocean Spray and Welch's.

"It's a better price than the frozen and you don't have to thaw it out, just add water. It's also shelf-stable," added Nixon. Frozen juices are not a growing category at Dahl's. "Whether it's Ocean Spray or Tropicana, the trend is that glass juices have all gone up over the past few years," said Nixon. "Plastic bottles have also done well. They're easier to deal with, can be recycled and they come in a handier package."

At Dahl's, the shelf-stable juice and juice-drink section runs from 28 to 36 feet, depending on the store. About 75% of the selection is in glass and plastic, according to Nixon.

One Southern chain has seen a rise in sales for juice in plastic containers. Joel Childress, a buyer of self-stable juices for Albertville, Ala.-based Mitchell Grocery Corp., said more and more people are buying the plastic containers. "Most manufacturers are moving to plastic. As far as glass, I think it's a weight issue," said Childress. "You have a resealable container in plastic."

Super Store Industries, a Stockton, Calif.-based wholesaler that supplies Raley's Supermarkets and Save Mart Supermarkets, has seen a sales increase of 5% from last year in its overall juice category. It has also changed the container for its private-label juice brand, Sunny Select, from glass to plastic.

"Frozen concentrate juices are down primarily because of the resurgence in chilled and shelf-stable juices in plastic and glass. People don't have time and are looking for convenience," said Jim Dimataris, director of marketing for SSI. "The price is competitive and the quality, freshly squeezed taste is what people are looking for as well."

Private-label juices are also selling well in supermarkets. Whether it's because of price or quality, retailers are finding that customers are gravitating toward private brands.

Hill of Bud's Shop & Save, for example, said that he hasn't noticed a tremendous increase in national-brand juices, but has seen an increase with his private-label Hannaford brand. "I think people buy our private label because of the price. I also think that the quality is good and [our parent company] has done a good job in establishing good product," said Hill. His stores are owned by Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine. He noted that the private-label brand of frozen concentrated juice has also been successful.

Bud's Shop & Save devotes 28 feet to shelf-stable juices and drinks. The stores do no special promotions for juice; nor do they use special endcaps or displays. Hill also stated that the juice manufacturers, unlike the soft-drink companies, have not approached him about putting up displays or doing promotions.

At Mitchell Grocery, major brands of juice are doing well on the shelves, but so are private-label Ultimate Choice and Food Land juices. "We have private-label apple juice, grape juice, and other flavored juices like fruit punch," said Childress.

Mitchell Grocery devotes 10 to 16 feet of space to shelf-stable juices and drinks, with the size of the section depending on the size of the store. Most promotions with juices are run when the company is having a grand opening of a new store, Childress said. During those times, there will be in-store demos of products.

Dimataris at SSI said that the Sunny Select private-label brand is coming out with a "V-8 Splash type drink," which is still under development. Following the national trend, SSI is also experiencing greater sales in the private-label apple- and cranberry-juice categories. According to Dimataris, the price for apple and cranberry juices on the world market is down, which creates favorable pricing for consumers, who then buy more of these varieties.

Not all retailers are seeing growth in private-label juices. Nixon at Dahl's has not, while Redmond of Rosauers said private label is being outdone by major manufacturers, because the brand products are cheaper.

"There has been a lot of activity with the major brands in this area," said Redmond. "Majors like Seneca, Tree Top and Langer's are all battling for position."

Rosauers does demos with juices on a regular basis and cross merchandises the category with different grocery items. "We do a lot of demonstrations, especially around holiday time," Redmond said. "Halloween with apple juice, and Easter and grapefruit juice." According to Redmond, items such as cookies are cross merchandised with shelf-stable juice, not the frozen cans. Redmond also noted that aseptic juices in his stores are not growing. "The aseptic juices saw a growth spurt a few years ago, but interest seems to be lagging," he said.