PHOTO OP

As retailers gear up for the spring and summer picture-taking season, they are hoping the millennium will spur last year's flat film sales.For the 52 weeks ended Jan. 3, 1999, film sales fell 0.6% to $1.7 billion in mass-market channels, according to data from Information Resources Inc., Chicago. Supermarket dollar volume was off 0.8% to $332 million, and drug-store sales slumped 2.7% to $580 million.

As retailers gear up for the spring and summer picture-taking season, they are hoping the millennium will spur last year's flat film sales.

For the 52 weeks ended Jan. 3, 1999, film sales fell 0.6% to $1.7 billion in mass-market channels, according to data from Information Resources Inc., Chicago. Supermarket dollar volume was off 0.8% to $332 million, and drug-store sales slumped 2.7% to $580 million. Mass merchandisers picked up the slack from the competing channels by posting a 3.8% increase to $784 million.

In looking at units of film sold, the trend was similar. Total volume of 260 million film units was off by 1.9%. Supermarket unit volume fell 6.5% to 59 million units and drug-store unit volume declined 4.4% to 92 million units. Again, mass merchandisers' volume rose 3.1%, with 109 million units sold.

Retailers and manufacturers believe consumers will be driven to capture personal events and special occasions on film as the century draws to a close. This should trigger higher category shelf turns of both film and cameras, said nonfood buyers.

"The approach of Y2K could motivate consumers into making purchases they would otherwise not consider, and cameras may certainly be one of them," said Alex von Sehrwald, nonfood director at Gerland's Food Fair, Houston.

Tom Bollinger, vice president of promotion at J.C. Groub, Seymour, Ind., agreed and said media reports about Y2K will probably affect photo and film "as it has with the hoarding of certain food products."

"People are recognizing this is the last of whatever occasion or family gathering of the century," said Tom Shay, director of corporate communications at Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., Elmsford, N.Y. The turn-of-the-century phenomenon may be the reason "scrap-booking is exploding," he added. "People are organizing their history as we begin a whole new era."

Paul Gordon, advertising manager at Konica Photo Imaging, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., said Y2K should affect the film category favorably and result in strong sales.

He said the millennium "is obviously a natural for the photo category as people think about how they will capture the last remaining moments of the century."

Meanwhile, retailers are moving into the spring and summer seasonal promotional period with rebates and multipacks to generate momentum. Gerland's plans to be aggressive with cameras, and will merchandise those priced up to $50. It will use single-use cameras to generate impulse sales during the summer months and during vacation season.

Contrary to film sales, single-use camera revenues soared last year. During the same 52-week period reported for film sales, one-time camera sales shot up 25.8% to $622 million, according to IRI. Food stores generated $150 million in sales, up 23.9%; drug stores sold $246 million of single-use cameras, up 33%; and mass merchandisers brought in $226 million, a 20% increase.

During Easter, Gerland's promoted Fuji's single-use flash camera for $4.99. "This was a heck of a price for this camera, which usually sells for double the amount," said von Sehrwald. He reported excellent sales during the one-week promotion. "It's the kind of promotion manufacturers are running to get their market share up,' he said.

Gerland's also plans to test Advanced Photo System cameras priced up to $50 later this spring, said von Sehrwald, who said he believes APS is the camera consumers will choose in the future.

Next month the chain will launch its first multipack Kodak film sales with a buy-three-rolls of Kodak 200-speed color film and get-one-roll-free offer. "It's a brand new promotion with Kodak for us, and it's very exciting," von Sehrwald said. The shipper dump display will allow the chain "to compete with the mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart," he added. Von Sehrwald declined to disclose the retail price.

J.C. Groub is touting film-and-photo products in its weekly ads and circulars. The retailer shifted to a new outside lab for its photo processing last month. This move, however, doesn't signal a change in the chain's commitment to the category, said Bollinger. Manufacturers have devised attention-grabbing events to support the category over the next several months as well. "Summer promotions raise consumer awareness for film and photo products," said Nate Green Jr., Fuji's national sales manager for food. In May, Fuji will team up with the Major League Baseball Players Association to promote its APS and 35mm film, Quicksnap single-use cameras and Fujifilm cameras.

Consumers can receive authentic autographed baseballs from eight of MLB's hottest players with proof-of-purchase seals. With the redemption, consumers will be automatically entered into a sweepstakes for an autographed ball from Chicago Cubs super-slugger Sammy Sosa.

"The popularity of major league baseball is at an all-time high," said Herb Baer, Fuji's director of marketing, consumer film and one-time use products in the consumer markets division.

"It's an exciting way for consumers to connect with their favorite players and collect valuable baseball memorabilia while helping drive film and camera sales."

Floor and counter card stands will feature tear-off pads, header signs and photos of Sosa.

In the April and June editions of Parade and USA Weekend magazines, Eastman Kodak, Rochester, N.Y., will distribute rebates on its film and camera products. A $2-off coupon for 25-exposure cassettes of Advantix 200- and 400-speed film multipacks, and a $10 rebate offer on the purchase of an Advantix Switchable single-use camera will be available, said a company official.

Konica hopes those last remaining moments of the century will be captured on its new Centuria color film in 100, 200, 400 and 800 speeds. According to Gordon, $1 rebates will be included on all Konica film packages, and its 800 single-use camera, which was introduced last month.

"There will be more three-roll and four-roll film multipacks, which food stores are creating space for," he said .