PLUGGING THE BARRELS

Savvy retailers are nurturing their beer and wine sections with descriptive point-of-sale materials, massive displays and colorful advertisements.Where allowed by law, price-centered advertising of leading beer and wine brands will attract shoppers not only to the alcoholic beverage case, but also to the rest of the store, retailers told SN."We treat beer as a catalyst to drive consumers into our

Savvy retailers are nurturing their beer and wine sections with descriptive point-of-sale materials, massive displays and colorful advertisements.

Where allowed by law, price-centered advertising of leading beer and wine brands will attract shoppers not only to the alcoholic beverage case, but also to the rest of the store, retailers told SN.

"We treat beer as a catalyst to drive consumers into our stores, especially at our Tom Thumb stores in the Dallas market, because we have wet/dry borderline stores there," said Peter Kemp, senior category manager, Randalls Food Markets, Houston.

"Most of our stores have the space so they build nice displays. Also, depending on the time of the year, the displays get bigger and more creative as you get into the peak beer seasons, including the summer and Super Bowl Weekend," Kemp said.

Seasonal displays that feature any and all promotional pieces available from manufacturers are an ideal way to stimulate sales, said Oscar Sicola, who buys and merchandises liquor/beer, for Houston-based Fiesta Mart. The retailer has had success tying in promotions with local and regionally popular events, like February's Rodeo and Cinco de Mayo.

"A lot of our stores decorate with items supplied by our distributors that tie in with the Rodeo. In some stores we even have a cut out or standout of one of the entertainers who will be performing there," Sicola said.

"In three weeks the Rodeo pulls in 3.5 million people to the Astrodome, so that is really popular with our customers," he said.

Montvale, N.J.-based A&P uses newspaper ads to promote beer, wine and liquor. A&P typically advertises the items around holidays and other peak selling periods. In New Jersey, they appear on Wednesday, which is food day, and the day of the week when the liquor stores change their ads.

However, unlike the quarter page, cluttered black and white ads of the independent liquor store cooperatives, A&P's ads are usually full-page and four-color.

"In New Jersey, we have a number of freestanding liquor stores, along with some beer and wine departments and liquor departments in some of our stores. That is why we run the separate ads to cover all of them," Michael Rourke, senior vice president, communications & corporate affairs, told SN.

Aside from New Jersey and the New England area, Rourke said in most of the other regions of the country beer, wine and liquor are sold in the main body of the supermarket.

"In those other areas these items are incorporated with the regular ad," Rourke said.

When asked what types of promotions work best at building department sales, Mike Shultz, senior vice president, Hughes Family Markets, Irwindale, Calif., exclaimed, "Price point. Price point. Price point!

"We find it is necessary to heavily advertise beer and wine to draw shoppers to the department," he added.

Shultz noted that in-store case stacks are very important, and that POS materials -- such as banners, umbrellas and moving signs -- help to boost sales during key periods, such as Super Bowl Weekend.

Some chains, though, can't promote as much as they like to due to state alcohol laws. In California, for instance, retailers cannot accept payment for advertising, space and display on alcoholic products. Therefore, they must fund all of their advertising and promotions, which can be costly.

At the same time, other regions have restrictions on what advertisements can feature. Ohio laws, for example, previously prohibited stores from advertising beer with price in their ads. The law has been relaxed and stores can now include price, though the state decides what the cost will be, said Tom Roesner, beer, wine and liquor buyer for Seaway Food Town, Maumee, Ohio.

"I have been advertising beer with price each and every week since Jan. 1 to try to stimulate some sales," he said.

The change in advertising policy has definitely helped sales.

"It has forced the stores to put some displays on the floor. The distributors are becoming a little more creative. So it looks like it has been working pretty well," he said.

As a result, Roesner said he has been able to beef up the amount of POS materials in the store. But once again, state regulations still prevail, and Roesner is not allowed to place "anything of value" on the display, such as mirrors, temporary moving signs or umbrellas. "We are limited to paper and cardboard signs and things like that."

In-store signs are important for alerting shoppers on price points, said Bob Jennings, buyer/merchandising manager, beverage department at Raley's Supermarkets, West Sacramento, Calif.

"Good signage has to be out there. You needs signs with the price in large print. Without a price sign, you might as well not even have the item on ad," he said.

Jennings has begun placing descriptor signs at the point of sale in the microbrew and craft beer section of the beer department to educate shoppers about the differences in the brews. A sign might explain what a porter beer is, for example.

"We have put this at the point of purchase because microbrew beers are a fantastic category that was up about 35% in 1996 and is going to continue growing," Jennings said. He noted that newspaper advertising of popular beers also helps the microbrew category, where small manufacturers cannot afford ad space.

"People read the ads when it is a major brewery -- Budweiser, Miller and Coors. What they will do is buy a 12-pack of Budweiser and maybe experiment with a six-pack of a micro beer. We get a lot of those people too," Jennings said.

Randalls has had success placing both popular and microbrew and craft beers in its ads to build department sales.

"Every week we advertise in our circular between two and three beer spots. The product mix differs by week, but there is always a key lead beer, such as Budweiser or Miller, and then, because of our clientele, we also always have a micro or imported beer in our ad," said Kemp.

However, Randalls uses a slightly different tactic when it comes to merchandising wines, which, unlike beers, are cross merchandised in other areas of the store, such as near the meat and seafood case.

A different approach is also undertaken by Raley's when it comes to merchandising wine.

"We put out point-of-sale on the wines, describing a lot of the write-ups that they get. We mention accolades that they get from wine writers and awards they get at local fairs. We're just trying to distinguish one winery from the next," Jennings explained. He added that wines are also advertised in the newspaper weekly.

Other stores find it helpful to employ wine stewards.

"In some stores it's to our advantage to have a liquor person that has knowledge in wine. In all stores we use signage to help customers with food pairing suggestions and descriptions of varietal types of wine," said Shultz of Hughes Markets.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Harris Teeter also finds wine stewards helpful in building wine sales.

"Our wine consultants are also very valuable to the promotion efforts. Their product knowledge makes them a valuable customer resource," she said.

But unlike many retailers, the upscale Harris Teeter does not rely on newspaper ads touting price to draw shoppers to its beer and wine departments.

"We have developed a reputation for providing a wide variety from which to choose, so our shoppers are aware that we have a great deal to offer," Kinzey said.