RELIGIOUS 'VEGGIE TALES' SPROUT IN VIDEO SEXTIONS

CHICAGO -- A line of vegetables is now showing up in supermarket video departments.Far from the conventional garden variety, the vegetables have names -- Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber and Jr. Asparagus -- and are characters in a new three-dimensional, computer-animated video series called "VeggieTales," created by Big Idea Productions here.The "VeggieTales" series, which offers a Judeo-Christian

CHICAGO -- A line of vegetables is now showing up in supermarket video departments.

Far from the conventional garden variety, the vegetables have names -- Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber and Jr. Asparagus -- and are characters in a new three-dimensional, computer-animated video series called "VeggieTales," created by Big Idea Productions here.

The "VeggieTales" series, which offers a Judeo-Christian message in a format that includes song, dance and some zany humor for kids ages three and up, originated in 1993 but was sold exclusively in religious book stores for the first five years of its life. Because of strong consumer response, Big Idea and Richardson, Texas-based Lyrick Studios, the distributor of "Barney" videos, joined forces this spring to bring "VeggieTales" to the mass market.

The series is now sold by mass merchandisers and supermarkets, including Kroger Co., Wegmans Food Markets, Stop & Shop, Randalls Food Markets and Fry's Food Stores, according to Debbie Ries, vice president of sales for Lyrick Studios.

According to Kathy Luszsler, a spokeswoman for Randalls, Houston, "Sales of 'VeggieTales' are very good at our stores, and we are planning to cross merchandise it in our produce departments because of the name and the story.

"For us, it is no surprise that 'VeggieTales' is doing so well," she added. "Religious books are the most popular titles in our book category, so it follows that a religious-oriented and entertaining video like 'VeggieTales' would do well also."

Ries noted that the demographics for the video "are perfect for supermarkets, and we are anxious to widen our distribution in that category. For supermarkets it offers good price margins and a product that is catching on very rapidly."

Phil Vischer, Big Idea's chief executive officer and the voice of Bob the Tomato, spent eight years as a computer animator for several large production houses before forming his company five years ago.

Bob Howard, vice president of sales and marketing for Big Idea, said the popularity of 'VeggieTales' grew substantially over the years when it was carried only by religious bookstores.

"We made our one-millionth sale in the bookstores in March of 1997, which was four years after the videos were created," said Howard. "The two-millionth video was sold six months later. And we sold the three millionth just after the first of the year. We went into the mainstream in March and as of today we have sold 4 million videos."

The first two videos released to supermarkets, "Where's God When I'm S-scared?" and "Are You My Neighbor?" jumped into the top 15 in VideoScan's list of best-selling children's videos within weeks of their introduction. The two latest videos, "Rack, Shack & Benny" and "Dave and the Giant Pickle," hit store shelves last week. A fifth holiday-related video will be distributed in the fourth quarter.

"Rack, Shack & Benny" tells the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego and the fiery furnace. In "Dave and the Giant Pickle," a retelling of David and Goliath, Jr. Asparagus is young David and an 8-foot pickle is his foe.

Each of the 30-minute videos carries a suggested retail price of $12.99.