RETAILERS: EASTER SALES WERE JOPPING

Easter sales were a cause for celebration at many supermarkets this year as promotions on traditional merchandise paid off.A random survey of retailers around the country by SN found items in categories including candy, flowers, seafood, eggs, ham and general merchandise helped fuel sales for the period. Revenues were boosted by aggressive store marketing and displays.Also playing a bigger role this

Easter sales were a cause for celebration at many supermarkets this year as promotions on traditional merchandise paid off.

A random survey of retailers around the country by SN found items in categories including candy, flowers, seafood, eggs, ham and general merchandise helped fuel sales for the period. Revenues were boosted by aggressive store marketing and displays.

Also playing a bigger role this year were frequent-shopper programs, which enticed shoppers with rewards like free hams in return for higher levels of holiday spending.

Store promotional efforts helped offset the effects of Easter falling late in the month. Retailers said many shoppers have already exhausted much of their paychecks by month's end, making it harder to attract discretionary dollars. To compensate from a financial analysis standpoint, many retailers planned to lump Easter week with the following week for a more realistic look at their total sales.

Randalls Food Markets, Houston, could not share numbers, but chain president Randall Onstead said he was pleased with Easter sales.

He added that this spring season is the first time the company had its frequent-shopper card program in place. Nevertheless, Onstead said he didn't think the Remarkable card helped boost sales, as stores did not run any continuity programs.

However, other independent operators reported that their frequent-shopper programs helped them drive their Easter sales.

D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, Mich., has been advertising solely to their frequent shoppers for several months. Easter was no different.

Jeff Gietzen, president of the company, said his stores' sales were up overall compared to the same period a year ago. He attributes the stores' continued sales growth to D&W's card-based marketing program.

Enticing loyal shoppers was the motivation behind Fort Collins, Colo.-based Steele's Markets hand-punched card program. Russ Kates, chief financial officer, president and owner said the card helped increase his stores' Easter sales.

During the six weeks prior to Easter, shoppers who spent $400 or more in a Steele's Market store received a free 5-pound Bar S ham. This Easter was the first time the independent has implemented such a loyalty program.

In addition to ham movement, Steele's bakery sales were way up, Kates added. "They were up about 14%," he said. Specifically, sales on cakes, breads and dinner rolls bolstered the numbers.

Stater Bros. Markets, Colton, Calif., stepped up its floral merchandising by adding 23 refrigerated floral cases to its stores, according to Jack Brown, chairman, president and chief executive officer of the chain.

"We had a fabulous Easter and our floral sales were up over 50%," he said.

Rather than lumping two sales periods together, other retailers chose to boost their Easter sales with more immediate programs.

Raley's Supermarkets, West Sacramento, Calif., ran a 12-hour sale on Easter Sunday. With the help of the event, Raley's met its targeted budget, said Dennis Ferguson, director of corporate buying. This was the first time the chain tried such a program on Easter.

A continuity program run throughout the Lenten season increased sales at Chesterland, Ohio- based Russo's Stop-N-Shop. The independent's "Fishes and Loaves" promotion compensated shoppers for every $10 they spent in the seafood department with a free loaf of Russo's Italian bread.

Sales went way up, said buyer and merchandiser Kevin Michaels, who supervised the event.

Of the retailers SN surveyed, several of them said they planned to combine Easter week sales with sales from the following week.

Dennis Garrett, president of Sabetha, Kansas-based Garrett Enterprises, expects his two-week sales combination to yield a 4% increase over the same period last year.

His independent stores pushed candy, bone-in spiral hams and produce, he added.

He attributed the sales increase to good weather because his seasonal ads didn't break until the Wednesday following Palm Sunday. According to Garrett, that weekend was one of the first pleasant ones his area has had since winter.