RETAILERS SET STREET EVENTS FOR CINCO DE MAYO HOLIDAY

Produce retailers catering to the Mexican-American consumer told SN that for maximum effectiveness this year, they brought their Cinco de Mayo promotions to the street.Fresh fruits and vegetables play an integral role in the Mexican styles of cooking, they said, and the produce department each year serves as one of the leading promotional points to reach this target market.Leading up to the May 5

Produce retailers catering to the Mexican-American consumer told SN that for maximum effectiveness this year, they brought their Cinco de Mayo promotions to the street.

Fresh fruits and vegetables play an integral role in the Mexican styles of cooking, they said, and the produce department each year serves as one of the leading promotional points to reach this target market.

Leading up to the May 5 ethnic event, which celebrates a milestone in Mexican history, operators said they not only spotlighted the price promotions, but also the depth of their variety, the availability of traditional ingredients and the market appeal of their stores.

In the key markets of Los Angeles, Texas and Chicago, retailers reported that they used specially designed promotions to boost produce sales within their units' walls, out into the parking lot and to the street at local community festivals.

"We do lots within our chain to celebrate Cinco de Mayo," said Debbie Ellis, spokeswoman for Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas.

While the chain uses live radio remotes to add excitement and draw attention to the produce department, this year its ethnically oriented Carnival units added a $5,000 cash sweepstakes to the live broadcasts for its Cinco de Mayo promotion.

Every weekend through the five-week promotion, local Hispanic station KCMP-AM broadcast live from remote trucks in Carnival parking lots. The station's personalities offered give-aways and the chain offered 10-cent sausage on a stick with a free drink sample, face painting for children and a produce sidewalk sale.

"We look to promote produce inside and outside the store," said Jim Gordon, director of produce at Minyard. "We want to increase produce sales and help the store." With or without the radio remote, produce sidewalk sales generally occur over an 8-hour period.

Despite the high labor, the operator does spy a sales benefit, according to Gordon. The goal was to create an open-market appeal using wooden and cardboard dumps and handmade signs. "Food shopping in the Hispanic culture is a family event," he said.

To round out the availability of specialty ingredients needed for authentic Mexican cooking, Carnival produce departments were expanded to carry a variety of spices particular to Hispanic cuisine.

"We want to have all the ingredients our customers are looking for," said Gordon. "With spices there are many particular seasonings our customers are looking for to season their food with their special flavors."

While sidewalk sales were slated on Sundays at Carnival locations, Saturdays were the preferred day at the operator's Sack & Save units along with the Minyard Food Stores.

Community celebrations were another method retailers said they employed to tout their produce availability, variety and selection.

Del Ray Farms, a 17-unit operation in the Chicago area that specializes in produce, participates annually in the city's Cinco de Mayo parade.

"We want to show that we are a part of the community," said Joe Cahue, marketing director. "We advertise on radio and television, not only our specials, but that we will have a float in the parade and to be looking for us."

Operators reported that traditional fresh ingredients such as Roma tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, limes, avocado and tomatillos are regular staples of produce department Cinco de Mayo promotions.

"We also like to promote some treats, like mango and jicama and watermelon, along with the main staples," said Cahue. Del Ray Farms also cross promoted grocery and meat items with produce selections for Cinco de Mayo. "We do this to go deeper and add to the whole sale program."

Operators indicated that, much as everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, everyone is Mexican on Cinco de Mayo. As a result, particularly in regions where cultures collide, many non-Mexican-Americans have a deep appreciation for the cuisine and seek out the specialty flavors.

"Avocados, cilantro, onions, chilies and tomatoes are our biggest items," said Rich VanValkenburg, category manager for Hughes Family Markets, Irwindale, Calif., a division of Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif. "But guacamole mix and cross promoted Mexican beer move well."

The chain promoted its Cinco de Mayo produce offerings in a special section of the mailer and within the store using specially designed point-of-sale signage.

Signage was used to dress up most produce departments during this celebration. Bilingual signage was especially sought out by operators.

"We want our customers to be more comfortable trading with us," said Gordon of Minyard. "Bilingual signage helps customers who may not be familiar with variety of English words used to describe certain items. It helps them in making choices they can be comfortable with."