RETAILERS STRENGTHEN 5 A DAY PUSH, FIND HEALTHY SALES

Along with the back-to-school promotions and post-Labor Day sales, supermarkets are a destination this week for another reason: It's National 5 a Day Week across the United States.After seven years, the event -- co-sponsored by the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del., and the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md. -- has secured a reputation as a worthy and profitable initiative

Along with the back-to-school promotions and post-Labor Day sales, supermarkets are a destination this week for another reason: It's National 5 a Day Week across the United States.

After seven years, the event -- co-sponsored by the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del., and the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md. -- has secured a reputation as a worthy and profitable initiative for retailers who participate.

"Most of our stores show double-digit increases in sales distribution during the month of September with the program," said John Schildroth, vegetable promotion manager for the Southeast region division of Supervalu, Minneapolis. "And once they get the increase, they don't usually fall down. The momentum [takes] them right through the holiday season."

The stores in the region are always among the winners of the wholesaler's 5 a Day contest, which challenges stores to create themed displays, conduct in-store activities and reach out to the community.

"It's good for the health of the whole community, and certainly strengthens the store's image with consumers," said Schildroth.

Active retail supporters of 5 a Day, Supervalu stores foster a high level of participation through employee appearances on local television and radio talk shows and school assemblies, hosting a parade, running demo stations and leading youngsters on tours of the produce department.

Supervalu is just one of many chain and independent retailers participating in this year's promotion, which is being called "Get Fit With 5." For consumers, the message stresses the need for a good diet and proper exercise to maintain optimum health. For retailers, it is a chance to make a public impression through high-profile events outside the store, and to take advantage of consumer awareness inside the store.

Bi-Lo, Mauldin, S.C., began its intensive campaign in August in order to take advantage of the summer fruit still in season, said Dale Baller, produce buyer for the 270-store chain. And promotion will likely continue throughout the year on some level, even if it's a 5 a Day banner on the produce page of the retailer's circular.

During September, Bi-Lo has divided the chain into "regions" of 20 stores that will be subject to a "whole-day blitz" of at least four action stations for recipe and information distribution, special pricing on select produce items, and banners and signs urging customers to sign a 5 a Day pledge card. According to Baller, the cards will double as entry forms for a prize drawing to be held at the end of the two-week promotional period.

"Bi-Lo has been involved with 5 a Day before, but this is the first year we're doing anything on this scale," he said.

Promotions aside, the campaign is based upon a foundation of education, and retailers interviewed by SN noted that this campaign is one of the best opportunities retailers have to fulfill their evolving role as a consumer-education point for literature distribution, demonstrations and in-store appearances by nutrition experts.

"Retailers play a critical role [in 5 a Day Week] because they are the primary outlet for consumers when it comes to getting information about the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables," said Robb Enright, manager of public relations for the foundation. "Because people shop in supermarkets on a consistent basis, it is one of the main areas where they see the message. That's why we have devoted so many resources to them."

The organization has created a "user-friendly" resource library for retailers and others to tap into, according to Enright. Every year, participating segments of the food industry are kept apprised of developments for 5 a Day Week, and then receive a handbook that contains a planner, publicity-generating ideas, calendars, consumer recipes and graphics for use in-store and in circulars. Operators can also visit the foundation's Web site to download the same information, he said.

"The number of participating retailers has significantly picked up," said Enright."