STEVENS POINT, Wis. -- All 19 Copps Corp. stores that have natural food departments recently ran a huge demonstration focusing on soy foods and the health benefits that may come from soy, tied in with national Heart Month, which is February.
About a dozen products, including soy butter, soy crackers, soy puddings made with aseptically packed tofu, and myriad soy beverages were sampled all day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 24, which caught the shoppers on the busiest day of the week. Russell Haines, natural foods merchandiser for Copps here, said it was a natural follow-on to the chain's January event, called Food Fair, and that Soy Sensations, as the February event was tagged, went very well.
"After the Food Fair, we got customer comments asking for more events like this. Soy Sensations has just ended, so we don't have comment cards, but the feedback was happening that day, reflected in the sales, and in the positive comments to the demo people," Haines said.
He toured the six stores in Wisconsin's Fox Valley region to see first-hand how Soy Sensations was being received. "Overall, we are excited. It was successful, profitable and useful, and we hope to expand it even more," he said, hinting at Soy Month, which is April, also the time of Mother Earth's Organic Festival, a nationwide promotion that Copps joined last year.
"Our focus for this year is education and nutritional information, in addition, of course, to having the quality products. The healthy lifestyle is a focal point of our 2001 mission. To educate our customers so that they are better shoppers in terms of their health needs is the goal," Haines told SN.
Copps has an extensive demonstration program, staffed by its employees and utilizing specially designed wheeled demo carts and counters that double either as merchandisers or to display samples. "Every day of the week you can walk down the aisle and get pizza, or soups, or somebody's doing a frozen dinner," Haines said. Natural food gets one demo a week, normally, he added. So this one was times 12, or 13, all soy-based and mostly from Center Store. Products included flavored soy waters, soy cereals, frozen soy burgers and soy "crumble," resembling ground beef, and soy beverages.
The soy crackers with soy butter was "killer," he said, meaning "really good."
But actually, far from being a literal killer, soy has benefited from Food and Drug Administration approval for the health claim that states "eating 25 grams of soy protein daily in conjunction with a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease."
This message was on the front page of the M-Fit Soy Nutrition Newsletter handed out that day, part of the M-Fit health program from the University of Michigan in which Copps stores participate.
There were hot dishes, like barbecued tempeh and an edamame rice bowl, and several cold products, like cereal with the soy beverages. But the star of the day was the soy pudding, Haines said, made with a dry packaged mix and tofu, in chocolate and lemon, poured into graham-cracker crusts and chilled for a couple of hours.
"We had major, major positive feedback," said Haines. At one store, where the demo staff decided to make key lime pie, Haines said he heard that they were going to make several more, because people were coming back and asking for another taste.
"When you're trying to educate people about how varied soy foods can be, and you are interested in having them shop, this is a great way," he continued. "What we heard and saw from all departments was, 'Where can I pick that up?"'
Pamphlets and one-page handouts were an integral part of the event, including a food pyramid for vegetarians. One pamphlet developed in-house, called "Benefits of Soy," is featured in Copps' Whole Health information center.
The M-Fit newsletter also contained three recipes, including the barbecued tempeh dish that was sampled. Copps carries top cookbook titles, Haines said, such as the Moosewood Restaurant series, one on Tofu Cookery, and "Your Organic Kitchen," by Jesse Ziff Cool [as reported in SN Dec. 4, 2000].
A tip for other demonstrators: Haines said Copps' staff has found that if you offer "Soy," sometimes people walk away, but "Would you like to try our pumpkin pie?" is a much better approach. Once they indicate they like it, then you tell them what it was made from. "People are pleasantly surprised," he said.
"Then show them the benefits, the health benefits of using soy. In osteoporosis, cancer and menopause, studies show some evidence that soy is helpful for all these conditions," Haines said.