SUPERMARKET CHAINS SIGNING UP FOR ORGANIC EXPERIENCE

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Two national supermarket chains are expected to be part of a pilot program aimed at increasing the presence of organic products in mainstream chains.The pilot, called the Grocery Retail Organic Marketing Program, is being conducted by the Organic Alliance, St. Paul, Minn. The chains that will participate will be chosen within the next few months, said Angela Sterns, marketing director

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Two national supermarket chains are expected to be part of a pilot program aimed at increasing the presence of organic products in mainstream chains.

The pilot, called the Grocery Retail Organic Marketing Program, is being conducted by the Organic Alliance, St. Paul, Minn. The chains that will participate will be chosen within the next few months, said Angela Sterns, marketing director for the Alliance.

"We'll be soliciting chains, based on their interest and commitment to organics," said Sterns, who detailed the program to SN at the Natural Products Expo West, held here last month. The chains will be asked to test the program in one region. If successful, the program will then be expanded to other segments of the chain.

The Organic Alliance, previously known as the Midwest Organic Alliance, has an 18-month grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia, to market organic products nationally. Alliance officials described Pew as the largest environmental funder in the country.

The name change reflects its commitment to promote organics throughout the country, rather than just regionally. Until last month, the Midwest Organic Alliance, operating under a three-year Pew grant, targeted only the Twin Cities area. It worked with 80 stores, including Byerly's, Cub Foods, Rainbow Foods, Holiday Foods, Kowalski's and Erickson's.

In going national, the Alliance is expanding the components of the original program. It will focus on retailer education, which will include developing a training video on organic food production, from field to store, said Sterns.

The Alliance also will produce a training manual, a greater variety of point-of-sale materials and shelf tags and signs, informational brochures and banners.

The group will be available for consultation and/or will locate additional experts if the pilot partners request outside help.

"We'll consult with the chains on anything they want to talk about -- integration verses separation, for example," said Sterns. "We'll also help them with promotion orchestration and demos."

The organization is teaming with manufacturers to set up demos and to get recommendations about which products sell in which regions of the country.

SPINS, San Francisco, which works with ACNielsen to track natural product sales in the supermarket, will likely monitor sales data on key products, as well as measure stock-keeping units at store level, said Sterns.

During its Midwestern effort, the Alliance worked with ACNielsen, whose data showed overall sales increases in the Twin Cities of 34% on 12 organic brands, and a 300% increase in facings after implementation of the Alliance's marketing program.

"We don't want just to increase sales, but change the image of the store," Sterns noted. "Our experience has been that there haven't been any negatives. Consumers appreciate being offered a choice, and most people are interested in natural, organic and healthy products."

To expand the circle of organic awareness, the Alliance will work with the Organic Trade Association, Greenfield, Mass., to make the video and other promotional materials available to stores. Also planned is a media campaign, which will include coverage in local magazines and newspapers, and possibly television and radio spots, said Barbara Duff, public relations director for the Alliance.