From Maine to Washington state to the southern states, supermarket retailers are ready to take advantage of the summer weather to aggressively promote their Center Store merchandise.
Supermarket customers are going to see Center Store products sold around promotions involving the summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, the sequel movies "Pokeman II" and "Mission Impossible II," teenage rock stars, and, of course, picnicking at the beach or lake shore. Whatever the theme that is used -- and it will change from month to month in individual supermarkets -- cross-merchandising comes into play in a big way in summer months, according to retailers.
"Beach displays are big for us because we are near the lake resorts," said Jay Mattern, a member of the sales and marketing team for Plumb's supermarkets, based in Muskegon, Mich. "Our biggest stores are on the lakefront and vendors are into beach displays because it catches the customer's eye. It lets the customer know you are going to have what they want for summer items."
Retailers have been widening their inventory in areas like beach equipment and patio and lawn furniture as a draw to get customers into the stores, and this summer should see a continuation of that trend, said Steve Love, a retail partner with Arthur Andersen of Chicago, a consultant for food retailers. "Retailers can cross merchandise beverages and other summer picnic items with patio furniture. Also, bottled water, thirst quenchers and fitness drinks lend themselves to this type of promotion." But retailers have only a short period of time to catch a person's eye, he warned.
"All the vendors want the prime position and that means the front of the store display," Mattern of Plumb's said. "You have to get the customer's interest within the first few feet of the store, particularly in a resort area where it is likely to be a new customer."
Joel Childress, buyer for Mitchell Grocery Corp., based in Albertville, Ala., which has 160 supermarkets in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi under the names Foodland, Lewis Jones, Shop-Rite and Food Giant, agrees.
"We put out a book that reminds store managers about changing displays to what seems to work best.
We tell them to change the front wall to give it a different look, using chips and sodas and even spices and condiments as a change from the chili and soups and crackers of winter. This gets people as soon as they come into the store," Childress said.
Sports activities, both professional and amateur, are always good draws for the summer months.
"Retailers have to be all over the Olympics," said Love. "The best retailers will tie in sports drinks, nutritional supplements, Coca-Cola products (since they are an official sponsor), and even herbal products. Some retailers will use contests to have people predict the outcomes of the Olympics and give the winners coupons to redeem for products, which keeps customers coming back."
In the nine Plumb's stores in Michigan, professional volleyball is a big promotional tool. Evian, Miller Lite and Sunkist are products tied to the sport that use it in their advertisements, which the stores then use in promotional items, Mattern said.
Promotions aimed at children and young people are often tied to animals or movies and this summer will be no exception. Promotions predicted to be big for the summer for children include the use of dinosaurs, which will be used, for instance, by Hunts snack pack puddings, which are popular in summer because of the convenience for parents, he said.
"The two big movie tie-ins will be "Mission Impossible II" and "Pokeman II" for the kids," Love said.
Products also will be tied to the new movie "The Road to Eldorado" this summer and will include coupons for children's items such as cereal, said Childress of the Mitchell Grocery Corp.
Movie promotional ties for children and teenagers will not reach the fever pitch that "Star Wars" worked up last summer, predicted Steve Mitchell, vice president of marketing for Acme Markets of Virginia, North Tazewell, Va., which has 30 stores in five Mid-Atlantic states.
However, even "Star Wars" could make somewhat of a comeback because the movie was recently released on video, making its use in advertisements and promotional materials useful again, said David Puhan, category manager for Brown & Cole Stores, which has 35 stores in Washington, Oregon and Montana and headquarters in Bellingham, Wash.
Other stores will try to leverage an interest in teenage rock groups into sales on Center Store items, said Don Stuart, a partner in Cannondale Associates, marketing experts based in Wilton, Conn.
"There is a growing momentum for using groups such as Nsync and the Backstreet Boys to promote products to young people. Music people make good spokesmen for products. These groups have mainstream appeal and can be leveraged aggressively," he said.
On the adult side, convenience is what sells well in the summer months.
"'No-oven summers' promoted by Kraft and complete meal solutions are big things for summer," Stuart said. "Retailers do well promoting simple answers for summer meal planning.
"The fixings that go with chicken and steaks and, of course, beer and light wines are always good to promote in the summer," he added.
Other big-selling items for adults should include powdered beverages, isotonic drinks, soft drinks and everything that goes with picnics. Also, in some rural areas, canning products, including such things as vinegar and sugar, are promoted with coupons and advertising in the summer, Acme's Mitchell said.
New items that are causing a buzz in the industry are different types of marinades that are replacing traditional barbecue sauces, Mattern of Plumb's said.
"French's and A-1 have new flavors, and shelf-stable salad dressings will also be cross-merchandised as a new type of marinade, particularly for chicken," he said.
Doug Murphy, director of grocery merchandising for Martin's Supermarkets, which has 16 stores around the headquarters location in South Bend, Ind., agreed that new meat marinades will be one of the hot selling items for the next few months and will be used in cross merchandising with fresh produce and with meats and chickens.
"Picnic themes will be big for the summer, which is usual, but there will be a few new types of barbecue fixings," Murphy said.
Some stores have traditional promotions that customers look forward to each year. In some Brown & Cole stores on the West Coast, each summer is ushered off with a live Maine lobster weekend over Memorial Day.
"That is a big draw for us and we tie in all sorts of things, from snacks to barbecue items to marinades," Puhan said. "We put things outside so it gets customers even while they are coming across the parking lot. It helps kick off the barbecue season for us. Then during the summer we have outdoor sales for the same reason," he added.
Brown & Cole gives an award to the store within the chain that can come up with the most impressive promotion for the summer.
"Last summer, the store in Blaine, Wash., which is a fishing community, won by building an entire wharf and cross-merchandising outdoor items around it," Puhan said. "Nobody knows what the winner might be this summer."