TOPS' SYMBOL PUSHES STRAWBERRIES

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Strawberries are better at Tops Friendly Markets here -- because Walter says so. At least that's the claim made in a recent full-page newspaper ad, which featured California strawberries for 88 cents per pound. The ad, which ran in area newspapers in mid-April, included a statement proclaiming the quality of the strawberries at Tops. The statement was signed by Walter, a fictional

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Strawberries are better at Tops Friendly Markets here -- because Walter says so. At least that's the claim made in a recent full-page newspaper ad, which featured California strawberries for 88 cents per pound. The ad, which ran in area newspapers in mid-April, included a statement proclaiming the quality of the strawberries at Tops. The statement was signed by Walter, a fictional spokesman who serves as the company's "quality control symbol" in its produce advertisements, according to a local observer. "Walter stands as a symbol of Tops' commitment to excellence and freshness," the observer said.

"He gives his seal of approval to certain produce items to show that Tops is striving to have the best produce in town," said the observer. In addition to newspaper ads, Walter's name and voice appear in television commercials promoting produce at Tops, the source said, but an actual person never appears. The strawberry ad shows a photo of a gloved hand holding a large berry. Above the photo is the statement: "I'm mighty picky about strawberries. California strawberries are the best! The California berry is noted for its rich red color, firm texture and sweet flavor. "So sweet in fact, that they are rated superior to berries grown in southern climates. Taste the difference. I like these," the statement continues. Tops operates 61 supermarkets in New York and one in Pennsylvania. Company representatives were unavailable to comment on the ad.