TRAVELING LIGHT

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- Retailers have seen the future of travel and convenience displays of health and beauty care products, and it is in carded, peggable blister packages.Many of the retailers and wholesalers interviewed during the HBC Marketing Conference, held here this month by the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo., said they have either already changed to blister

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- Retailers have seen the future of travel and convenience displays of health and beauty care products, and it is in carded, peggable blister packages.

Many of the retailers and wholesalers interviewed during the HBC Marketing Conference, held here this month by the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo., said they have either already changed to blister packs, or are considering it. Some use a combination of the cards and bulk, while some are looking at combination packages of items like a toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash. There are a few still using bulk displays, while others don't carry the products at all because of space constraints.

Nearly all agreed that the primary target customer for these products was the travel or convenience-oriented customer, and very few use the small sizes to sample brands, many of which are long established, like Crest toothpaste and Tylenol.

The first supermarket known to put in the blister packs was Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif., in the late 1990s, said industry sources. The program is still in place, SN found in store visits. However, now a long list of leading retailers has joined the trend to prepackaged items, the sources said. These include Kroger, Ahold, Safeway, Supervalu, Albertsons, Meijer, Spartan, C&S, A&P, Hy-Vee and many others.

"Travel sizes will continue to grow," said Sue Vodika, HBC buyer and category manager, Bashas', Chandler, Ariz. "I think the mix will change now because all the categories are trying to get on board." Among the examples she cited are baby wipes, eye care solutions and vitamins. "Every category will be in that travel section within the next two years," she said.

"We went from four-foot to eight-foot, and it is an excellent category for us. My consumer base is made up of traveling people, many with two homes," Vodika said.

Stores in vacation locations have an obvious need for travel and convenience items, noted Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Retail Marketing, Libertyville, Ill. Yet for mainstream stores in other areas, "there clearly is some seasonal advantage to it, and these are items that people like to pick up and have around, and stock their pantry with to have available in the event that they might be traveling," he said.

While oral care remains the biggest segment of travel sizes with 27% of sales in supermarkets, and hair care is second at 16%, OTC products -- especially analgesics -- were a surprising third at 12%, said Jim Groves, president, Convenience Valet, Melrose Park, Ill., a supplier of the packaged programs.

"We recently revamped the items that we were carrying," said a nonfood executive with a Texas retailer, who asked to not be identified. "The drugs and sinus items seemed to be doing better than the shampoos and hair sprays, so we added a few more of those and dropped some of the beauty care items."

Retailers interviewed by SN confirmed that they prefer the peggable blister-pack type of program because it solves many of the problems inherent in bulk displays: inconsistent supply of specific items, messy bins when products sell down, and a single source managing and servicing the section according to a planogram.

As many as 12 different buyers could be involved in supplying product for a bulk display, Groves said. "It was a badly managed category. But I think aesthetics had a lot to do with our kind of program growing so fast," he said.

K-VA-T Food Stores, Abingdon, Va., used to display travel sizes in bulk bins, but the category didn't meet expectations, said David Lowe, director of GM/HBC. "We went to a package that is blister-packed and carded and planogrammed. Today, it is doing very, very well for us," he said.

"The category for us is fairly steady," said Jay Goble, vice president of merchandising, Valu Merchandisers Co., Kansas City, Kan. "It's a peggable, carded program in our world today. The retailers we serve find it more convenient to peg the product as opposed to using the baskets," he said.

Some said they are currently reviewing the category with an eye toward adding more of the combination packages that have come down in price recently, retailers said. "The kits are getting down in price to where you can have a retail close to that of the small trial size of carded shampoos and mouthwashes," said Dan Spears, HBC/GM merchandising director, Ingles Markets, Asheville, N.C.

Supervalu, Eden Prairie, Minn., also is "intrigued" by the larger "grab-and-go, plug-and-play" packs with several related items, said Doug Schwab, corporate director, wholesale health and beauty care. "It is more of a convenience with multiple items within one package."

Supervalu has tried bulk displays, and now has carded prepacks. "Our current program is planogrammed in a pegged section, but we think there are opportunities to look at different configurations, such as power panels at secondary locations that would cater to impulse and the travel consumer," Schwab said.

Ingles, on the other hand, has a mix of bulk and carded displays, Spears said. The trouble with bulk displays is the store will have so many individual items that by putting in a new item, the clean-up is always a problem. "You don't want to be stuck with what you have left of the old item," he said.

Spears sees the combination prepacks as a way of avoiding what he described as "the airport look -- having everything in single-serve carded items."

Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif., uses a service program to take care of its convenience-size sections, which are mostly in bulk bins, said Tony Pooler, director of HBC/GM. "We gave up some margin, but we broadened our selection. The service organization comes in and keeps that section filled up, looking good, and up to date all the time," he said.

"Previously, one of the problems was you couldn't maintain a schematic because availability was haphazard -- it depended on what was out there. So we think we have the right formula now, and the sales are improving," Pooler said.

While most agreed that the primary customer for these small HBC packages is the traveler, some see customers seeking them out for everyday use.

For example, Associated Wholesalers, York, Pa., uses bulk displays of travel sizes, but mainly in vacation areas, said Charles Yahn, vice president, Non-Foods Division. However, "I see people being more cautious in their spending, and buying travel sizes and using them more than they have. I think our sales [in travel sizes] are up right now, and we are getting more demand for them," he said.

The Texas nonfood executive doubted there were many travelers in his marketing area. "I think it is more people who need a quick fix, and don't want to spend $3 or $4 on something from the shelf."

Yet Larry Ishii, general manager, GM/HBC, Unified Western Grocers, Commerce, Calif., said, "The ongoing, day-to-day business is more travel, or people who just want a small size of hair spray for their purse." Ishii added that many smaller independent retailers don't have room for this category.