A VIGOROUS MARCH

National Frozen Food Month is over, but retailers won't be shipping their penguins back to the South Pole with their tails between their legs. Frozen food sales jumped 3.7% in March, the largest increase ever realized for National Frozen Food Month, according to A.C. Nielsen Co., Schaumburg, Ill.These positive results are not surprising to retailers and industry insiders contacted by SN, many of whom

National Frozen Food Month is over, but retailers won't be shipping their penguins back to the South Pole with their tails between their legs. Frozen food sales jumped 3.7% in March, the largest increase ever realized for National Frozen Food Month, according to A.C. Nielsen Co., Schaumburg, Ill.

These positive results are not surprising to retailers and industry insiders contacted by SN, many of whom called National Frozen Food Month the most effective whole-aisle promotion in the industry. They praised the efforts of the National Frozen Food Association, Harrisburg, Pa., which produced a 64-page booklet and display materials to help retailers plan and implement the event. NFFA also sponsors the Golden Penguin awards to encourage retailer participation.

"I think it's one of the better ones," said Dean Allen, director of merchandising at Petrini's Markets, San Rafael, Calif., "because all of the frozen food is located in one aisle. It's easier to decorate the store and tie in the department."

"It's one of the stronger ones," agreed Brian Anderson, buyer and category manager for frozen food at Quality Food Centers, Bellevue, Wash., "We normally just stick to our own promotional format, but this is one of the few that we do."

After contacting several regional frozen food associations throughout the country, SN found that the best promotions usually occurred in areas where food industry executives worked together to ensure participation from retailers and manufacturers.

"This year, all of the major [Detroit] accounts and chains utilized the penguin materials and the 'Leading the Way' [slogan]," said Joe Yurasek, president of the Greater Detroit Frozen Food Committee.

According to Yurasek, the committee stressed cooperation in the presentation it made to retailers in the fall: "Let's tie this whole thing together, utilize the point-of-sale materials and tie it in with the March theme," Yurasek told his accounts.

In northeastern Ohio, site of this year's national kickoff, cooperation between manufacturers and retailers was strong as well.

"We had three coupon handout booklets that were distributed throughout frozen food month on a noncompetitive basis to all of our retail customers," said Joe Perrow, president of the Northeast Ohio Frozen Food Association.

To encourage participation from retailers, regional and state frozen food associations created their own incentive programs to coincide with NFFA's Golden Penguin awards. Jim Lewis, president of the Arizona Frozen Food Council, attributed his region's high level of success to a display contest the council offered.

"We're giving out 30 cash prizes. We had over 200 entries; almost half the stores in our marketplace submitted an entry," said Lewis.

Jay Prisco, administrator of the Frozen Food Council of Northern California, told SN his council offered a "Find the Penguin" sweepstakes to encourage retailer and customer participation. "By the penguin that they attach, we know which retailer they clipped it from. So we go to Safeway, Lucky, Raley's, Save Mart, or Albertson's or IGA and we say, 'You had a winner. Here is $1,000, now give us 40 $25 gift certificates for your store.' "

Areas with well-organized state and regional associations drew support from manufacturers.

"We had 25 manufacturers," said Arizona's Lewis, "five of them that bought full-page ads."

"With 24 participants in the program -- dealing from ice cream to pizza -- we kind of covered the gamut," Prisco of the northern California group told SN.

The southern part of California received strong manufacturer support as well.

"This year's total participation hit an all-time high of 31 coupons sold," said Debra Van Der Weide, executive director of the Southern California Frozen Food Council.

Fred Krahl, category manager, merchandiser and buyer at Acme Supermarkets, Akron, Ohio, said he was satisfied with the number of manufacturers who participated in his area, but he told SN that price cuts "could always be deeper and the manufacturers could always support them more."

A buyer from a major Atlanta chain was critical of some of the products on promotion during the month: "A lot of manufacturers come at you with low-volume things they want to grow, but you'd be better off growing one that was moving 300 or 400 [cases] and just growing it twofold."

Newspapers, according to those contacted by SN, were the most popular medium used to promote frozen food month.

The Frozen Food Council of Georgia ran a 15-page insert in early March, but according to Craig Thurman, council president, "the insert was the biggest part of the promotion."

The council did not play an active role in planning frozen food month. However, Thurman, an account executive on the staff of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was able to put together the supplement with ads from Winn-Dixie Stores, Kroger Co., Ingles Markets, A&P and Cub Foods.

One buyer at a major Atlanta chain told SN his chain ran ads in the Atlanta Journal supplement, but also featured the frozen food month theme in its other weekly ads.

Other state and regional frozen food associations used a combination of promotional vehicles to reach consumers.

The Frozen Food Council of Washington gave away five $1,000 band awards to western Washington high school bands who collected the most Universal Product Codes from frozen items promoted during the month.

"We had a concentration on television," said Bill Stewart, president of the Washington group. "We featured Professor Penguin, who is our symbol. He was the leader of the band."

Prisco said the northern California council used newspaper and direct mail to promote frozen food month. The southern California group focused on reaching consumers through manufacturers' coupons.

"More than 13 million manufacturers' coupons were distributed on the first and third weekends in March by demonstrators in the frozen food aisles of 1,200 top-volume stores [in southern California]," said Van Der Weide.

The Arizona group used radio and a newspaper insert to attract consumers to its sweepstakes. "We gave away a trip to Hawaii," said Lewis, "and we also had a tie-in with baseball spring training, where people sent entry forms for their child to have a chance to be a bat boy for a day at one of the spring training games." A radio and newspaper campaign also helped the Minnesota Frozen Food Association attract 200,000 consumers to its freezer giveaway.

"We got an eight-page insert into the local papers," Jerry Marshall, the group's president, told SN. "We dropped that in the first week in March and followed that up with more radio stations." This year the South Florida Frozen Food Association set up an 800 number with the local papers to record entries for its sweepstakes. "The newspapers ran an advertisement telling the shoppers to look for the frozen food month coupons. There was also a giveaway of $1,000 in free groceries," said Rick Siesing, association president. "The newspapers handled the drawing, and they announced the winners in the ad that had all the coupons in it."