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While canned foods may not be the most glamorous category in Center Store, these universally consumed staples are getting some well-deserved promotional attention from both retailers and the canned industry.Canned food may suffer from some degree of benign neglect because, although sales are huge, they do not fluctuate much from year to year.According to Donald Stuart, a partner at Cannondale Associates,

While canned foods may not be the most glamorous category in Center Store, these universally consumed staples are getting some well-deserved promotional attention from both retailers and the canned industry.

Canned food may suffer from some degree of benign neglect because, although sales are huge, they do not fluctuate much from year to year.

According to Donald Stuart, a partner at Cannondale Associates, headquartered in Wilton, Conn., canned staples are traditionally associated with blue-collar shoppers.

"The product needs to be freshened in consumers' minds," he said, noting that the category continues to fight the perception that it is the antithesis of fresh.

The Canned Food Alliance, Washington, no doubt in response to the downscale stereotype, labeled canned as "fashionable food" in shopping-cart ads that were part of this year's Canned Food Month promotion. The ad pictured a stylishly dressed woman holding a well-turned-out plate of food in one hand and a steel can in the other. "What's in the can will surprise you," the ad asserted.

The alliance also sponsored a canned-food fashion show, in which celebrities and well-known chefs strolled down a culinary runway with a dish made from canned ingredients. The event was held at the Fashion Cafe Restaurant in New York, said Melissa Murphy, a spokeswoman for the organization.

Bob Lutz, director of merchandising at Certified Grocers of California in Los Angeles, pointed out another negative stereotype about canned: "The canned-food industry continues to suffer from [consumers'] misconceptions about the nutritional benefits and freshness [of canned foods]," he said.

"The nice thing about canned items is that they can be positioned to tie in with home-meal replacement," Stuart noted.

Indeed, some retailers are promoting canned items as components of meal solutions. For example, during this year's National Canned Food Month, Giant Food, Landover, Md., partnered with the Canned Food Alliance to promote canned foods in Kids Corner, the retailer's newsletter for children.

Meg Scherpereel, a spokeswoman for the alliance, said that February's newsletter pointed out the convenience and nutritiousness of canned foods, especially through the winter months; gave some recycling tips; and provided a minestrone recipe that featured canned goods.

At Russo's Stop-N-Shop, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, canned foods are cross merchandised as meal solutions in various parts of the store, according to Chuck Caplan, store manager. For example, kidney beans may be stacked near the chili meat, while garbanzo beans may end up in produce, next to the lettuce and other salad fixings.

Russo's has its own demo crew, said Caplan, and most recipes they cook in-store feature canned goods.

"We use five or six items in a demo, and we use canned quite a bit. There are lots of new products, and people will try them, but they like to go back to the standard [canned] items," he said.

G&R Felpausch, Hastings, Mich., also includes canned items in meal-solution promotions. "We do recipe promotions quite often with creamy soups," said Bruce Colvin, category manager for grocery, frozen and dairy. "We put all the ingredients on an endcap or display piece, so the shopper can get everything she needs and doesn't have to traipse up and down the aisle," he said.

The chain does a meal-solution promotion at least once a month, and more often in the fall or winter.

The Canned Food Alliance, a new consortium of can makers, steel producers and some food processors, plans to focus on meal solutions during next year's promotions.

Robert Fatzinger, executive director for the alliance, told SN that the alliance has replaced the now-defunct Steel Packaging Council and Canned Food Information Council.

The alliance will continue the industry's mission to promote canned foods through advertising and public relations campaigns targeted directly at consumers, he said. But what's new is that there will also be a strong focus on reaching the consumer at the point of purchase, explained Melissa Murphy.

This year the alliance has contacted 50% of supermarkets nationwide as part of its effort to build relationships with consumer affairs departments. According to Murphy, the alliance is testing ideas for next year's Canned Food Month promotion. "This week and next week we will do a round of conference calls [with supermarkets]," Murphy told SN during a recent interview.

Part of next year's promotion will be a marketing kit that includes art work, logos and recipe ideas. The alliance will provide retailers with materials that they can use for their own Web sites or customer mailings, Murphy said. In addition, the group is planning follow-up promotions that may include themes like food safety, back-to-school snack ideas and holiday recipes.

The alliance is also promoting meal solutions on-line with its new Web site, At the Web site is a Can-Do Cookbook, which provides recipes in the areas of soups, salads and appetizers; side dishes; entrees; and desserts. In addition, Jacques Pepin showcases a recipe using canned ingredients on the Featured Chef page of the Web site.

The alliance also uses the Web site to educate consumers about the health benefits of canned food. One page is devoted to findings of a study done by the University of Illinois Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition on canned food. According to the report, most canned foods provide the same nutritional value as their frozen and fresh counterparts.

While many retailers have the perception that canned-food sales are flat, statistics from Information Resources Inc., Chicago, show that sales in supermarkets were up in six of eight categories tracked for the 52-week period ended June 21, 1998. At the same time, unit sales were down or flat in all eight categories, except for vegetables.

Canned and bottled vegetables were up 1.9% in dollar sales in supermarkets, to $2.2 billion, while soup was up 2.1% in supermarkets, to $2.7 billion.

Canned lunch meats were up 3.1% in dollar sales, to $186 million; canned meat was up 1.3%, to $366 million; canned tuna was up 2.8% to $1.6 billion; and canned and bottled fruit was up 2.9%, to $1.5 billion.

Salmon was down by 5.4% but still accounted for $137 million in sales, while canned juices were down 8.2%, to $724 million.

Supermarkets are promoting canned items regularly, according to the retailers SN spoke with.

John Cordero, vice president of grocery buying and advertising for K.V. Mart, Carson, Calif., said that he participates in as many promotions for canned foods as he is offered by brokers. In addition, he buys in large quantities so that he can give customers hot prices for longer periods of time.

"We buy truckloads of Springfield [private-label] when we can -- whole kernel corn, green beans and limited mixed vegetables," he said. "Springfield has had an ongoing deal for the last quarter or more, and they will come back [with a deal] in the fall, that's still competitive, if not as deep."

Since K.V. Mart serves a primarily Hispanic customer base, 26-ounce cans of jalepeno peppers from La Costena and Faron, 106-ounce cans of hominy from Juanita and Faron, and canned nectars from Kerns or Jumex are popular in this market.

K.V. Mart makes use of endcap displays and a wall of values to merchandise these items when they are on promotion.

Doug Murphy, director of grocery merchandising at Martin's Super Markets, South Bend, Ind., noted that since the vegetable market has been solid, he has been able to maintain good sales through aggressive pricing. He promotes canned items weekly.

"This time of year we promote less," he noted, "because of all the fresh fruits and vegetables available."

In addition to its meal-solution promotions, Felpausch puts canned top of mind with a large two-week fall event, usually held at the end of September or the beginning of October. The heart of the promotion, which is billed as a harvest sale, is canned fruits and vegetables, said Colvin.

Russo's augments its cross merchandising and demos on behalf of canned with new item shelf displays that often feature canned goods. Caplan of Russo's said the new item remains on the display at least two weeks, and sometimes up to a month. The display also directs consumers to where in the aisle the new item can be found.