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Store visits in six metropolitan areas in late November and early December revealed vast differences in supermarkets' approaches to merchandising sell-through video.While some chains stocked all the top hits and many secondary titles in prominent displays, others had minimal amounts, with some small stores declining to carry the category.SN visited 25 stores of 19 chains to compile its report on fourth-quarter

Store visits in six metropolitan areas in late November and early December revealed vast differences in supermarkets' approaches to merchandising sell-through video.

While some chains stocked all the top hits and many secondary titles in prominent displays, others had minimal amounts, with some small stores declining to carry the category.

SN visited 25 stores of 19 chains to compile its report on fourth-quarter sell-through marketing. Competition from other supermarkets evidently weighed heavily in chains' merchandising decisions as entire markets were either strong or soft in sell-through. For example, while nearly all the stores in Atlanta and Philadelphia had disappointing presentations, most of those seen in Akron and Cleveland, Ohio; and Rochester and Buffalo, N. Y., went all out in their displays of video sell-through.

In the Akron and Cleveland areas SN visited Finast Friendly Markets stores of Tops Markets, Buffalo; Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh; Fred W. Albrecht Grocery Co., Akron; Buehler Food Markets, Wooster, Ohio; and Riser Foods, Bedford Heights, Ohio.

In the Atlanta area SN toured the Kroger Marketing Area of Kroger Co., Cincinnati; Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla.; Ingles Markets, Black Mountain, N.C.; the Atlanta division of A&P, Montvale, N.J.; Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla.; Cub Foods, Stillwater, Minn.; and Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C.

In the Philadelphia area SN visited the Super Fresh Food Markets division of A&P, Montvale, N.J.; the Malvern, Pa.-based Acme Markets division of American Stores, Salt Lake City; ShopRite stores affiliated with Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J.; Pathmark Stores, Woodbridge, N.J.; and Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa.

In western New York SN toured Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester; and Tops Friendly Markets, Buffalo.

In selecting stores to visit, SN focused on new and recently remodeled units, as well as those recommended by local industry sources as representative of the chains' merchandising efforts. Because SN's visits spanned Nov. 16 to Dec. 4, not all titles released in the fourth quarter were out in all stores and some may have already sold out. Stores' emphasis on titles reflects proximity to titles' release dates.

This survey will be continued in next week's SN issue. What follows is a look at chains in the Ohio and Philadelphia markets.

Northeast Ohio

Reflecting the growing influence of its parent Tops Markets, Finast Friendly Markets' sell-through program is gaining momentum with large in-line sections and prominent displays of shippers. Its fourth-quarter sell-through displays were among the biggest seen by SN in any of the six markets.

For example, a store at 21593 Lorain Rd. in the Cleveland suburb of Fairview Park, Ohio, had 20 different corrugated displays containing video product, with 19 clustered up front in the main promotional aisle of the store.

A second Finast store visited in the Akron suburb of Fairlawn, Ohio, at 3750 W. Market St., featured a 24-foot in-line section with an endcap adding another 12 feet, including its wings. A large cluster of corrugated displayers was in the front area of the store near the video aisle. Total inventory in this store exceeded 1,500 units.

"Men In Black" was displayed most prominently by Finast and appeared to be selling well, as it was in most stores visited by SN after the video's Nov. 25 street date. The hot Disney title of the period, "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas," which released Nov. 11, was featured on the front endcap and also on the large 360-piece four-sided permanent Disney display unit. It was also moving briskly.

Other key titles for Finast, as well as other chains, were "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," "Batman and Robin," "Liar Liar," "Jingle All The Way," "The Jungle Book" (the re-released animated version from Disney), "Free Willy 3" and "Oprah: Make the Connection."

Finast generally followed minimum advertised pricing on videos, with "Men in Black" at $15.95, "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas" at $16.95, "Batman and Robin" at $14.95 and "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" at $14.95.

The Giant Eagle store at 2775 W. Market St. in Fairlawn displayed nearly all its videos within its 3,000-square-foot Iggle Entertainment department. But three shippers were in the main supermarket just outside the entrance: a 60-piece displayer of "Men In Black," and 48-unit displays of "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" and "Free Willy 3."

Inside there were about 20 shippers, along with a number of titles displayed on endcaps, other permanent fixtures and 30 linear feet of regular shelving. Total sell-through inventory exceeded 2,000 units. "Men In Black" was shown most prominently, with four 60-piece shippers placed back-to-back near the checkout counter and the separate entrance from the parking lot. Two "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas" 48-piece units were immediately adjacent to the separate entrance.

A special grid display unit in the department was decorated in a jungle motif and contained the various jungle-themed titles out now like Disney's "Jungle Book" re-release, Disney's live-action "Jungle Book," Columbia TriStar's "The Second Jungle Book" and the Tim Allen movie "Jungle to Jungle." Other Disney titles were also displayed on the fixture or near it.

Pricing at Giant Eagle was also consistent with the MAP.

At the front of the department was a special display area featuring "Lost World," the first "Jurassic Park" and other dinosaur-themed titles.

The Rini Rego Marketplace of Riser Foods, Bedford Heights, Ohio, at 30275 Detroit Rd. in the Cleveland suburb of Westlake, Ohio, represents the significant progress this chain has made in sell-through video in the last year.

The centerpiece of the store's video program is a 4-foot two-sided grid rolling rack containing some 500 pieces of sell-through inventory. This included most of the hits, some catalog movies, Disney catalog titles "Old Yeller" and "Herbie the Love Bug."

Next to the rolling rack was a large freestanding Disney "Holiday Gift Shop" shipper that included "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas" and other holiday-themed titles like "Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too.

The Buehler Foods store at 3626 Medina Rd. in Medina, Ohio, which is near both Cleveland and Akron, displayed the fourth-quarter sell-through titles in a cluster of shippers outside the video-rental department located near the front entrance and in the main traffic pattern in the store.

"Men In Black" was the most heavily stocked with close to 200 units. Others included a 48-piece displayer of "Free Willy 3," a 72-unit shsipper of "Lost World" and 144 units of "Batman and Robin." Some shippers combined various titles, like "Jingle All the Way," "The Littlest Angel," "Annabelle's Wish," "A Christmas Carol" and "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas."

Inside the department, were two 4-foot grid rolling racks, one with previously viewed videos for sale and the other with new product, mostly catalog items. Buehler's prices followed MAP in most cases.

A recently remodeled Acme Fresh Market unit of the Fred W. Albrecht Grocery Co., Akron, Ohio, located at 3979 Medina Rd. in Fairlawn, had the smallest presentation of fourth-quarter sell-through in the area. But the selection and merchandising had improved since SN's last visit three months ago during the remodeling.

There were about 500 pieces of catalog sell-through in a 16-linear-foot area, including endcaps, and a number of smaller sized shippers. Notably, "Men In Black" was only offered from a small 12-piece counter display sitting on the front endcap.

The Acme store's prices were a cut above most of the competition. "Men In Black" was $16.88, "Beauty and the Beast" was $17.88 and "Lost World" was $15.88.

Philadelphia Metro Area

Selection and merchandising of fourth-quarter sell-through videos in the Philadelphia area supermarkets was disappointing when compared to chains in other regions. For example, a new Super Fresh store in Westmont, N.J., merchandised sell-through tapes on about 16 feet of wire racks running under the customer-service counter. There were 45 copies of "Liar Liar" that retailed well above MAP at $19.95; and 30 copies of "Sleeping Beauty" selling at $23.95. There were no shippers in this store.

A Super Fresh store in Marlton, N.J., also had a limited number sell-through videos sold from a 4-foot wire wall rack behind the customer-service desk. There were 12 copies of "Jungle Book" at $15.95, four copies of "Casper: A Spirited Beginning" at $16.99 and 20 copies of "Batman & Robin" at $19.95.

A clerk at the store said the sell-through tapes had just been moved behind the counter from floor shippers. This was done to stem a growing customer theft problem from shoppers outside the area, she added.

At an Acme Markets store at Kresson and White Horse Roads in Voorhees, N.J., several floor displays stocked with various sell-through gave the overall impression of a lively appearance. A 5-foot high, two-sided display contained children's sell-through titles, including "Batman & Robin" at $19.99.

A floor shipper contained other kids and family videos with three copies of "Sleeping Beauty" at $19.95 and 12 copies of "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas" at $19.99. Another floor shipper had 35 copies of "The Jungle Book" at $19.99 and 12 copies of "Sleeping Beauty" at $19.95.

A ShopRite store at State Highway 70 in Marlton, N.J., had an abbreviated assortment of sell-through tapes. They were contained in 2 feet of space on a gondola next to blank audio and video tapes, close to greeting cards and health and beauty care. Among the recent titles was four copies of "The Jungle Book" at $16.95. A clerk said the store didn't carry much sell-through video because of competition from nearby Borders and Blockbuster stores.

In a Pathmark at Conshohocken and Monument Roads in Philadelphia, two 48-piece holiday shippers with children's sell-through videos were merchandised at the start of the video-rental racks. But none of these titles were of the most recent sell-through hits.

Nearby was a 4-foot, two-sided slant wire rack with 12 copies of "Free Willy 3" at $19.95, 17 copies of "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas" at $20.95, plus other children's titles. There also was a 50-piece shipper of "Men In Black," which was priced at $15.95.

At the Genuardi's Family Markets store at 950 West Baltimore Pike in Springfield, Pa., sell-through displays were featured on two endcaps in front of the video-rental area. The sell-through selection included four copies of "Beauty and the Beast" priced at $17.99, four copies of "Men In Black" at $15.95, three copies of "Free Willy 3" at $15.95, three copies of "Mrs. Santa Claus" at $17.99, three copies of "Liar Liar" at $14.95, four copies of "Batman and Robin" at $14.95 and three copies of "Jungle Book" at $12.99.