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RESTON, Va. (FNS) -- Advertising and merchandising campaigns that make independents stand out in markets increasingly dominated by large chains took top honors in this year's Creative Choice Awards.K-VA-T Food Stores, Abingdon, Va., won Best of Show in advertising, and Fresh Encounter, Findlay, Ohio, took Best of Show in merchandising in the fifth annual awards program.The Creative Choice Awards are

RESTON, Va. (FNS) -- Advertising and merchandising campaigns that make independents stand out in markets increasingly dominated by large chains took top honors in this year's Creative Choice Awards.

K-VA-T Food Stores, Abingdon, Va., won Best of Show in advertising, and Fresh Encounter, Findlay, Ohio, took Best of Show in merchandising in the fifth annual awards program.

The Creative Choice Awards are hosted by the National Grocers Association and Food Distributors International, and are sponsored by Unilever HPC and Georgia-Pacific.

Tom Hembree, senior vice president, marketing, at the 86-store K-VA-T chain, said the winning campaign, "Food City -- The Food Experts," which also was named best advertising campaign, contrasted K-VA-T's stores and their emphasis on food, with such stores as Wal-Mart Supercenters.

"We are seeing more large supercenters coming into our area, so we felt it was time to concentrate on them," Hembree said.

The campaign began last fall and is still running, using print ads, radio and television spots, and in-store materials.

The ads use a humorous touch to point out that K-VA-T stores don't sell tires or other general merchandise categories, but instead focus on food. The response from both customers and associates in the stores has been good, Hembree noted.

Fresh Encounter repeated its win from last year with the Best in Show merchandising award, this year for the entry that won the best nonfood merchandising category, "Mother's Day Flower Sale." Fresh Encounter also won the best center-store merchandising category

The 29-store chain's annual Mother's Day flower sale features the usual cut flowers and potted plants in the floral department, but also ties in mass displays of hundreds of flats of annual bedding plants outside the stores, said Eric Anderson, vice president, marketing.

"The displays get bigger every year. It has great curb appeal," he noted. "Sales have increased exponentially every year" in the five years the chain has been tying in bedding plant sales with Mother's Day.

Fresh Encounter uses Euro-style produce tables, crates and temporary display shelving to mass the colorful annuals outside the stores. The displays, he added, "are high maintenance," requiring a lot of watering and other attention, and Fresh Encounter also has staff outside to help customers carry the plants to their cars.

Mass displays are something of a signature item for Fresh Encounter. The winning entry in the center-store merchandising category was an end cap of Del Monte canned vegetables set up as a Halloween haunted castle, large enough at 10 by 5 feet for small children to crawl inside, Anderson said.

That display was part of Fresh Encounter's program to do creative end caps in its stores about every two weeks. The chain started running contests last fall to see which store can produce the most interesting displays with cash awards to the staff in the three winning stores.

"We expected to get about 26 vendors to participate, but it's closer to 40," said Anderson. Sometimes there are two displays a week, or displays every week instead of every other week. The featured products are prominently included in the chain's advertising as well.

The contests have fostered "friendly competition among the stores. There's even some spying going on," Anderson said.

A side benefit has been higher employee enthusiasm and lower turnover. "We've found turnover has dropped in the stores that consistently win. The kids have a stake in the effort, and the prize money is pretty substantial," sometimes topping a month's pay.

This year's Creative Choice competition produced a number of other winners in more than one category.

Fleming, Dallas, won awards for the best television commercial and best radio commercial.

The television award was for an image-building campaign for the wholesaler's recently redesigned Best Yet private-label line. The campaign started in February 2000 and is continuing in some markets.

Designed around the Frank Sinatra tune "The Best Is Yet to Come," the campaign, said Buddy Martensen, director, retail marketing services, focused on a quality image for the private label, leaving the price message for the point of purchase, "where price becomes an additional benefit."

Fleming's radio spot winner was a grand opening ad for the Yes! Less group of stores. Yes! Less is a Fleming prototype of a value-oriented store, Martensen said, and eight of the units opened in markets north of Dallas. The ads ran last June. Yoke's Washington Foods, Spokane, with nine stores in eastern Washington and Idaho, won for the best pre-printed insert and best public service campaign.

The public service campaign, "Hope to Benefit MS," donated 5 per cent of one day's sales in February to multiple sclerosis research.

Denny York, senior vice president, said the company picked that cause because Spokane has the second highest incidence of multiple sclerosis in the world.

In the campaign's first year, February 2000, Yoke's raised $21,000 and this past February, the campaign raised over $25,000, York said.

The chain teams with local professional athletes and with the Gonzaga University basketball team to publicize the event with radio and television spots and billboards. Print ads feature photos of MS patients and tell their stories.

Yoke's winning preprint insert publicized a new store and format for the chain, Yoke's Fresh Market, which opened in May 2000 in the town of Green Bluff north of Spokane.

Yoke's met with about 27 different produce growers in that area before the store was built, said York, with the idea of tying the store to the local agricultural economy.

Mock signposts in the store indicate how to reach not only in-store perimeter departments but also give the distance to the orchards and farms whose produce is prominently featured at the store.

The winning advertising insert borrowed the signpost idea to show how far the new store was from various housing subdivisions on the north side of Spokane, said York.

The insert was distributed about six months after the store opened and "drew in new customers from six or seven miles away. Sales increased 14 percent that week," and many of those customers have stayed, he noted.

Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., also won two NGA advertising awards, for best company-to-company marketing presentation and best Web site.

Nash Finch Co., Minneapolis, won the best private-label merchandising event with its "Signature Item Program," a campaign for its proprietary brands in perimeter departments. The winning entry featured the program in an Econofoods store in Marshalltown, Iowa.

Jim Dorcy, vice president of marketing for the wholesaler, noted the Signature brands program is still being rolled out and includes such brands as Old World Smokehouse in deli, Chicken on the Go, Ready-Set-Go prepared entrees and meals, and Fresh Accents prepared packaged produce items.

The next stage of the program, he added, will be a Signature Partners arrangement pairing a grocery company with a private-label perishable brand. Nash Finch's signature Sinfully Good cinnamon rolls are currently being teamed with Proctor & Gamble's Folger's coffee using in-store displays and stickers on the cinnamon rolls packages. The fresh Bernini pizzas in the deli department are being merchandised with Coca-Cola products.

Associated Wholesale Grocers, Kansas City, Kan., and the Hen House chain, a 15-store customer of the wholesaler, received the award for best item-price newspaper ad, a "Carmen Miranda 10c Produce Sale," a week-long event in January 2000.

The full-page ad featured a model posing as Carmen Miranda with an array of interesting produce items.

"We wanted to capture the customer's imagination, and Hen House, which has a quality image in the market, also wanted to drive a price message," said Barry Nelson, AWG director of advertising.

"We do a lot of [flier] covers that are high-impact, single-item, such as Copper River salmon dressed as Elvis, to cut through the clutter," he noted.

Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City, won in the best black-and-white print ad category for a corporate citizenship style ad as a sponsor of the Weber State University basketball team program.

The ad used a 100-year-old photo of a basketball team to emphasize the old-fashioned values and prices of AFS and the four supermarkets it supplies in the Ogden, Utah, area.

But, as Bret Gallacher, communications manager and co-developer of the ad with creative manager Shane Hopkins, put it, since the target audience was a college-age community, they added a touch of humor. Each player had a thought bubble with a serious thought above his head, "until we got to the end of the line where there was a goofy-looking kid. His bubble said 'Who farted?"'

"It's not the mainstream ad we're used to doing, but we got a lot of response," Gallacher said.

Kowalski's Cos., Woodbury, Minn., received the best nonprice or consumer value print ad award for a newspaper ad, "Better Things to Hold Onto." The ad features a mother and small daughter walking across the store's busy parking lot. The mother holds her daughter's hand, while a Kowalski's courtesy carryout helper brings the groceries.

Bob Kowalski, vice president, marketing communications, said the ad first ran about a year ago and has run a couple of times since then.

"We are a full-service store, not price-point emphasis," and the ad helps to emphasize that image, he said.

Town & Country Markets won the best grand opening or special event ad category with a grand-opening direct-mail piece for its new store in Shoreline, Wash., which opened in January 2000.

The mailer was folded like a map and opened to illustrate the various departments and their locations in the store.

"The mailer positioned the store as a destination food store," said D.W. Green, president and CEO of DW Green Co., Phoenix, the marketing company that did the piece.

The other winners in the Creative Choice Awards contest were URM Stores, Spokane, best color print ad; Sobey's, Toronto, best private-label ad; G & R Felpausch Co., Hastings, Mich., best frequent shopper or target marketing campaign; and Roundy's and Pick 'n Save, Milwaukee, best execution of a destination center.

Other winners were Thriftway, Seattle, best fresh foods merchandising; Price Chopper, Russellville, Ark., best single-manufacturer merchandising event; and Harmon City, West Valley City, Utah, best theme merchandising event.

TAGS: Center Store