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With National Frozen Food Month just 25 days away, local frozen-food groups are teaming up with retailers to promote the March extravaganza."Eating In Is Cool. . . Where You Want! When You Want It!" is the Eastern Frosted Food Association's clarion call to kick off the regional promotional campaign."This year we're taking a totally different approach, in that we're trying to convince consumers to

With National Frozen Food Month just 25 days away, local frozen-food groups are teaming up with retailers to promote the March extravaganza.

"Eating In Is Cool. . . Where You Want! When You Want It!" is the Eastern Frosted Food Association's clarion call to kick off the regional promotional campaign.

"This year we're taking a totally different approach, in that we're trying to convince consumers to eat at home," said Michael Ryan, executive director for EFFA.

EFFA's theme is the basis for a Festival '97 brochure that has ad space for 30 participating manufacturers.

"[Manufacturers] can choose to put recipes in, or serving suggestions, or information on the cost of a serving. But we're asking them to focus on the theme and talk about it," Ryan said.

EFFA plans to distribute about 7.5 million brochures to participating retailers, including Waldbaum's, Wakefern Food Corp., Pathmark Stores, Big V Supermarkets, Key Food, King Kullen, Kings Super Markets, Super Fresh, A&P, Associated Food Stores, Grand Union Co. and Red Apple Cos.

When interviewed in mid-January, most retailers told SN that they had not started planning their NFFM promotions. There were some, though, who got off to an early start.

"We've surveyed our department managers for input on decorations," said Mark Capicotto, director of frozen foods and dairy at Big V in Florida, N.Y.

"We've accumulated decorative pieces over the years, so they will use national point-of-sale material, as well as artwork of their own," he said.

For example, one of the chain's department managers recycles the motors from discarded display pieces and puts them into his own motorized creations for NFFM.

Four Big V stores will host a Saturday dance party, complete with a disc jockey and customer participation. "We do a bag stuffer two weeks before [to announce the event]," Capicotto said, noting that stores get an "overwhelming" response .

Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., hosts the NFFM kickoff dinner for western Massachusetts. Val Vivenzio, Big Y's director of frozen food and dairy, is also vice president of the New England Frozen Food Association.

The retailer intends to fully participate in NFFM with displays, in-store demos, promotions and advertising. "We participate in about 90% of the association's functions," Vivenzio noted.

While most local organizations are sticking with the national "Discover the Best" theme to build their promotions and displays, there's no dearth of creativity when it comes to marketing angles.

For example, the Frozen Food Council of Northern California is running a direct-mail piece in Spanish targeted to 2 million consumers identified as Hispanic Americans. "We will be doing remote broadcasts on the newest Hispanic station in town," explained Jay Prisco, the council's administrator.

"We find the Hispanic community to be very brand loyal. [Previously], we didn't have the finances or the capability to tap into that group. We now have a radio station that will work with us," Prisco explained.

About six Safeway stores are slated for the Hispanic option. Prisco explained that the council works to promote everyone during NFFM -- big chains, small chains and independents.

The council plans to drop its coupons for NFFM in the Sunday comics on two dates. "It's bigger circulation, free color, and better readership," Prisco noted.

In another innovative program, it will run what it calls "30-30" radio spots. "We run a 30-second spot, and tag participating retailers with the other 30 seconds," said Prisco. Retailers include Safeway, Lucky Stores, Albertson's, Raley's Supermarkets, Save Mart Supermarkets, IGA, Nob Hill Foods and Centro Mart.

The Southern California Frozen Food Council, meanwhile, is targeting its theme toward busy consumers, focusing on keeping food dollars in supermarkets, not takeout restaurants. Its "Easy Home Cookin' -- Get Frozen" program includes in-store coupons, distribution of 7.2 million coupons, store signage, freezer door clings, radio promotions, retail display contests and cash-prize giveaways.

As for giveaways, two frozen-food councils are partnering with local hockey teams to provide customers with unique prizes. "We are giving away 50 spots in the Phoenix Coyotes' Kids' Clinic," said Tom Osterman, president of the Arizona Frozen Food Council and account executive for Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream.

"[Winners] get a two-hour session on the ice with one of the Coyotes and a coach. There's an autograph signing party afterward," Osterman explained.

The Arizona Council is also promoting through a supermarket sweep, in which consumers will race each other down the frozen-food aisle to collect packages with winning logos inside. Winners get a $102 dollar shopping spree, and the chain donates the same amount to the Check Out Hunger program.

In keeping with the hockey theme, manufacturers are invited to sponsor a "slap shot" at a game. Winning customers try their luck at center ice, and the chain donates $100 for each shot. Manufacturers win sponsorship by taking a full-page ad.

Retail chains participating with the Arizona Frozen Food Council are Abco Foods, Albertson's, Bashas' Markets, Fry's Food Stores of Arizona, Safeway, Smith's Food & Drug Centers, Smitty's Super Valu, IGA and Southwest Supermarkets.

In San Antonio, the South Texas Frozen Food Association will partner with a minor-league hockey team, the Iguanas, in a "Savings on Ice" program, according to the Association's president, Lou Alvarado, who also heads the frozen-food division of Tower Marketing. Consumers who buy promoted items will have a chance to win a free ticket to a hockey game.

Participating chains in south Texas are Super S Foods and H.E. Butt Grocery Co.

The Central Florida Frozen Food Association kicks off its March event with a dinner this month for retailers, brokers, manufacturers and media. On March 3, it will host the Make a Wish Golf Outing and Silent Auction, which raises money for the Make a Wish Foundation. The organization grants the requests of terminally ill children.

"We got involved with Make a Wish about four or five years ago," explained Craig West, CFFFA president and brand manager for Budd Mayer Co. "To date we've raised about $62,000." Last year, the Association made it possible for one child to attend private school.

CFFFA has signed up Publix Super Markets, Winn-Dixie Stores, Kash n' Karry, Albertson's, U-Save Foods and Gooding's Supermarkets as participants.

The Minnesota Frozen Food Association will run radio spots, full-color ads in major newspapers, and a sweepstakes in which a consumer will win a trip to Knotts Berry Farm. In addition, customers can redeem labels of participating manufacturers and get discounts on admission to Camp Snoopy, an amusement park in the Mall of America.

"We've always had a successful month of March," said Jerry Marshall, Association committee member and vice president of Fist Brokerage in Minnetonka. "And we're expecting it will be every bit as successful this year."

Participating retailers and wholesalers include Supervalu, Rainbow Foods, Fleming Cos., Byerly's, Fairway Foods, and Nash Finch Co.

Pete the Penguin will share billing with animals from the Shrine Circus at stores participating with the Spokane Frozen Food Council, according to past president Doug Poffenroth, and kids will get free tickets to sit under the big top.

"We've had double-digit growth in the last few years, according to [Information Resources Inc.]," he added. He's been tracking sales from March to March and expects this trend to continue.

Stores participating with the council are Rosauers Supermarkets, Excell Foods, Tidyman's, Yoke's Washington Foods, Harvest Foods, and Thrift Way Stores. Norm Borden, buyer for frozen and grocery for Nickel's Payless Stores in Visalia, Calif., said his stores plan to advertise during NFFM, though he was not sure to what extent.

Brookshire Bros. in Lufkin, Texas, is planning a one-week, 20%-off promotion, said Mark Duke, frozens buyer.

At least one buyer expressed disappointment with vendor support for NFFM, while another has stopped promoting the event altogether. The buyer did not want to be identified.

A frozen-food merchandiser from the Northeast, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it has become too costly for his stores to participate.

Cindy Rockwell, vice president of communications for NFFA, told SN that national figures from ACNielsen show steady increases in tonnage and dollar gains are due to NFFM. "Almost without exception there's been an increase every year, including people who participate and those who don't. Those who participate, though, see better gains."