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Multipack cases are taking the lead in supermarket soda sales, upping the ante on the category's "give 'em more for less" promotional appeal, and leaving six-packs and 2-liter bottles in the dust.Retailers contacted by SN said they expect to move a good deal of 12-packs and 24-packs of canned carbonated beverages in the hot summer months ahead, especially with the prospect of hot promotions from national-brand

Multipack cases are taking the lead in supermarket soda sales, upping the ante on the category's "give 'em more for less" promotional appeal, and leaving six-packs and 2-liter bottles in the dust.

Retailers contacted by SN said they expect to move a good deal of 12-packs and 24-packs of canned carbonated beverages in the hot summer months ahead, especially with the prospect of hot promotions from national-brand suppliers.

Indeed, when the heat's on, multipacks can account for as much as 50% of soft drink sales, and more in some cases, retailers said.

"In the summertime, probably between 60% and 65% of our sales are in 24-pack cases," said George Hauserman, grocery merchandiser at Tidyman's, Greenacres, Wash. His comments reflected the sales power retailers are seeing such packages display.

The primary reason the brisk movement of multipacks is consumers' perception of the value they offer. Simply put, they get more soda for less money with a 12-pack than they would with two six-packs. A 24-pack case is more cost-effective than two 12-packs. And so on.

"We're finding that the traditional six-pack, or loose cans, are evolving into a take-away of 12 cans in a package. We call them case packs or suitcases," said Ned Meara, corporate grocery merchandising manager at Grand Union Co., Wayne, N.J.

"We're seeing a lot of movement that's going from 2-liter bottles back into cans," he added. "The multipacks are nice packages; they're something the customer can lift very easily. And in many cases they're being used as a football item, or a loss leader."

The 12-pack is apparently the best mover for many stores, although 24-can cases are coming on strong as well.

"Week in and week out, year-round, 12-packs are our biggest seller," said Ron Arthur, grocery manager at Clyde Evans Markets, Lima, Ohio. "We move more 12s than anything. But 24-pack sales are growing, especially in the summertime. For Memorial Day, Labor Day, 24 is a real hot package." Six-pack sales are on the decline, he added.

"I would say the 12-count is our most popular size," said Harvey Godwin, director of marketing for Food Folks, a 23-store chain based in Lumberton, N.C. "Multipacks is the way a lot of people are going these days, especially during the summertime."

But big packs have to offer big savings. Maumee, Ohio-based Seaway Food Town is aggressively promoting 24-can packs, said Tom Roesner, direct-store-delivery merchandiser. "To get a customer to pick up a bulky package like that, the biggest thing is it's got to be a savings for them."

"We have 12-packs, 24-packs and sometimes we'll put out a 15-pack," said Tidyman's Hauserman. "We found out that here, in Spokane, we do the best with the 24-packs. I think people look at the value."

When on promotion, 24-packs are generally moving best at price points under $5, said retailers. And during the peak summer months, "on promotion" is the name of the game.

"We are doing a tremendous job with both Coke and Pepsi on their 12-packs, trying to take advantage of every possible promotion they offer," said Grand Union's Meara.

For chains, the game is to keep up with the fast pace of the competitive promotion schedules of the big vendors. Case-pack promotions generally last for a one-week period, Meara said. "They're usually in and gone. Then we're in with somebody else's the following week. We rotate them quickly."

Manufacturers, meanwhile,

are upping the ante with "a lot of off-invoicing, extra promotions and samples," said Hauserman of Tidyman's.

"We'll have the 12s and 24s on display every day of the week at an in-store price," explained Clyde Evan's Arthur. "Twelves will be in our ad just about every week during the summer months and we'll probably feature a 24-pack once a month."

The case-pack promotions are often crucial to increasing total store distribution.

"We run very few items in our ad," said Dan Eberhart, grocery merchandiser at Redner's Markets, Reading, Pa. "We might run four items -- one grocery, one meat, one produce and one bakery. And what we've found out is that by going out with a real hot price on a 24-pack of Coke or Pepsi, it really drives sales up -- not only in that category, but it brings a lot of people into the store."

For the most part, retailers hawk 12-packs and 24-packs, but there are occasions of count variations. "From time to time, R.C., particularly with their Diet Rite, will come out with a 15-pack at no additional cost," said Clyde Evans' Arthur. "But other than that, it's just 12s and 24s."

A retailer representing a major Eastern chain, said that in addition to the 12s and 24s, "there are some 18-packs available. And Pepsi has its 'Cube,' which is 24 cans presented in a different manner."

Other merchandisers also made special note of Pepsi's package. "The Cube is a handy pack for a customer to lift because it's not bulky and cumbersome like the other big 24-packs. It's convenient and offers more value for the consumer," said Seaway's Roesner.

All the multipacks are so popular right now that some chains have developed programs emphasizing cases of private-label soft drinks to compete with the brands.

"Naturally, we'll have it in private label because we always play off the success of the brands," said Grand Union's Meara. "We've had our own private label in individual cans and now we've actually gone to the 12-pack because of their popularity," said Redner's Eberhart. "We also sell the private-label flavors by the case at a reduced price."

Godwin of Food Folks said 12-packs rule in sales of national brands. However, he sells more private-label six-packs than the multipacks of national brands. "The price difference is the key. You can buy 24 cans of our private label at the same cost as a 12-pack. And the quality is just as good as the national brands," he said.

"And since we've implemented our private label, we've had more promotions offered to us from the national brands than we've ever had," Godwin said.

The promotional power of the packs carries over to dominant displays in the stores, said retailers. The cases often end up on prominent pallet or end displays every week.

"In our stores we usually have two to three large displays of 300 to 500 cases on an end or lobby display," said Tidyman's Hauserman. "In some of our stores, we'll sell up to 40 pallets on a weekend."

"Due to the [smaller] size of our stores, we usually have a program that requires us to have end displays for merchandising multipacks. But during the summer, we'll display them in whatever lobby space we have. Some displays are 500 or more cases on any given day," said Godwin.

Clyde Evans' Arthur said his company bypasses pallets and builds displays "right off the floor. We do that in our conventional stores. We also have a County Market, which is a franchise of Cub Foods. And in that one, because of the operation type, we do it off of pallets."

"We merchandise the packs in massive displays and in the beverage aisle," said Seaway's Roesner. "We've found that there are customers who may miss the [off-aisle] displays, so we make sure that our beverage aisle is fully stocked at all times. We want to make sure there are plenty of opportunities."

At Redner's the multipack sodas are stacked on endcaps and skid, or pallet, displays -- where they form part of the store's Wall of Values. "On each side of the aisle is a total display and then down the middle there will be eight skid displays," said Eberhart.

Meara said Grand Union, as a company, doesn't use many pallets because they are somewhat destructive to the floor's surface. "So we'll play off of a pallet and onto something else.

"We may drop pallets into our high-volume stores. But the case packs are usually on an end display, where we can restock it daily or twice a day, if necessary, to keep it full."