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PIES IN THE SKY

Since frozen pizza sales rise with falling temperatures, retailers are taking every opportunity to promote this popular item throughout the winter months."We have in-store demos every week in the stores, on Fridays and Saturdays. We start in January and continue through the end of March," said Chuck Sotzing, frozens category manager for Buehler Foods, Jasper, Ind. "After March, we demo once a month

Since frozen pizza sales rise with falling temperatures, retailers are taking every opportunity to promote this popular item throughout the winter months.

"We have in-store demos every week in the stores, on Fridays and Saturdays. We start in January and continue through the end of March," said Chuck Sotzing, frozens category manager for Buehler Foods, Jasper, Ind. "After March, we demo once a month until we get back to the cooler weather."

Retailers told SN that pizza sales have been going up every year, with gains cited anywhere from 6% to 20%.

Strong sales were attributed to increasing consumer use of pizza as a home-meal replacement option, as well as to the more impressive products available, like rising crust brands.

To keep its pizza customers coming back for more, Buehler Foods has run pizza programs with Tombstone and Red Baron. "We run aggressive programs and have numerous everyday low prices." Sotzing also promotes Papalo's pizza through the warehouse.

In addition to advertised items, which are often 30% off regular retail price, Buehler Foods runs in-store temporary price reductions, at 15% to 20% off retail.

"Pizza has become such a staple item that it's good all year-round," observed Richard Hagen, sales manager at Camellia Food Stores, Norfolk, Va.

"I try to have at least one pizza ad weekly, whether it's coming out of our meat department [which sells a two-pack], or frozens department or bakery," he stated. "Our best success has been with multiple pricing, for example two for $5 or two for $6."

Test tasting is also a large part of Camellia's promotional program. "Any vendor we can get to demo has an impact," he said. "We have 45 stores, and in the winter months we try to get them on a rotating schedule. I like to have five [stores doing demos] each week, but sometimes it's two or three."

From December through March, Camellia runs additional pizza promotional activities. Coupons also are offered.

"Customers can buy two pizzas and get a free liter of Pepsi or Coke," Hagen said. Late last month, Camellia ran an ad for Tony's pizza in which customers could mail in proof of purchase and get back money for the soda. Hagen also offers in-store coupons, which he feels customers prefer because they provide immediate savings. "There's better reaction and more redemption," he said.

"We get good support from direct-store-delivery vendors like Tony's and Tombstone. They are both trying to be very competitive," he said.

Even in San Bruno, Calif., Tony Lucia, general manager of Lunardi's Supermarket there, experiences increased sales during the relatively cooler weather.

"I advertise constantly. With Tony's and Tombstone, I'm running an ad almost every week. We also advertise in the newspaper and on television and radio," said Lucia. Lunardi's sends out direct mail pieces to potential customers as well -- 400,000 per mailing, which includes promotions for pizza.

While some retailers promote the category heavier in the winter months, others give it their year-round advertising attention.

"We advertise three out of four weeks, with a little more in the winter," explained David Renaldi, director of merchandising for Martin's Super Markets, South Bend, Ind. "We advertise pizza quite heavily."

Martin's features frozen pizza in its TV advertising. Vendors have the opportunity to buy space in the store's cooperative TV-ad program. Additionally, in-store demos are held at least twice a month.

"We run ads almost every week of the year," said Tim Mattison, frozen-food buyer at Skogen's IGA Foodliners in Onalaska, Wis.

"We're advertising all the time," reported Bill Romley Sr., frozen-food buyer for Bashas' Markets, Chandler, Ariz. "We have an ad on almost every week of the year."

Pizza generated $1.7 billion in food-store sales, a 6.2% increase, for the 52-week period ended Dec. 1, 1996, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. The top three brands were Tombstone, with more than $258 million in sales and a 15.1% dollar share; Red Baron, with almost $154 million in sales and a 9% share; and Tony's, with almost $141 million in sales and an 8.2% market share.

In fourth place was Totino's Party Pizza, with almost $136 million in sales (7.9% share), while newcomer DiGiorno took fifth place and $113 million in sales with 6.6% of dollar share.

To promote winter sale items, most stores use bunkers and endcap displays.

"Whatever is in an ad we run in bunkers," said Buehler's Sotzing. "We use a lot of special signage from pizza companies. We also have our own in-house signage that we print ourselves in a sort of fluorescent color."

Pizza typically appears in upright or coffin cases at Buehler, depending on the store. "It occupies a pretty good percentage of the overall frozen-food case," according to Sotzing.

"We use coffin cases for ads, but usually they're in the freezer section in uprights," explained Mattison of Skogen's. "There's better visibility in coffin cases." Pizza takes up about 8 linear feet in Mattison's store.

Both Bashas' Romley and Camellia's Hagen said either uprights or coffin cases are used. Hagen uses secondary endcaps and bunker displays for sale items. He also noted that, because of space limitations, retailers in general don't dedicate enough space to pizza.

"If you take a look at the Nielsen's and see how much that category [accounts for], it's definitely underspaced. We don't have enough room for all the varieties," he said of retailers.

At Martin's Super Markets, advertised items are put in endcaps or portable bunkers on the "Wall of Values" at the front of the store.

According to Lucia of Lunardi's, over the last 10 years changes in the way supermarkets merchandise pizza have had a big impact on sales. "We used to merchandise pizza on the bottom shelf, where you wouldn't see it, but now we have three- or four-door sets for our pizza, and it's giving it a lot more exposure."