The workhorse categories of aluminum foil and plastic food wraps will gallop to a more prominent position in grocery ads and promotions this summer.
Retailers interviewed by SN about food wrap sections said this is a prime period to feature them as barbecue necessities alongside the burger buns and soda six-packs.
The action this year, they added, will be driven in large part by vendor programs. Many of the manufacturer promotions will involve additional displays and shippers, said the retailers, and they will look for in-store support from the vendor community as cues on what to feature and when.
"Foil certainly does well all year round, but there's no question it's a summer-type item that is worth promoting during key holidays like Memorial Day and Fourth of July," said Paul Duckworth, grocery buyer for Thrifty Food Stores, Burlington, Wash.
"The aluminum foil business does pick up in the summer with the barbecues," said Charles Sparks, grocery buyer for Laurel Grocery Co., London, Ky. "We'll probably run it with a barbecue theme ad."
"I know we'll have coupons on plastic wraps," said Deb Fisher, grocery buyer for Miller's Super Valu, Lagrange, Ind. "And aluminum foil will be advertised to go with grill-type items. This is the time to promote them more as tie-ins with [outdoor cooking]."
Retailers said sales are climbing already as the weather has heated up. But no matter hot it gets, foils and wraps experience the height of their sales during Thanksgiving.
"The summer barbecuing season is the second best time for those products," explained Neil Stevens, grocery buyer for Salt Lake City-based Associated Food Stores. "Thanksgiving is first. Manufacturers have quarterly promotions all year long, but they promote a little bit more during these peak seasons," he said.
Bill Hartle, general buyer for Sexton Foods, Searcy, Ark., agreed that manufacturers save their heaviest promotions for Thanksgiving and Christmas. But some are pushing programs right now that are geared for summer season sales.
Danny Calloway, grocery buyer for
Food Country USA, Abingdon, Va., said that while his company will advertise wraps more than usual this summer, like other retailers, he will look to manufacturers for primary support.
"Reynolds and others companies have promotions that they present to us. And we go ahead and buy against their promotions and promote accordingly," said Jerry Svoboda, grocery buyer for Scrivner Super Stores, Omaha, Neb.
"The manufacturer or the broker would be the one to drive that part of the business for us," said Thrifty's Duckworth. "I look at it from the standpoint that there definitely is a spike in the volume in that category in the summer months. But it's not a category for which I would go out and look for promotions on my own.
"I would rather have manufacturers or brokers bring their items to me, and share information on why I should be running this, and then offer whatever support they have -- advertising dollars, that type of thing, to help promote the category."
Often the promotions are hinged on shippers. "We sell a lot of in-and-out displays," noted Sparks of Laurel Grocery. "They sell really well. You get a big allowance break in there. They're the same product; they're just like a dozen cases in a display shipper."
Indeed, the sales are so weighted to promotional displays that a chain's normal movement report can be deceptive. "In other words, I might be selling one case from the regular section, but sell 10 on display and get a special allowance on that," he said. "And that doesn't show up on the [regular stock sales] report like it should. If it did, it would make the report look better."
Retailers in many parts of the country said sales of aluminum foil and food wraps are going along at a positive clip so far this season. However, for some Midwestern retailers, sales are looking particularly strong in light of last year's disastrous bout of floods.
"It's better this year than last, because of the weather we had here with the floods," said Svoboda at Scrivner, explaining that people simply couldn't get out to hold barbecues and picnics last year.
But barring unusual weather conditions, the category is a fairly predictable and steady performer, given to few product innovations. As one retailer said, it's basically a cut-and-dried category that chugs along without much fanfare.
"It's a promoted item, it's a floor item. But it's not an item that will be a determining factor of whether a customer is going to shop our store," said Jeff Berger, vice president of Food City Markets, Harrison, N.Y.
"In fact, it's a more expensive item as far as sales items on the floor go, so it's not really heavily played up," said Berger.
At Thrifty, the category is "pretty much driven by either the major brand, Reynolds, or Western Family, our private label," said Duckworth. "There's just not a lot of players or additional activity."
It's not totally static, though. A number of retailers said certain segments, namely color wraps, are carving a seasonal niche. "The colors are doing well during holidays," said Scrivner's Svoboda.
For the most part, the merchandisers said, color wraps are handled with in-and-out display shippers, and are not typically promoted year-round.