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Retailers Hone Seasonal Merchandising Strategies

Retailers Hone Seasonal Merchandising Strategies

This is a tale about extreme creativity on the part of retailers committed to keeping sales momentum strong as seasons shift.

It centers on particular categories, but it could be about any category because the lessons translate across store departments.

Consider how retailers are orchestrating seasonal business in the meat category, as described in a story this week in SN.

Just as summer grilling season featuring steaks gradually wanes, retailers are transitioning to fall roasts, stuffed pork chops, smoked ham, cube steaks, stew beef and other items, depending on the region.

Stores heavily showcase fall meats, but one problem is these don't carry the same high prices as summer grilling steaks. That's leading retailers to become more aggressive with promotions to push fall volume meat sales, a strategy paying off because it keeps the momentum going until some higher-end items rebound for the holidays.

All of this reflects sophisticated strategic planning in this category, but food retailers have additional tricks up their sleeves. Chains including Hy-Vee rely on football to provide a boost in meat sales for game-day parties. Special promotions also help drive sales, such as Pork Month in October, particularly in the South.

Meat is by no means alone as a category that takes full advantage of seasonal shifts. Beer has different selling dynamics but the merchandising is no less strategic. Fall beer merchandising at supermarkets has an increasingly defined cycle. At Dorothy Lane Market, for example, the program starts with Octoberfest and pumpkin beers and transitions to Halloween items.

This strategy ties nicely into shopper behavior because customers are seeking novelty and variety this time of year. In-store events play an important role, such as a four-course dinner hosted by Dorothy Lane that include several varieties of beer. Also supporting sales of beer is the local foods halo around regional brewers and the short supply of many seasonal items, which helps spike customer demand.

The lessons from these meat and beer category strategies are worth noting. On the one hand, retailers have fine-tuned seasonal cycles so well that they almost have them down to a science. But the truth is things are never really that automatic because new variables keep appearing.

One such shift in the meat category is more consumers are switching to slower cooking meat styles. Moreover, the continued economic downturn makes shoppers even more thrifty, which calls for extra promotional efforts from supermarkets.

Stories about seasonal merchandising should spark ideas across categories. A winning formula is to make seasonal transitions exciting and seamless, and to remain flexible because no category strategy is so good that it can stay on automatic pilot for long.