Party on

Beginning with college football’s Bowl games, extending through the NFL playoffs and culminating with Super Bowl Sunday, many Americans’ winter weekends are jam-packed with game-day festivities.

According to industry estimates, there are more than 20 million Super Bowl parties throughout the country. Whether it’s just a gathering of a handful of friends or a neighborhood block party, hosts are shopping the produce section more frequently in an effort to provide their guests with healthy snacking options.

“There is an increased awareness of the importance of living a healthier life,” says Marcus Caswell, sales associate for Plant City, Fla.-based Wishnatzki Farms. “I have noticed that there tends to be more selection of healthier dips such as Taziki, hummus and various spreads [on retailers’ shelves]. These items have gained market popularity and I have noticed them at hosts’ houses on game day as well. Retailers who have these items merchandised in close proximity to the produce section should see consumers pairing these healthier items together.”

Industry insiders say this shift towards healthier eating provides retailers with an opportunity to expand sales within all their fresh departments and many are including perishables from the dairy, produce and meat sections in sports-themed and game-day promotions. Insiders also say that cross-promotional opportunities within fresh sections have significantly increased as well. In addition to generating more awareness to the fresh sections, these cross promotions also provide additional selling areas within the store for products that are not usually found in the produce, meat, dairy or bakery departments.

“Retailers can take advantage of the benefits of cross promotion by encouraging their leading manufacturers to get together to create retailer specific tie-ins,” says Paul Kusche, director marketing and innovation for Sandpoint, Idaho-based Litehouse Foods, makers of dressings, marinade, sauces and dips. “Veggie dips and bagged carrots, dressings and bagged salads, a head of lettuce with the purchase of tomatoes and dressing are all examples of strong cross promotion.”

Litehouse Foods and its category management team work with retailers by building cross promotions into annual plans, says Kusche. He adds that advertising, feature pricing and on-shelf POS can often be layered together to generate excitement.

Through January, Litehouse Foods is running a football-themed promotion for its line of Fresh Veggie Dips. Consumers will receive coupons for 55-cents off every package of dip and there is a sweepstakes to win a large-screen television as well as other prizes. Kusche says the dips, which are made with heart-healthy canola oil, are available in several popular flavors including a spinach parmesan, organic ranch, onion and avocado.

For consumers who want to make their own dips and guacamole, a bumper crop has allowed the Chilean Avo­ca­do Importers Association (CAIA), based in Aptos, Calif., to ramp up its promotions this year. It’s “Grab Some for the Game” display contest in which the CAIA provides retailers with a variety of bright, eye-catching sports-related display themes, not only encourages avocado use among consumers, but offers produce managers the opportunity to win one of three prizes.

“We have gotten great participation from the retailers,” says Maggie Bezart, marketing director for CAIA. “And this promotion also allows us to customize each promotion for each retailer.”

Insiders say products such as avocados and Litehouse Foods’ avocado dip have become popular party fare as Americans continue to expand their food horizons. Ethnic foods, especially Hispanic food, have garnered much more interest with party-throwing consumers over the past few years.

The burgeoning trend suits Wholly Guac­amole, owned by Ft. Worth, Texas-based Fresherized Foods, just fine as well. Tracey Altman, vice president of marketing for Wholly Guacamole, says although its product has become much more mainstream in the last couple of years, there are pockets of the country where consumers are just beginning to discover guacamole.

“If you say, ‘I am going to bring a dip to a party,’ in Chicago, for example, you are bringing a cream-based dip,” says Altman. “They are still learning about guacamole.”

Altman says Wholly Guacamole is mostly consumed around holiday and Super Bowl time and the company does what it can to help increase sales of not just its products, but the produce category in general. They do so with FSIs and BOGOs, as well as offering menu suggestions. Altman says that in the past, consumer-directed campaigns have been successful tools in building category sales.

Last year Wholly Guacamole ran a campaign called “Make Thursday Mexican Night in Your House,” which en­couraged consumers to buy fresh Mexican ingredients. “Consumers are simple,” says Altman. “If you give them sug­gestions they will try them, as long as they are not too complicated.”  

The Haas Avocado Board (HAB) also capitalizes on consumers growing penchant for avocados. In fact, the Irvine, Calif.-based organization estimates that last year football fans across the country ate 46.3 million pounds of Haas avocados (­­accounting for more than 92 million avocados) during last year’s Super Bowl.

“Over the years, we have watched consumers’ craving for Hass avocados grow surrounding the Big Game—it truly has become a must-have ingredient on football party menus,” says Jose Luis Obregon, managing director for HAB. “The fruit is so popular with sports fans because Hass avocados are delicious, and people with any skill level in the kitchen can use them to whip up a tasty snack for guests to enjo­y.”

To further help consumers, HAB has enlisted the services of Chef Curtis Stone, cookbook author and host of the TLC network’s program, Take Home Chef. To help party throwers, Chef Stone has developed two recipes that add new twists to game-day favorites. HAB calls his recipe for “Fresh Crab and Hass Avocado Dip” a flavorful take on the standard guacamole while his “Chipotle Chicken Tacos with Hass Avocado and Cucumber Relish” recipe is a zesty, yet refreshing version of the traditional taco.

Chef Stone is also featured in downloadable videos on the HAB website,, and distributed virally to consumers, offering tips to consumers on working with avocados and demonstrating his game-day recipes.

Insiders say that beyond consumers’ general desire to eat healthy, programs such as Take Home Chef, and to a greater extent the Food Network and its multitude of programs, have played a large role in expanding consumers’ creativity when throwing a party. 

“The uptick with food TV shows is a major benefit to food manufacturers and grocers alike,” says Shelby Weeda, president of Tor­rance, Calif.-based King’s Hawaiian Bakery. “Consumers now have a new-found interest in experimenting with ingredients and exploring new sections of the supermarket.”

Beyond experimenting with ingredients, game-day shoppers tend to be “impulse buyers” as well. Insiders say in-store demos can be a great way to capture sales from the game-day shopper, because those shoppers are often more receptive to new ideas than the regular shopper.

“A game-day shopper may come in for hot dogs and hamburgers,” says Wishnatzki Farms’ Caswell, “but when walking to the meat department he or she may pass a sampling of other game-day type food and may be enticed to add it to their cart.”

Gary Wishnatzki, CEO of Wishnatzki Farms, adds that as the Super Bowl continues to occur later and later in the year, retailers have an opportunity to extend party ideas into Valentine’s Day. “For example, I would think merchandising and marketing long-stem strawberries, which are a party item to begin with, around the Super Bowl makes sense,” says Wishnatzki.   

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