Fresh game plan

Super Bowl Sunday can be a winner in the fresh aisles, but it takes some planning by retailers to ensure victory.

By Elizabeth Louise Hatt

Getting to the Super Bowl involves a lot of hard work. For the players, it requires enduring a long season and rigorous practice. For ad­vertisers, it demands developing a no­vel commercial campaign to win consumers’ attention and loyalty. For grocers, it is a fight to become the favored one-stop shop for serious Super Bowl party planners and just plain old fans looking for something to nosh on.

Over the years, Super Bowl Sunday has become one of the key selling times for supermarket retailers. Consumers are eager to fill their shopping carts with all types of merchandise and fresh fruits and vegetables are high on the list.

In fact, vegetables are the top food eaten on Super Bowl Sunday, says Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for the Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research organization NPD Group. “Veggies have always been popular among partygoers, with the biggest being baby carrots,” he says. “Vegetables are the number one thing eaten every Sunday so they will definitely get in on the party during Super Bowl.”

With vegetables at the top of customers’ lists, the produce department has become a key area for displaying Super Bowl must-haves. Stocking party favorites isn’t enough, however. These items have to find their way into customers’ carts, either by making the shopping list or standing out as an impulse buy.

Industry observers say that food purchases associated with tailgating and the grill tend to be more impulsive, while those associated with entertaining and parties are planned. Officials at Guadalupe, Calif.-based Apio, Inc. say they work both angles. “Vegetable trays are fantastic impulse sellers,” says Cali Tanguay, director of marketing and technology, about the company’s Eat Smart vegetable party trays. “They make a great addition to soda, beer and chips—items that are generally thought of as big-game staples.” To further their impulse appeal, the company works with grocers and club stores to create end-cap displays featuring Eat Smart trays.

“Customers generally look for party trays in their regular location, but when featured in a secondary location, they do a good job of hopping into peoples’ carts. The big game is also a huge time for produce items. Pistachios and other kinds of big game nuts are great cross-merchandising items, and avocados are huge.”

During the week of the 2010 Super Bowl, avocado sales jumped to 31.2 million items, up  from 16.8 million items the week prior, according to the Hass Avocado Board. Guacamole sales mirror this jump. In fact, it is the biggest selling season for Saginaw, Texas-based Fresherized Foods, makers of Wholly Guaca­mole. Accord­ing to Tracey Alt­man, the company’s vice president of marketing, 40% of sales are impulse purchases. “This is part of the reason I love being in the produce section,” she says. “It is where consumers begin their thinking process so it means I have a chance of getting in their basket before someone else.”

Cross-merchandising has traditionally been difficult in grocery stores because each department has distinct revenue goals. In order for it to be successful, industry veterans say retailers have to put customers’ needs first.

This past year Fresherized Foods introduced its Homegating Headquarters website, homgatinghq.com, a promotional campaign that connects their brand’s online presence with its in-store products. As part of the initiative, the company works closely with corporate buyers to create a one-stop shopping experience for football fans specifically designed to boost impulse purchases. “They replaced some of the fruit displays with our product alongside scallions, tomatoes, fresh veggies plates, meat and cheese platters,” says Altman. “The top ingredients people add to our product aretomatoes, lime juice and onions.”

Part of the initiative is to promote the product as more than just a dip. By merchandising it with burgers, hot dogs and buns, people are more likely to try it as a topper, she says. “If you can get them to buy it all together the ring will be higher,” Altman adds.

Fruit joins the party

Vegetables may top the list of Super Bowl foods, but Dole recently added two items to party planners’ menus: grilled banana and pineapple. This past summer, the Westlake Village, Calif.-based company kicked off its’ Go Bananas After Dark campaign, which promotes bananas and pineapples as barbecue items. “The popularity of grilled pineapple as the fruit of choice for fall tailgate parties has extended into NFL Playoffs and the Super Bowl,” says Bil Goldfield, communications manager for Dole Fresh Fruit. “After years of being mainly associated with breakfast and lunch only, bananas are starting to find their way to the tailgating grill. We have developed a variety of delicious recipes that feature grilled bananas.” The recipes in­clude savory dishes such as Teriyaki Pork Chops with Grilled Bananas and sweet desserts such as Grilled Banana S’mores.

According to Gold­field, bananas and fruit fit into both the category of planned and impulse purchases. To grab customer’s attention he suggests speaking to the customer: “Offer recipes, new usage ideas and complementary cross-merchandised products,” he says. “Show alternatives—grapes, for example, would be a great finger food option alongside, or better yet, instead of chips or other high fat alternatives. A clean, clutter-free produce department is important but organized point-of-sale materials is a tremendous communications opportunity.” In Dole’s case, bananas are allocated a good portion of space giving retailers a chance to include information and recipes about bananas’ role at dinner and on the barbeque.

Social media outlets are proving to be another successful medium for promoting meal ideas. According to industry observers, many shoppers research ingredients and recipes online before heading to the store making it important for manufacturers to initiate communication before people even leave the house. Wholly Guacamole, for example, used Facebook to share unique ingredients for a nacho bar.

Get in the game early

It is never too early to seduce potential customers. Some industry observers say that retailers should start planning their Super Bowl activities as early as September. Displays should go up right after New Year’s Day and certainly no later than the sec­ond Sunday in Jan­uary. Some observers say that retailers can gain extra sales through purchases made for NFL playoff games.

Partygoers are unlikely to bring something to the event that they are not familiar with themselves. “There is an element of ego involved. You hear people say, ‘Jodi’s bringing her famous homemade dip’ or ‘Jim’s bringing his hot dogs,’” says Altman. “We realized that our time to get them was between September and January so they will then bring our product to their Super Bowl party. The economy is showing us that people still want to have parties; they still want to have fun. They are just more likely to ask people to bring a dish instead of providing all the food themselves.”

To entice retailers to kick start Super Bowl promotions, Wholly Guacamole holds a display contest. “Retailers create a football display using stuff within the store and then send us a photo. There are a variety of prizes; last year was a flat screen TV,” says Altman. “The contest, one, guarantees a buy-in, and, two, makes it fun. Produce isn’t as exciting to merchandise as the beer and wine aisle.”

By creating an exciting shopping experience, retailers are empowering the party planner to host an exciting party. “We want the party host to feel like a hero, but we don’t want them to spend a lot of time and money on it,” says Altman.

Austin, Minn,-based Hormel also launched a campaign to promote its portfolio of products during last year’s NFL season. “Consumers were met with in-store promotions, including a football party tray featuring a chance to send a text and win a flat screen TV. The header cards also give customers a chance to win a flat screen TV as well as offer game time recipe ideas like chili cheese dip and pepperoni sizzle sticks,” says Holly M. Drennan, product manager of meat products.

Merchants need to make sure their displays cater to women as much as men. Football may attract more male spectators than female, but when it comes down to party planning, it is mostly women doing the shopping. “Women from 35 to 45 years old are our main audience,” says Altman. “But we’re finding we have friends on both sides. I’ve received letters from seniors telling us how much they like our product, and there are also 20-somethings—men and women—who are now hosting their own parties for the first time.” Wholly Guacamole promotions are not “girly,” Altman says, but they do focus on women as the main shopper.

Goldfield agrees. “At Dole we are careful to emphasize promotions that cater to both men and women. While the message of grilled bananas as part of the Go Bananas After Dark initiative targeted men, since they are traditionally in charge of the backyard BBQ, we are creating various ways to get grilled banana recipes to women.”

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