A real instant message

When it comes to providing consumers with the right message for any occasion, no one has more expertise than greeting card manufacturers.

By Barrie Dawson

av2The multitude of social media and networking sites can be great for sharing interesting new recipes or the latest images of little Chloe taking her first steps. However these sites still do not replace the intimacy of a greeting card expressing a birthday wish.

According to industry figures, consumers purchase roughly 6.5 billion greeting cards per year, spending nearly $8 billion. Industry observers say 70% of those buyers consider greeting cards to be “absolutely” or “almost” essential to them. Nearly 80% of those buyers expect their purchase rate to remain the same going forward.

Simply put, greeting cards remain an extremely popular way for consumers to convey their thoughts and feelings to others, and that is the message greeting card manufacturers want grocery retailers to receive.

“Consumers have shown that they place a high level of importance on staying connected, which is reflected by advances in social media and personal communication technology,” says Larry Esten, the divisional vice president of sales and operations at Cleveland, Ohio-based American Greetings Corp. “Even with the many options at their disposal, shoppers’ commitment to greeting cards remains high in helping them connect in a creative way that is authentic and meaningful.”

With that in mind, American Greetings will give shoppers more ways to celebrate every occasion this year. For Valentine’s Day, the company will introduce its new Glo Pops line. It features day-glo, pop-up cards that contain whimsical copy, high-quality audio and intricate paper engineering. Esten says that shoppers will also find Valentine’s Day cards from American Greetings’ content partner, Mary Engelbreit.

Consumers can also choose cards from the American Greetings Premier collection, which Esten says combines elegant design and a warm message of love, as well as the more playful justWink line. For the spring, American Greetings will offer cards specifically for ‘tweens, teens and Gen Z members.

“American Greetings continues to wow consumers with products from our Pipeline of Innovation,” Esten says. “Leading the industry with more than 100 greeting-card inventions, we continue to deliver the most relevant and exciting products to meet the diverse needs of consumers.”

av1Designer Greetings boasts lines of more than 21,000 every-day and seasonal cards that range from traditional to alternative. A card publisher for more than 30 years, Designer Greetings also offers boxed and packaged invitations and thank you notes as well as decorative note cards and gift wraps.

“Designer Greetings is always hard at work on new products,” says Suzanne Haines, vice president of marketing for the Edison, N.J.-based company. “Every year we introduce a series of beautiful, poignant and/or humorous new greeting card collections. These collections add variety, stimulate interest and generate additional sales.”

These collections include the Home of the Brave line, which is dedicated to showing the pride of family and friends to those serving in the military. A portion of the sales proceeds is being donated to those who serve. The ‘Cause it Matters line is designed to express important messages during difficult times, including miscarriage, cancer treatment and Alzheimer’s disease; a percentage of the proceeds from this line is being donated to the appropriate charities. The Designer Impressions line uses letterpress and hand-drawn imagery for an elegant greeting. The collection offers memorable greetings for special moments, such as the birth of a child.

Card buyers will also find some new additions to the New Jersey manufacturer’s Designer Boutique line, which celebrates the handmade greeting card; its Julie Rae cards, which feature cute themes; its 4Kidz collection, which highlights everything from a child’s notable achievements to his or her smallest triumphs; the amusing It Runs in the Family line; and its Sharing Life’s Important Moments Specialty Captions, which honor extra-special occasions.

A card for all seasons

With so many card-buying options, how can the grocery retailer make sure shoppers know there is a card for every occasion?

“Signage is the best way to merchandise and draw customers’ attention to the greeting card section from far away or up close,” says Haines. “Whether in search of a seasonal or everyday card, seasonal banners, sectional banners, caption strips, boulevard signs and title finders guide consumers to the perfect Designer Greetings card. Additionally, outpost greeting-card displays such as quad, triple or double spinners, and moveable greeting-card lane blockers, take up minimal space, can be positioned almost anywhere and augment revenues.”

Gary King, the national accounts manager for Hallmark Cards, based in Kansas City, Mo., says that greeting card sales continue to perform at or above overall chain results for most of his company’s supermarket retailers.

“Leading grocery chains have recognized that the greetings department is still a major trip driver, and as such, continue to heavily promote the category in ads, digital and in-store marketing campaigns,” King says. “Those that are leaning into the category are seeing very strong results. Most grocery retailers have recognized, and are seeing the results, from leveraging incremental programs such as innovative gift items and impulse items like stadium cups, to help build the basket and take advantage of the traffic which is already in the store and coming into the card department.”

dd5King adds that as the shopper landscape continues to evolve, Hallmark remains focused on optimizing the assortment to provide the appropriate level of depth by occasion, by recipient and by demographic.

While Hallmark offers thousands of products and joins American Greetings in dominating the category, Avanti Press focuses on producing humorous greeting cards. Marc Trobman, vice president of business development for the Detroit-based company, says Avanti is “a niche greeting card provider.” Its focus is on high-impact photography and graphic illustration.

In addition to Avanti cards, the company also manufactures the A*Press line. Avanti is a full greeting card manufacturer in the sense that it makes cards for all the major everyday sending opportunities, all the major life-cycle events and it also publishes greeting cards for all the major seasons.

“We do it all, but here’s the rub: Most of the chains, especially in grocery, we believe don’t dedicate enough branded humor space in their card aisle, and that’s where we come in with our real unique, one-of-a-kind look at our high productivity by appealing to consumer needs that the other vendors just can’t do, or don’t do,” Trobman says. “There just aren’t enough funny greeting cards out there, and we help the retailer by helping them focus on the No. 1 type of greeting card consumers are buying.

“We’re certain beyond any doubt, through the research that we’ve done and the information that we’ve read from other manufacturers, that humor is far and away the No. 1 type of greeting card that consumers purchase in everyday cards, and it’s probably pretty high up there on the list with seasonal cards as well,” he adds.

Trobman says Avanti cards feature a cast of zany characters that are put in exaggerated, real-life situations. The images are designed to attract the shopper’s attention, while the joke or verse inside elicits laughter—or at least a smile. Avanti’s characters occupy the entire front of each card, and the company has begun to license its characters to other manufacturers. It is also introducing its characters to the public via seven different social media platforms. That initiative began last April.

Perhaps the busiest greeting-card manufacturer is Design Design. According to Colin Littler marketing director, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company plans to offer 800 new products in 2014, ranging from paper tableware to gift packaging and candles. When shoppers have an occasion to celebrate, Design Design wants to provide for all of their needs.

“Our on-point service really knocks it out of the park for our retail partners,” Littler says. “We pride ourselves on trend-driven products, and our greeting card category is no exception. In addition to animals like foxes, owls, cats, dogs and birds that continue to trend from last year, we’re seeing some fun options emerging out of everything from fashion to home décor, such as doodling and retro imagery, like cameras, watches and vinyl records.”

Design Design’s children’s cards are interactive, with games and puzzles. The company also offers a line of humor cards, which it wants to make edgier through a partnership with provocative humor specialist MikWright.

“We’ve paired up with them for a hilarious and fresh selection of photo-applied art, pattern play and sassy one-liners,” says Littler.

Design Design has also launched a collection of cards celebrating the Jewish faith, called Judaica. It includes 36 new designs for a variety of milestones and occasions. Littler says they have already received very favorable comments on the new line.

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