By bringing in an array of hard and soft goods for infants and toddlers, retailers are hoping to pull shoppers back into their baby aisles and show that supermarkets can offer one-stop shopping convenience at a reasonable price.
Strollers, infant carriers, baby swings, children's clothing, high chairs and other items that never were found in a grocery store are now lining up to do battle with mass merchandisers and superstores.
A&P, Montvale, N.J., is one chain that has rolled out a licensed clothing line into some of its larger format Super Fresh stores, said Andy Carrano, vice president of marketing and corporate affairs.
"It helps us to offer our customers a one-stop shopping experience against those types of competitors," he said.
The aisle, signed "Everything for Kids," was introduced at a store in Westfield, Mass., and next at a Danbury, Conn., location. "Then we rolled it into a couple of Super Fresh stores," Carrano added. Depending on the layout of the store, the clothing will be merchandised on a whole aisle, or one side of the gondola, he explained.
Hard goods are not part of the mix -- just the clothing line and some toys. All items are licensed products, with Winnie-the-Pooh or Disney characters. Carrano said A&P uses the chain's weekly circular to let shoppers know that the licensed products are available.
Additional baby products, such as clothing, are a natural expansion for supermarket retailers, because more than 67% of baby products are sold through supermarket formats, according to statistics provided to Pat Koehl, merchandising marketing manager at Vertical Merchandising, Brooklyn Heights, Ohio, by the Food Marketing Institute, Washington.
Other chains that are carrying clothing lines include Meijer Inc., Albertson's, Publix Super Markets, Wegmans Food Markets, Tops Friendly Markets, Finast Markets, Dominick's Finer Foods, Kroger Co., Edwards Super Food Stores and Bi-Lo, according to store visits conducted by SN and information from Koehl.
Vertical Merchandising has been in business for about seven years and has worked exclusively with supermarkets since that time. The company uses classic brand-name licenses such as Disney, Winnie the Pooh, Sesame Street and Harley-Davidson.
Koehl said his company chooses these licensed products for its high-end program because "the customer has to have something to grab onto, like pricing, though it's equivalent to Wal-Mart and Target. Customers do get a value for their dollar."
Vertical Merchandising also offers a low-end program of clothing without name brands. This generic line enables retailers who cater to a lower-income bracket to offer their shoppers a convenience at a lower price, Koehl said.
The third option supermarket retailers have from Vertical Merchandising is in promotional clothing. This program allows retailers to price soft goods at two for $10 or three for $10. "During the promotional programs, they do a tremendous amount of business," Koehl said.
He added that retailers who choose the promotion program receive a pre-packed speed table display. They put it in a high-traffic area and "it sells tremendously."
Two of his clients, Tops and Finast, have an in-line program that extends between 8 and 12 feet. Sixty-seven stores are participating, Koehl said. He added that they carry it in their baby sections. Usually they banner the aisle, and put it in the first section in the aisle. Generally, "either end or front will pull people down the aisle. It's grandma bait," he added.
When considering bringing in these additional goods, retailers must consider the amount of space available and what is needed to effectively merchandise the lines.
For example, Mike Racine, sales and marketing vice president at Tidyman's, Greenacres, Wash., cited a lack of space as one of the reasons his stores don't carry larger soft and hard goods baby lines.
"The typical superstore is only 45,000 to 50,000 square feet. In that environment, once you get beyond the food court and Marketplace, you are still fairly limited in linear footage with regard to specialty departments.
"We do a very good job of offering an array of infant products, but we are somewhat limited in space to be able to merchandise a full lineup of hard goods and soft goods," Racine said.
Other stores, however, are opting to dedicate more feet and augment their departments.
Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., has added 28 feet to expand the baby department in some of its stores, said Jan Winn, director of health and beauty care and general merchandise. "Big Y is doing this in order to test the waters with products such as car seats, baby carriers, strollers, infant swings, high chairs and baby tubs," she said.
"We have set the expanded baby section to act as a convenience category for our customers. We've selected the manufacturers and items that our customers would be looking for and priced them competitively with mass merchants. Plus, our stores accept credit cards and ATM cards, so it's become much easier for them to make large purchases, either planned or on impulse," Winn added.
Advertising of the new products is being done through baby-themed ads within Big Y's circular and within store price-reduction programs, Winn said.
In-store, the items are displayed "so the customer gets a good visual. It saves them from making another stop for the item, so we feel we are offering a nice convenience," Winn added.
Convenience and one-stop shopping are two of the key motivators for supermarket retailers in this latest assault strategy on mass merchandisers. Some smaller retailers are implementing similar strategies, but on a smaller scale.
For example, Hy-Vee, Des Moines, Iowa, merchandises gift baskets at Christmastime that include baby items such as diapers, formula, wipes, toys and some clothing, said assistant vice president of communications Ruth Mitchell.
"Some stores have expanded [the gift baskets] to offer them as shower gifts," thus broadening their appeal, she said.
Other items some of the larger Hy-Vee stores carry, in addition to diapers, wipes, food and formula, include clothes, receiving blankets, small toys, stuffed animals, picture frames and room decorations, Mitchell said. "Hy-Vee carries those extra items as a convenience for customers," she noted.
Promotions for those items vary from store to store, based on its selection. The store might use an insert, a run-on-press ad, a local billboard or local radio, Mitchell said.
Still other supermarket retailers rely on the characteristic convenience of standard items to keep shoppers happy.
"We don't try to compete with mass merchants," said Kathryn Lowe, director of marketing at Russo's Giant Eagle, Chesterland, Ohio.
"They come to our store for the diapers, formula, food and wipes because it's a convenience, but they automatically go to the mass merchandiser for the bigger stuff. So we don't even try," Lowe said.
However, Russo's tries to stay within 5% to 15% of the pricing at mass merchandisers, she added. The stores occasionally offer case sales on diapers and wipes, which sell very well, she said.