The Parisian Cancan? The King of Rock 'n' Roll? Themes for grocers' canned goods sales can literally bring customers dancing into the aisles to pick up canned-food bargains, as retailers brainstorm to generate a little excitement to combat post-holiday blues.
The blue-collar image of canned foods has shifted somewhat, due to the increasing presence of organic foods in cans, imported soups and other specialty foods that spiff up the category with attractive labels. Package redesign of mainstream fruits and vegetables also helps attract consumers, as IGA and others have found out.
Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., is using Elvis Presley images again this year for its "King Can" sale, which ran the first two weeks of this month.
Traditionally, a King Can sale featured King Kong but switched to Elvis last year, "and we had such success, that we continued the Elvis takeoff this year," explained Mona Golub Ganz, manager of community and government relations for the chain. The campaign even won the National Grocers Award for Best of Show last year, she said, as well as a NORI award from the American Advertising Federation.
The King Can sale features both private-label and national brands, and creates a themed excitement that wraps around the entire store, Golub Ganz said. Elvis impersonators sing in the TV and radio ads, and a likeness of The King is used in the in-store fliers.
ShopRite stores, which originated the "Can Can" sale 31 years ago, is running its annual bash through Jan. 20. "Canned foods are still strong," said Cathy Houston, a spokeswoman for Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., which supplies the 192 ShopRite units.
A store circular for the preview sale, called "Can't Can't Wait," came out the week of Dec. 10, showing deals like three cans of Star Kist Chunk Light Tuna for a dollar, 24 cans of Alpo cat food for $2.99, and more.
"Ninety-five percent of the categories in grocery are offered on sale during the two weeks of the sale," Houston said. It's always held during January, historically among the lowest weeks in supermarket sales. "That was the original idea, and now we consider our busy season to include Can Can. Other retailers are taking a breather, but we're still on super-high mode," said Houston. There is a lot of buzz about Can Can. "People call, asking when it's going to be. It's our biggest promotion. We encourage sales of cases of soda, cases of cat food -- people are just taking cases and putting them in their shopping carts. Last year, Rosie O'Donnell sang the Can Can jingle on her show. We have customers who call in for the words. People have sent us e-mails, asking for the lyrics," Houston said.
The Pittsburgh-based Canned Food Alliance is quick to point out that canned food is just as nutritious as fresh or frozen, and maybe more so. The CFA is readying a new brochure and a celebrity cookbook just in time for National Canned Food Month, which is February.
Share Our Strength, Washington (www.strength.org), a large national anti-hunger program that attracts many chefs to local benefits, has partnered with the CFA, which is donating $1,000 to SOS for each celebrity who contributes a recipe using canned foods. The recipes are being pulled together for the CFA cookbook, which will be available on its Web site, www.mealtime.org, where anyone can get it for a donation of any size from $1 and up.
"There's such a focus on anti-hunger campaigns around the holidays, then a lull in February, and canned food is a great way to go if you're on a budget," said Michelle Ford, spokeswoman for the CFA. Giving the Martha Stewart treatment to the labels is another way to promote canned food.
Jim Collins, national accounts manager for IGA, Chicago, a major supplier to independent stores, says there historically has been more of a focus on the peripheral areas of the store, because there is more money in those, while Center Store mostly breaks even or generates minimal profit margins.
Also, he said, it seems consumers are more interested in service now, such as in bakery, meat and floral departments. So, in an effort to boost Center Store's canned goods sales, IGA has added new packaging that has a softer, more upscale, national brand look to it, aimed at women shoppers, who are more apt to grab something that looks nicer, he said.
"It has more shelf attraction, but you also have to have good quality. The appearance of the labels attracts the consumer, but only if they like the product will they buy it again," Collins said.
The CFA funded a nutritional study, just completed last month, directed by Ken Samonds, associate professor of human nutrition at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The study analyzed 40 recipes, comparing both the nutritional value and the sensory appeal of these dishes, when made with one or more substitutions of fresh or frozen ingredients or canned. The study concluded that recipes made with canned ingredients are just as good as, and sometimes better than, those made with fresh or frozen ingredients.
A key point the CFA found this year, in working with consumer affairs people from supermarket chains, is that many consumers are regularly logging onto the Internet in search of recipes, including their local grocery Web sites.
In addition, Ford said, many of the smaller grocery chains have been receptive to CFA brochures, three of which were produced last year. "We have distributed brochures to 35 different chains, many of them smaller ones. It is more difficult to get into those bigger grocery stores, but we continue to provide the information in hopes that they can use it on their Web site," added Ford.
The third brochure in the series (out soon) features winter recipes and ideas on stocking a pantry, and information about the UMass study in its entirety. "We tried to make it recipe-focused so people have applications for canned products," Ford told SN.
"Obviously, people are looking for recipe ideas, and they are on-line," she continued. "We had such a growth of brand-new users through that format. It had increased by about 35%, compared with the year before. We have found more and more chains, even the smaller ones, are starting to have Web sites. In a way, it's a learning experience for all the commodity boards, which are always looking for a way to interface with the consumer."
She said she has not come across any food processors yet putting "No GMO" labels on their canned goods, as some baby foods have now on their clear jars.
Shaw's Supermarkets, West Bridgewater, Mass., finds sales of canned food going strong, according to Bernie Rogan, spokesman for the chain. Shaw's runs its canned goods sale, called Cantastic, twice a year: in the September-October period, and also in February-March. Most grocery chains that run canned goods sales keep them going two to three weeks at a time.
Rogan said the Cantastic sale drives the whole store, although that is presumably why many other chains run canned goods sales. Price Chopper, Big Y and Grand Union are among those known in the Northeast for their canned goods sales, as well as Rosauers in the Pacific Northwest and Save-On-Foods, a Canadian retailer which ran a "Caselot Event" from Aug. 27 to Sept. 2, at its 40 stores in British Columbia and Alberta.
"It ends up being a promotion on all the aisles where all the canned products are," Rogan said.
In the past, Shaw's has used some radio to promote its canned goods sale, but the flier is its principal vehicle. "Customers have learned to watch for [the sale], and there are big signs in the windows and throughout the store, hanging signs and stanchion signs.
"A lot of the ethnic products and a lot of world market products are canned. All the Hispanic-style beans are packaged in cans, and are increasingly used by mainstream shoppers," Rogan pointed out.