NEW YORK -- It's become an end-of-summer ritual at some supermarket chains: the case or club-pack size sale.
Retailers often position such promotions so they fall at the end of the season, as shoppers return from vacations and prepare to stock up on back-to-school items.
King Soopers, Denver, ran a column of "case sales" in a July ad that included bottled water, eggs, dog food and paper towels.
Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, in August ran a Club Price page in its ad that included large package sizes of toilet paper, granola bars and iced-tea mix under the pitch, "No membership fees!"
ShopRite Stores, Elizabeth, N.J., promoted Big Size Savings in an August ad that included a 300-ounce bottle of All laundry detergent, a three-pound box of macaroni, and a 20-pound bag of charcoal.
To some observers, such promotions are a way retailers can protect their turf against mass merchandisers and club stores. They're the extreme version of a multiple sale like a buy-one, get-one free, said sales and marketing consultant Bill Wyman, founder of Rockwell Consulting, Ridgefield, Conn.
"They are trying to preempt the loss of a trip," he said.
Paul Weitzel, vice president, Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill., said competition with other channels isn't the main motivation, however.
"I don't think you're going to do enough of it that you're going to take people out of the club stores," he opined. "If they did, they would be doing complete aisles."
Rather, he said, the promotion of case and large package sizes is driven by manufacturers' desire to drive volume and retailers' wish to improve efficiencies. Stocking larger-size items cuts the time it takes to stock and scan them, and sales result in a higher ring.
"On the retail side, there is a huge interest in better managing the cost of stocking the shelf," Weitzel noted.
Still, mass merchandisers have contributed to the trend by getting shoppers used to buying large sizes of items. Common pantry items, such as canned goods, beverages and paper products, as well as fresh food, are now available in big package sizes.
As a sign of their acceptance by shoppers, big package sizes commonly get gondola space and a traditional endcap display. That change has challenged the way managers merchandise and set categories, observed Mark Heckman, co-founder of Strategic Retail Solutions, Bradenton, Fla., a marketing consulting firm. "As folks get trained to buy those kinds of products in larger sizes, [retailers] also have gotten used to handling them that way," he said. "You're seeing an awful lot of retrofitting gondolas."
Stocking jumbo-sized packages can reduce a retailer's costs, he stated. Yet the strategy isn't risk-free. More multipacks in the gondola means less space for other stockkeeping units. "It is a zero-sum game," said Heckman.
Retailers often promote cases, but don't give cases enough space, resulting in out-of-stocks, Weitzel added. "I think the key is if you do it right, you need to keep the shelf full."