MADISON, Wis. -- Participating in a display contest sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, retailers in Wisconsin sent their chocolate milk sales soaring, some up as much as 300%.
Headlined "Eye Love Chocolate Milk," the WMMB promotional effort featured an outer space-looking character with multiple eyes that held a glass of chocolate milk in one hand. Retailers were supplied with colorful, 4-foot cardboard cutouts of the character to use with their dairy displays.
"The creature really appealed to the kids. They loved that. And he was bright green, so he was very visible," said Scott Barth, assistant store manager at Thorp IGA, Thorp, Wis.
For the week it was featuring half gallons of chocolate milk, Thorp IGA sold 350 half-gallons, more than three times what it averages in a non-promotional week, Barth said.
Barth, who built the display and was the grand-prize winner in the WMMB contest, made the most of the cardboard alien, picking up on the "eye" theme.
"Since the contest was held right around Halloween, it was easy for me to get more decorations to go with it. I got some of those plastic, glow-in-the-dark eyes and put them all around a big sign that I spray-painted black. It said, 'Eye love chocolate milk.' We had that over the dairy case with four black, rubber spiders and stringy cob-webs hanging down from it. We stood the alien right there, too," Barth said.
But that wasn't the extent of it at Thorp IGA. Barth also claimed space in the entry way of the store for raffling off a pumpkin-shaped, trick-or-treat container filled with goodies that included -- in addition to candy and cookies -- gift certificates for pints of chocolate milk, and a small, portable radio with the "Got Milk?" slogan inscribed on it. A nearby pumpkin featuring a revolving red light called attention to forms that children could fill out to participate in a drawing. And a second cutout of the WMMB many-eyed creature there beckoned them as well. Frequent messages over the PA system encouraging kids to sign up led to more than 200 doing so.
Certainly all the hoopla helped create record sales of chocolate milk, but so did cents-off prices advertised in the store's circular. Thorp IGA, like other retailers who participated in the promotion, put various sizes of chocolate milk on sale during different weeks of October.
The week that Tomah County Market, Tomah, Wis., featured chocolate milk in gallons, it posted a demo person dressed in a Holstein cow suit next to a 4-by-8-foot bunker of gallons right in the middle of the dairy aisle. The Eye Love Chocolate Milk alien stood on the other end of the bunker with its milk glass raised on high while the dressed associate offered samples to everybody who came by. Virtually everybody who took a sample ended up purchasing a gallon, said store manager Doug Cable, who took second prize for his store in the WMMB contest.
Cable also utilized two life-sized, fiberglass cows, a black and white, and a brown and white, in his display.
"The kids were petting them and writing on them, but the biggest cow was outside. We rented a 20-foot-tall, red, white and blue cow and had it sitting on a 30-foot trailer out front during the two weeks [that the store promoted chocolate milk]."
Festival Foods East, Green Bay, Wis., the third-prize winner in the display contest, made the chocolate milk promotion part of a storewide trick-or-treat theme and had the children of some of the employees handing out samples in the dairy department.
"We had a full endcap display of chocolate milk. We had a 5-foot tall Holstein cow there, and the [WMMB alien mascot] fit right in because everybody was dressed up for our Boo Fest. It was the week before Halloween. I'd say 95% of our employees and managers were in costumes. One manager was dressed like a cow, another as Cinderella," said Mark Shimek, perishables manager.
Shimek said he expected that the promotion would have residual effect in that it probably got people thinking about buying chocolate milk in gallons who hadn't before. Year-to-date sales were up weeks after the promotion, he said.