The most effective holiday merchandising programs are planned long before consumers even start thinking about their party needs, retailers told SN.
Each year, as Thanksgiving and Christmas draw near, Supervalu's Cub stores get customers into the mood for holiday entertaining with their annual Cub Fresh Holiday Open Houses that kick off the holiday season. For the past few years, the Minneapolis, Minn.-based supermarket chain has organized its signature promotion as a means of inviting shoppers into its Cub stores to sample a vast selection of deli and bakery items that will be available for holiday events.
According to Fred Ruehl, Supervalu's corporate bakery operations manager for wholesale, "some of the division stores choose to run an informal open house, but others make it a formal event, complete with invitations and even invite members of the media to attend."
Whether formal or informal, Ruehl says the events have been a great success. The open houses are encouraged by Supervalu, though each store has the ability to tailor the event to accommodate its own unique market. So, for the store managers who don't have the resources or budget for a full-fledged formal promotion or the consumer demographics that would support a formal event, there are a number of options available.
"At the wholesale level, our divisions vary so much in what they offer consumers, that we provide them with generic programs that they can tailor to fit their needs," said Lee Ann LaBore, corporate wholesale deli operations manager for Supervalu. "We publish a generic holiday open house brochure to help the managers set up their departments according to how in-depth they want to go with the event.
The wholesaler also provides them with everything from timelines and advertising ideas to festive brochures to hand out to shoppers, as well as a large party-planning book for consumers to go through at the department cases.
"The book is actually a loose-leaf binder so managers can add their own customized platter photos," La Bore added.
Aside from their holiday kickoff events, Supervalu also coordinates cross-merchandising programs and tie-ins between their deli and bakery departments and other departments throughout the store. LaBore said an advertising tie-in and cross-merchandising strategy typical of their stores during the holiday season ties proteins and side dishes together.
"For Thanksgiving, we might have a special on turkey and mashed potatoes and also advertise add-ons like rolls and pies from our bakery to create a meal solution," she said. "We also provide a holiday checklist for shoppers that cross-merchandises our deli and bakery items with other products in the store."
The checklist encourages consumers to purchase other holiday meal items like wine and flowers, along with prepared traditional foods like turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pies from the deli and bakery.
Supervalu also provides each store with holiday signage centered around a "Home for the Holidays" theme. Ruehl said these banners and danglers are displayed in both the deli and bakery department to complement the various thematic displays running throughout the store.
Other retailers are also getting into the holiday spirit by promoting holiday decor and themed food items in their deli, meat and bakery departments. Darrell Mickschl, master baker and bakery manager at Jerry's Food Stores in Bloomington, Minn., said "it's the responsibility of our bakery and deli departments to coordinate our displays during holidays and set the ambiance for the store, because we're the first thing shoppers see when they walk in."
Jerry's party platters are holiday specific and there are always cookie trays for the upcoming seasons -- complete with cutouts of maple leaves and pumpkins for Thanksgiving, and Christmas trees and Santas for Christmas, he said.
"We also throw in some of our signature deluxe turtle cookies that are made with pecans, chocolate and caramel," said Mickschl, adding that the trays have been such a success that his bakery department sells an average of 1,800 cookie trays during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons alone.
"We also sell trays with an assortment of six different brownies and we offer a few unusual items like rum rolls, eggnog angel food cake and a Scandinavian fruit bread, called yulekaga, which we usually sell 1,200 loaves of around Thanksgiving each year," said Mickschl.
While bakeries offer dessert selections, the deli departments of many stores also specialize in party platters that include a variety of meats, cheeses and even vegetables. Carl Richardson, a marketing consultant to the baking industry based in Rochester, Mich., has noticed retailers are expanding their deli platter options, and even incorporating gift-type items in stores.
"The party platter has been around for a while, but some deli departments now have platter 'kits' that include cheeses and meats, individually wrapped, so consumers can take it home and arrange it themselves," said Richardson. "Manufacturers are starting to produce wrapped holiday breads, cakes and other items that are ready to go -- from dock to stock. Since people give these foods as gifts, they like to run into the store, pick up a fruitcake or creme cake that's already wrapped and be on their way."
Similarly, Supervalu is capitalizing on the gift-giving season by bringing complementary items from throughout the store into its deli and bakery departments.
According to LaBore, "our department managers are putting things like ceramic cookie jars in the bakery to sell in conjunction with cookies and flavored olive oils and pasta ingredients in the deli for consumers wanting to make their own gift baskets with meats, cheeses and nonperishables."
Meanwhile, meat managers are busy working on center-plate items.
Quillin's in LaCrosse, Wis., is offering a variety of pre-cooked turkeys, hams and even unusual holiday items like roast beef and turkey breasts. And, as shoppers gobble up such center-plate items, meat departments are experimenting with cross-merchandising of side dishes that provide more of a complete meal solution.
"This year, along with the traditional turkeys we usually sell in our meat departments, we're going to advertise turkey breasts because we see families getting smaller and more interested in cholesterol and other health issues," said Pat Tierney, meat coordinator for Quillin's. "We've also noticed that over the years, a lot more people don't want turkey, or they might have several dinners to attend and would rather have a roast beef or ham for one of the meals. So, we are offering more of those items, pre-cooked and ready-to-eat in our meat case this year."
Along with entree items, Quillin's also displays a number of cross-merchandised accompaniments within the meat department for convenience. Aside from nonperishables like canned green beans, cream of mushroom soup and french-fried onions for making green bean casserole, Tierney said the department often brings prepared deli items like mashed potatoes and gravy into the meat case.
Breaking into unfamiliar territory, other retailers are picking up on the popularity of foods like honey-baked hams for holiday meal items. According to Rod Taylor, senior vice president of promotions for Co-Active Marketing Group, a Cincinnati-based marketing company, supermarkets are losing far too many sales to outside sources during the holidays.
Embarking on a new venture that merchandises Hillshire ham sections inside a select group of their stores, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer is one of the first supermarket chains to go head-to-head with such specialty shops.
"Grocers like Meijer are beginning to realize that specialty shops like Honey-Baked Ham stores are capitalizing on a great market that they can potentially compete in, too," said Taylor.
"But, Meijer is putting their own special twist on the concept by having someone personally flame-glaze the hams with a blow-torch right then and there for the shoppers," he said. "The idea is that shoppers want the handmade quality and now they can get that quality in supermarkets, along with fulfilling other grocery needs all in the same place."