WASHINGTON -- The National Broiler Council here, along with retailers across the country, is gearing up for September's 10th annual National Chicken Month -- a promotion started in 1989 to help extend the traditionally strong sales of the summer grilling season, which runs from June to August and produces the highest chicken sales of the year.
Since the promotion started a decade ago, September chicken sales have increased 46%, according to Bill Roenigk, vice president of the NBC, who believes that at least part of the increase is a reflection of the program's success.
If promotional support is any indication, this year's promotion should be especially successful. According to Deb Correll, chairwoman of the National Chicken Month promotional committee and director of marketing for Gold'n Plump Poultry in St. Cloud, Minn., it is the "most comprehensive" offered thus far.
For the first time, the NBC, backed by strong manufacturer support, is sponsoring a retail display contest with $9,000 in cash prizes -- $4,000 to the first-place winner, $2,000 to the second-place winner, and $500 to each of six third-place winners. In addition, all entrants will receive The New Chicken Cookbook, which features finalist recipes from the NBC's National Chicken Cooking Contest.
To enter the promotion, retailers must build a display featuring fresh chicken and at least three of the following products -- Ore-Ida Twice Baked Potatoes & Mashed Potatoes, Campbell's Condensed Soup, ReaLemon Lemon Juice, Gulden's Mustard, PAM Cooking Spray and Rice-A-Roni.
To assist them, the NBC is offering for the first time a CD-ROM that includes promotional visuals and illustrations, including more than two dozen product shots for year-round use. By early to mid-August, the NBC, which provided the first 500 CD-ROMs free of charge, had distributed a total of about 750, according to Richard Lobb, the NBC's director of communications.
Ten million instantly redeemable coupon packages, worth $2.15 each in savings, will also be affixed to specially marked packages of fresh chicken by such producers as Perdue Farms, Tyson-Holly Farms and Gold Kist Farms.
The promotion is being supported with a six-page full-color "idea booklet" in the September issues of Family Circle, McCalls and Good Housekeeping, which hit the newsstands in mid-August. The booklet, which will reach an estimated 40 million consumers, features easy-to-make recipes that tie into the various sponsor products.
It also includes information on how to find out about the 1999 National Chicken Cooking Contest -- which offers $25,000 to the first-place winner and $11,000 to additional winners -- and lists the NBC's Web site, which is www.eatchicken.com.
One retailer who's happy to enter the September promotion is Randy Robbins, meat manager at the Ray's Food Place unit in Gold Beach, Ore., part of a 32-store chain owned by CNK of Brookings, Ore.
Robbins entered the NBC's July promotion called "Summer Time is Grilling Time" and walked away with $4,000 as the first-place winner. In addition, he increased chicken sales 380% from the previous year and saw sales increase by at least four times for the tie-in items.
His winning entry, which took him two days and 12 hours to build, featured a chicken relaxing in a lounge chair, wearing sunglasses and reading an NBC recipe brochure. Underneath that was a "nest" made of Reynold's Wrap Foil and paper barbecue flames. Hanging overhead was a sun with the NBC recipe brochures fanning outward as rays.
His department also featured a large, inflatable Best Foods Mayonnaise jar balloon and an Ortega pinata -- both of which were supplied upon request by the manufacturers.
Robbins says he's keeping his entry plan for the September promotion under wraps, but hinted that it would have a "Back-to-School" theme, involve Campbell's soup, and focus on chicken's ease of preparation, low-fat/high-protein composition and strong dollar value.
Per capita consumption of chicken is expected to reach 75 pounds this year, with about 55% of the weight volume and about 50% of the dollar volume being moved through supermarkets, according to Roenigk.
Although consumption has been increasing about 4% to 5% per year for the past 20 years, it has recently slowed to an increase of about 2%, said Roenigk, who believes the chicken industry has to seek out and strengthen new uses for the product.
"Consumers tend to think of chicken for certain times -- maybe lunch or dinner -- but we need to break out of the box and start thinking about chicken for breakfast," he said. "Chicken sausages exist, but they tend to be more of a gourmet product, instead of a breakfast sausage, and although there are chicken burgers, they aren't offering true competition to beef hamburgers."
One of the obstacles for chicken burgers to overcome is achieving the texture and taste that seems to come naturally with ground beef, according to Roenigk.
One manufacturer who claims to have bridged that gap is Gold Farm Foods, New City, N.Y., which announced the introduction of Nature's Kitchen Chicken Burguettes in a mid-August news release.
According to the company, the burgers are made from a "patented technique that slices the chicken, instead of grounding the meat, like other burgers," and in "taste and texture" they offer the " 'bite' of natural muscle."
Among the retailers that will be carrying the new product are the Food Emporium and Waldbaum divisions of Montvale, N.J.-based A&P; D'Agostino Supermarkets, Larchmont, N.Y.; Stew Leonard's, Norwalk, Conn.; and Harry's Farmers Market, Roswell, Ga.