As consumers roll the grill back into the shed and pull sweaters out of their closets, supermarket operators are looking to rake in strong sales with their fall promotions.
Chains contacted by SN said they generated robust sales during the summer and expect the upward sales trend to continue when the season changes. To keep the momentum going, retailers said they are using special events, community activities and school openings as a marketing springboard. They also are stocking more meat, baked goods, dry groceries and private-label items as cooking moves indoors.
In southern California, Stater Bros. Markets in Colton is replacing autumn's traditional earth-toned hues with patriotic red-white-and-blue decorations to commemorate its 60th anniversary, according to Jack H. Brown, president, chairman and chief executive officer.
"We are excited about the fall," Brown said. "It's the 60th anniversary of the company, and we will be doing eight weeks of anniversary-type promotions." Promotions will include network television commercials in the Los Angeles market, newspaper ads and endcap displays, he said.
"One of our themes is that Stater Bros. is an American tradition. We had two young men who at 18 years old went out and bought their first supermarket. Now we have $1.7 billion in sales and 110 stores," he added. "Where else but in America can that happen?"
The company is also relying on its newly remodeled floral and deli sections and an emphasis on its bakery departments to keep sales up, said Brown. Besides putting more bakery items on display, the company hired a bakery director and named three new bakery supervisors to ensure high quality in that store area, he added.
Despite an optimistic outlook for the upcoming months and an improving regional economy, this year's presidential election could shift consumers' spending habits if issues raised in the campaign cast shadows of uncertainty on the future, Brown noted.
"When people feel good about their lives and their future, there is more of a tendency to go out and enjoy life, and that may mean more shopping," he explained. "When they are concerned about the future or what will follow after an election, they may be more cautious in what they spend because they don't know what the future holds. If shoppers have a feeling of confidence, it could turn out to be a better fall than last year."
However, Nelson Rodenmayer, director of marketing for the Louisville, Ky.-based Midwest Division of Winn-Dixie Stores said the race for the nation's top office should have little impact on the supermarket industry.
"Sales may a change a little bit, but the supermarket industry -- through good times and bad times -- is a constant," he said. "If they are worried about money, they may eat out less and that would help supermarkets. But I don't see any big change in sales because of the election."
At Winn-Dixie, the main focus this fall will be in the meat, bakery and spice categories -- areas that consumers are more likely to visit when cooking indoors, Rodenmayer said. Those items will be targeted through cross-merchandising and end-aisle displays. Candy and greeting cards also will get more promotional play as the holidays approach.
"There will be more roasts and meats for chilis and stews. Those are typical for the fall," he said. "You'll also see displays change over from charcoal and soft drinks to cakes, breads and spices. These are the things they are going to use for home cooking in the winter. People will be using the microwave less and turning on the oven as weather cools."
School openings and Labor Day provide natural promotional transitions for the chain as it starts rolling out its fall product lineup, Rodenmayer noted. "Back-to-school [promotions] are one of our discount themes, and we offer 20% discounts on school supplies.
There will also be a different switch in the food around that time," he said. "Cereals are a big deal because people will be rushing out of house early in the morning. We're also doing lunch box items for the kids -- like apples, juice boxes and pudding -- with in-store displays and cross-merchandising.
Scolari's Food and Drug Co., Sparks, Nev., is looking to hot-air balloon races, auto races, local casino events and other community activities to keep tourists in the area throughout September and help maintain summer sales levels, according to Jan Gilbert, vice president of merchandising. Once those events end, the chain will be ready to roll out its fall coupon book, he said.
"Those events wind down the summer, and by that time we'll need a little boost. So we use a coupon book," Gilbert said, noting that Scolari's summer sales peak in July and August. "It helps increase store traffic. As opposed to the traditional ad insert that we run every week, we feel like we catch a different customer because the coupon book is mailed directly to consumers. We cover a wider area and the smaller outlaying areas with it."
Launched about four years ago, the fall coupon book is used to promote traditional harvest items and will tie in with October's Harvest Festival, a storewide promotion emphasizing Hy-Top private-label products, Gilbert said. "We do three major private-label promotions during the year, including one in the fall," he told SN. "Forty-five private-label items go in the circular and are supported by front-page display. It will focus on produce, center store items, dry grocery, vegetables and frozen foods. It will be a good cross-section."
"We always do a preseason display survey and start putting products like bakery items, cranberries and stuffing mix in the stores in October," he explained. "During that same time frame, we do advertising for the products the consumer wants."
Two Southeastern chains -- Food City and Food Lion -- expect their successful NASCAR auto racing tie-in promotions this summer to carry over to the fall.
"We do NASCAR promotions all spring and summer. We start in February and go through November," said Steven C. Smith, president and chief operating officer for Food City, operated by K-VA-T Food Stores, Grundy, Va. "It's really big in Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky, which is where we operate stores. We are in the center of NASCAR country.
Food Lion also saw sales jump this summer from NASCAR-themed marketing, said Cecily N. Durrett, a spokeswoman for the Salisbury, N.C.-based chain.
In the upcoming weeks, Food City will kick off a private-label push and allocate more prime shelf space to fall-oriented products, Smith said.
"Seasonal items displayed in the summer like pork-and-beans and mayonnaise will move to cake mixes, cooking oils and floral items," he explained. "There will be in-store displays to promote our Food Club private brand. That promotion is to reinforce the variety and low price those items could give you." Categories that will get more promotional attention in the next few months include bakery, deli and meat, Smith added.
Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas, expects customer visits to the baked-goods areas to step up as the weather cools, said Gary Price, vice president of merchandising. To fortify its offerings in that category, Minyard is reviewing its product needs to replenish its stock.
"We always have a fall baking survey, where we survey stores and order the things we need. Also, there will be advertisements and in-store displays in the fall to push general merchandise that goes with baking category," Price said, pointing to tie-ins with cooking utensils.