Oklahoma City -- For Fleming Cos., promoting frozen food requires a balance between a global, corporate philosophy and the ground-level needs of diverse markets.
"I've got 25 different personalities, or more appropriately, 25 different ideas and philosophies on how to market and promote frozen foods," explained Gary Boatman, Fleming's corporate manager of frozen food and dairy. With that many divisions serving about 128 different retail ad groups, "it is very difficult to come up with a cookie-cutter philosophy on how to promote the department. That's why Fleming allows tremendous autonomy for the divisions to put a promotional strategy into practice as they see fit," he said.
So what is the alternative to the cookie cutter? Chaos? Boatman finds a point of balance somewhere in between by setting a corporate tone and making available a set of marketing tools, based mostly on events, from which the divisions can create a patchwork that works best for each.
Boatman's "corporate point of view" is to promote the entire aisle, "to look at it as a whole, a place that, once the consumer is drawn in, offers the retailer the right opportunity to make a sale," he said.
The challenge, he continued, is figuring out how to get the consumers into the aisle on a consistent basis, and he prefers a structure of event-based promotions to do that, rather than a series of weekly price promotions.
"Promotions alone, without corporate planning, are nothing more than just merchandising functions that concentrate on what to sell. Marketing is about how to sell it. Price promotion activities create short-term sales for frozens, but they are driven by our need for sales, not the needs of consumers. "If you build your business on price promotion, or price only, you can always be outpromoted and you will attract one customer type only," Boatman said, while event-based promotions focus on selling the aisle, induce trial and get new customers into the aisle. Fleming's approach is still to use one or two key, promotable items to get attention, "but the goal is to get customers' attention to frozen food as something we offer day in and day out. To increase the average transaction is our goal."
Fleming's average stockkeeping-unit count is 1,349, ranging from 625 or 2,343, Boatman said. "For the most part, our retail customers have enough SKUs for any promotion you throw at us." He also warned suppliers that such diversity can lead to frustration as they try to fathom promotional programs to meet the needs of so many types of retailers.
Still, Boatman finds patterns in the promotional tactics taken by his retailers. "They no longer promote just the basics." Frozen concentrate orange juice, for example, is a mature category that responds to price promotion. But Fleming retailers won't promote it alone; they also include grapefruit, apple and blends to build a juice promotion's volume and "get better sales results" throughout the department, he said.
Fleming's independents also are expanding their use of multiples in three-for-$5 and even three-for-$7 programs, "which are working nicely."
In addition, the wholesaler encourages customers to take advantage of full-line vendor programs. Boatman said pallet promotions are gaining in popularity as well. "The retailers are putting together solid programs. It is working not only with warehouse stores, but now it is more popular in conventional stores, especially those fighting off competition from competitive formats," Boatman said.
"Many of the divisions are now getting into October [as a monthlong promotion event], getting not quite the same results as March [National Frozen Food Month], but with efforts that are not being wasted," he added. Another trend is stretching across division lines to increase the number of "convenience items" included in frozen department promotions, a bid to attract more working families with which these items are increasingly popular, he said.
Specifically themed events finding favor with Fleming retailers include a "Juice-Arama" and "Spudtacular" programs for the juice and potato categories. Boatman said the most effective approach is to "use the mature items within the category as a draw, and at the same time give the retailer the opportunity to expand the sales of peripheral items, the ones that are making more money for all of us."
The wholesaler offers a package of tools through its divisions to help retailers put together such events. Boatman said it includes extensive point-of-purchase materials, in-store media such as in-store broadcasting, and advertising materials.