SALISBURY, N.C. -- Food Lion here is revving up its engines for what a company executive is calling the largest consumer and merchandising promotion ever implemented in the retail grocery trade.
The Food Lion NASCAR Super Fan Challenge, which begins May 22, is the first promotion Food Lion has done with the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing since becoming the official supermarket of NASCAR late last year.
A highlight of the promotion is a match-and-win game in which the grand prize is a Richard Petty, limited-edition Winnebago, plus cash, making the prize worth $248,000. Among the other prizes is a $10,000 shopping spree sponsored by Mastercard. Food Lion will be distributing 65 million game pieces and 15 million game boards over the six-week life of the campaign.
For the first four weeks of the promotion, all 1,086 Food Lion stores will have only NASCAR-themed displays.
"We've fully integrated the merchandising in the store," Jay Abraham, Food Lion's vice president of marketing, told SN. "So when you walk into a Food Lion, you'll be walking into an environment that is fully NASCAR-themed.
"Stores will have a very set, standard planogram we'll be working with," he added. "In working with the manufacturers, one of the key components of the program -- in addition to the theme of NASCAR and the fit with our shopper -- is the ability to guarantee them set merchandising in the stores; it's a critical piece of it for the manufacturers."
Abraham said each store will have six to eight freestanding displays with mockups of cars surrounding the displays. Virtually every end-aisle display will also be NASCAR-themed. Shelf signs, hanging signs and truck triaramas -- three images of hoods from racing cars hung back to back to form a triangle -- will help round out the in-store decor, as will a 20-foot banner hung across the front end.
The stores will also have a NASCAR Pit Stop, an area where a myriad of NASCAR-themed general merchandise will be available.
"We're trying to make Food Lion a destination for NASCAR fans during this time period," Abraham told SN. "The goal is to have people who are even remotely familiar with the sport say, 'I've heard about it; my friends have talked about it. I need to go to see it for myself.' "
Food Lion will advertise the promotion on television, radio, in magazines, newspapers and its fliers.
When they arrive at a Food Lion, shoppers will see store employees wearing things such as NASCAR hats. That, coupled with a separate employee game, will help boost the enthusiasm of employees, Abraham said. Prizes and odds in the employee game will mirror those in the consumer game, Abraham noted.
"One of the critical elements in us being successful in implementing this program is having the employees getting involved in it," he said. "With 1,086 stores and 65,000 employees, it's critical they're involved in the game and understand the game. The best way to do that is to have them participating in the game as well."
A promotion as large as this one has created some unique challenges, Abraham noted.
"There are a lot of organizational issues, a lot of communication issues, a much heavier need for excellent communication down to the store level to ensure there's nothing else displayed or promoted during this window. It's really required a much more significant commitment from all aspects of the organization."
Now that the program has been outlined, follow-through will be similar to that of other promotions.
"It's part of our standard operating procedure," Abraham said. "Our operations group has a set structure that is designed to ensure there is the type of follow-through we need to have with any type of program at retail, whether it's being the Food Lion NASCAR Super Fan Challenge or Product X going out on a force-out on an end-aisle display around Christmas."
Though most food-related NASCAR sponsors produce Center Store items, Food Lion's goal is to incorporate the entire store in this promotion. In the deli department, for example, Food Lion will be promoting Food Lion and Fast prepared meals. Abraham cited a fan handbook and a summer salad recipe book, both manufacturer-sponsored, as other ways the promotion will reach across the entire store.
Abraham said one important goal of the promotion is image-related.
"Part of it is that we're trying to manage Food Lion as a brand, just as a consumer packaged goods manufacturer manages its brands," he said. "Part of that is developing an image and an association for the consumer, so they can relate to the brand." Geographically, demographically and psychographically, Abraham stated, Food Lion's consumer base is a natural fit with NASCAR.
Managing Food Lion as a brand, he noted, will include a limited number of opportunities for the chain to reinforce its private-label message.
"In categories where there are no vendors participating, we are going to try to integrate our private-label brand, mostly through cents-off coupons." Perishables will also receive a lot of attention, he said.
The timing of the promotion ties in with the Coca-Cola 600, run on Memorial Day weekend in Charlotte, N.C., Food Lion's backyard. "We thought it made sense to focus this program on what we see is the real start of the summer season, both from the manufacturer standpoint and the sport standpoint," Abraham said, noting that many of the manufacturer sponsors produce products heavily advertised in the summer months.
In addition to the chainwide promotion across all 14 states in which Food Lion operates, the chain will do some local marketing in the Charlotte area, tying into Speed Street, a major local event that leads up to the Coca Cola 600. That, Abraham said, will let Food Lion explore regional NASCAR-related promotional opportunities.
"When you really sit back and think about the applicability of our relationship with NASCAR and the local nature of every race they have, it becomes very obvious as to what can potentially be done on a market-by-market basis. This program in May, from a corporate standpoint, will give us a sense of how significantly we can deliver for the vendors on a chainwide basis. But also some of the things we'll be doing in the Charlotte area will give us a feel for the scope and magnitude of what we can do on a local basis and the resources required."
Though Food Lion is obviously looking to score big with its strong NASCAR-fan customer base, it's not leaving the rest of its customers out in the cold.
"The idea is for every consumer, when they get their game piece, to win something," Abraham said. "We're also trying to make the event broad enough so it appeals to more than just the NASCAR fans. That's part of the reason we've included things like the shopping spree, trips to Opryland, barbecue sets and dollars off your next trip to Food Lion."