ELIZABETH, N.J. -- Though infant formula is not the most profitable item in Center Store, some supermarket chains, like Wakefern Food Corp. here, pay close attention to the placement and merchandising of this essential item in the baby aisle.
SN looked at formula in Wakefern stores because, according to industry observers, the wholesale cooperative is one of the best in the New York tristate area when it comes to category management of this item. SN analyzed four ShopRite units -- three corporate stores and one independent in New York and New Jersey. Wakefern officials declined to comment for this story.
Two new corporate stores, one opened June 1997 in Bay Shore, N.Y., on Long Island; and the other in August 1997 in Clark, N.J., positioned baby formula midaisle, flanked by baby food on one side and bottles, nipples and bottle liners on the other. Both units were prototype stores.
A corporate store in Uniondale, N.Y., also on Long Island, had the same setup, while the independent unit here put formula between baby food and Johnson & Johnson products, but still in the center of the aisle.
In all stores, formula takes up 10 to 12 running feet, merchandised on about 5 feet of shelving.
The three major brands carried by Wakefern were Similac (Ross Products/Abbott Laboratories), Infamil (Mead Johnson), and Carnation (Nestle).
In general, prices were lower in the New Jersey stores, although in a few instances, the opposite was true. In addition, prices varied from unit to unit, although many items had the same price in the same state.
Similac infant formula, made with iron and with low iron; Isomil, a soy product; and Neo-Care, for premature babies, were the staple Ross products available at all the stores. Fourteen-ounce cans of Similac powder, merchandised on the top shelf and more or less at eye-level, were $9.99. Isomil sold for $10.79 in Bay Shore and Uniondale, and $10.19 in Elizabeth and Clark.
Neo-Care 14-ounce cans of powder were $11.69 in the New York stores and $10.89 in the New Jersey units.
Mead Johnson products on the shelves were ProSobee (a soy formula), Enfamil with iron and with low iron, Nutramigen (a hypoallergenic formula), LactoFree, Next Step and Next Step Soy for toddlers.
ProSobee 14-ounce cans of powder were $10.99 in New Jersey stores and $11.19 in New York stores.
Other powdered formulas from Mead Johnson varied in size, and were also variably priced.
For example, at the New Jersey stores, LactoFree 14-ounce cans, were $10.66, while the same product was $10.99 at the Uniondale store and $11.29 in Bay Shore. One-pound cans of Nutramigen were $18.99 in the New Jersey stores, but $19.59 in Uniondale.
Pound cans of Enfamil, available with iron or with low iron, were $11.29 at the New Jersey stores. At the Bay Shore and Uniondale store, the same product was $10.99.
A 2-pound can of Enfamil in Uniondale and Bay Shore was $19.99, but $19.49 in the Elizabeth store. Twelve-ounce cans of Next Step Soy were $6.88 at both New Jersey stores, but 6.99 in New York.
Carnation powdered products were available at the Clark unit: 12-ounce cans of Good Start, for $6.69, which was on sale and carried a ShopRite "Compare and Save" sign; 14-ounce cans of Follow-Up Soy, for $7.55; 12-ounce cans of Follow-Up (milk product) for $5.62; and 14-ounce cans of Alsoy, on sale for $7.19.
At the New York stores, Carnation powdered products were again more expensive: Alsoy and Follow-Up Soy were both $8.29, while Good Start was $6.99 and Follow-Up (milk) was $5.99.
Powdered Gerber baby formula in 16-ounce cans was on the shelf at the Bay Shore store and priced at $9.49. The same product was $9.25 in Elizabeth.
The Clark store had a powdered goat-milk product in the formula section, although it wasn't clear whether the product was particularly aimed at infants or children.
Meyenberg evaporated goat milk in powdered packets (4 ounces total) retailed for $3.29, while the 14-ounce can of powder was $8.39.
Concentrated liquid formula for the major brands were in 13-ounce cans. At the ShopRite in Bay Shore, Similac (including Isomil) sold for $2.79, while Enfamil was $2.89. Additional Mead Johnson products were more highly priced. ProSobee and LactoFree sold for $2.99, while Nutramigen was $5.79. But Next Step Soy, for toddlers, was only $2.29.
In the New Jersey stores, Similac and Isomil were $2.79, but Enfamil was only $2.69. ProSobee sold for $3.09 (more expensive than in New York), while Nutramigen, at $4.99, was less expensive. In the Clark store, Next Step was $2.69.
In the Uniondale store Isomil and Similac concentrates were not marked; neither was Enfamil nor LactoFree. But ProSobee was marked as $2.99 and Next Step at $2.29, while Nutramigen sold for $5.29.
Carnation concentrates were priced the same in the New Jersey stores, with Good Start and Follow-Up at $2.29 and Alsoy at $2.06.
In Bay Shore, Follow-Up was also $2.29, but Good Start was $2.39 and Alsoy was $2.49. In Uniondale, Good Start was $2.49, but Follow-Up was not marked.
Tall, ready-to-serve 1-quart cans of formula were merchandised on the bottom shelves at all the ShopRites.
In New York, Similac products were $4.29, with Isomil at $4.39 and Isomil DF (for diarrhea) at $4.99. Alimentum, formula for babies with food allergies or colic, was $6.59.
In New Jersey, Similac and Isomil DF carried the same price tag of $4.39, although Isomil (regular) was 10 cents cheaper, at $4.29. Alimentum at the Clark store was $6.79, 20 cents more than in the New York stores.
Enfamil cans were $4.29 in both New York and New Jersey, while ProSobee was $4.49 in New York and $4.29 in New Jersey. Nutramigen was $6.69 in New York and $6.29 in New Jersey.
Enfamil's Next Step was $3.39 in Bay Shore, and 10 cents cheaper, at $3.29, in New Jersey and Uniondale. Carnation Alsoy was $3.39 in New York and New Jersey, while Follow-up was $3.19 in New York and $2.99 in New Jersey.
Good Start was $3.69 in Bay Shore and on sale for $3.19 in Uniondale. In New Jersey, the regular price for Good Start was $3.45.
Ready-to-feed cans were also available in 8-ounce six packs. Similac six-packs were $9.79 in New York and $9.89 in New Jersey, and Isomil six-packs were $9.99 in New York and New Jersey.
Four packs of 8-ounce ready-to-use cans of Enfamil were priced at $6.49 in the New York stores and at $5.89 in New Jersey. ProSobee 4-packs were $6.49 in Uniondale, N.Y. and $6.29 in New Jersey units.
Ready-to-feed, 4-ounce bottles in six packs were another option. In this format, Similac sold for $10.29 in New York units, but for $9.89 in the New Jersey stores. Isomil sold for $10.19 in Bay Shore, but for $9.99 in Uniondale and $9.89 in both New Jersey units.
Enfamil six-pack bottles were $11.99 in Uniondale and Clark, while Enfamil 8-pack nursette bottles could be found in the Elizabeth, N.J. unit for $7.99.
All the ShopRite stores carried Pediasure, a complete liquid nutrition with fiber for children ages 1 to 10, in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavors. This dietary supplement came in 8-ounce six packs and were $9.99 in all the stores.
Kao Lectrolyte, an electrolyte replenisher for children who lose fluid after a sickness, came in 4 packs. This product was for children up to 6 years old, with a retail of $5.99 in all the ShopRites except Uniondale, where it retailed for $4.99.
Infalyte is another dietary supplement that replaces fluids and electrolytes, and quart containers were retailing for $3.69 in New York and Elizabeth.
Pedialyte, a similar product in quart containers, was also sold as freezer pops. All the ShopRites were running a special on this item, where consumers could get a $1-off generic coupon at the register with the purchase of two containers. Pedialyte retailed for $5.99 in the New York stores and $5.14 in the New Jersey units.
During SN's visit, a ShopRite associate at the Elizabeth, N.J. store was checking dates on the formula cans as he stocked new items.
A spot check in the other store revealed that there was no out-of-date formula on the shelves. Dates viewed were from June 1998 to as late as July 1999.
According to the Infant Formula Council, Atlanta, Georgia, formula should not be bought or fed beyond the expiration date, since they physical properties of formula can change with age; for example, there can be a decrease in vitamin potency.
The Council urges consumers to return out-of-date formula to their retailer in the event that they do purchase some, for exchange or reimbursement.
ShopRite merchandises formula along with diapers and wipes, baby food, bottles and nipples, health and beauty baby care products, and bibs, rattles, toys and other baby accoutrements. One store even had some diaper disposal systems.
The baby category in the ShopRites SN visited occupies anywhere from 85 to 100 running feet on either side of the baby aisle. However, other items, at the beginning or the end of a gondola, filled out the additional space.
In three stores, medically directed sections are placed in the baby aisle. Women's health and beauty care products share space in one store with baby, while another store has general merchandise in the same aisle.
In one unit, the baby aisle appears to be part of the health and beauty care section of the store. One store had baby near a very large section of giant packs and family sizes of Center Store items. The other two stores had the aisle right before health and beauty care.