SAN ANTONIO -- H.E. Butt Grocery Co.'s rapidly growing private-label kids' line is getting added exposure through new in-store field trips for children.
Called "Be a Healthy Buddy," the free field trips explore subjects that include the Food Guide Pyramid and Nutrition Facts Label. While perimeter departments are included in the tours, Center Store is a vital part of the program because it contains the bulk of products marketed under H-E-B's kids' private label: H-E-Buddy.
"The Center Store plays a big role in the tours, as that's where most of the H-E-Buddy products are located," Jodi Brasiola, promotions manager, told SN.
The H-E-Buddy line currently features 70 products, up from 16 in 2002, when the line was launched. Product offerings cut across multiple categories not only in grocery, but also in the fresh-foods and health and beauty care departments.
Center Store selections include shelf-stable puddings; frozen fish shapes; cinnamon and honey grahams; frozen chicken nuggets; fruit snacks and cheese crackers.
H-E-B has just expanded the line with the launch of a line of six ready-to-eat cereals, along with pasta shaped like the H-E-Buddy character -- a smiling grocery bag.
Items in the line are priced at about 18% lower than national brands, according to Brasiola. Some are such fast movers that they have been leaders in their category, Brasiola said. Particularly strong performers are H-E-Buddy grahams and fruit snacks.
"We're very pleased with the success of the program," Brasiola said.
The "Be a Healthy Buddy" tours accommodate classes of about 30 children who are in pre-kindergarten through Grade 6. During the 60- to 90-minute presentation, the H-E-Buddy brand is heavily emphasized. Tour participants are given H-E-Buddy hats and, at some stores, are greeted by the life-size H-E-Buddy character, which H-E-B brings to various community events.
Along with visiting the produce, meat, seafood and HBC departments, tour participants are taken down the aisles of Center Store, where they are told about various products in the H-E-Buddy line, including better-for-you treats like H-E-Buddy cheese crackers and fruit snacks.
"H-E-Buddy is definitely a big part of the tour," Brasiola said.
H-E-Buddy brand awareness continues through the end of the tour, when goodie bags are handed out to tour participants. The bags include an H-E-Buddy coloring book and score card for points earned in the H-E-Buddy "Crane" game. The game involves a crane-like scoop that picks up prizes containing various reward points. Points can be saved on the scorecard and redeemed for prizes. H-E-Buddy products also include points for the game.
The "Be a Healthy Buddy" tours kicked off in September 2003 in 115 of H-E-B's near 275 U.S. stores. H-E-B plans to expand the program to about 50 additional stores this year. A total of 550 tours are scheduled for the 2003-2004 school year.
The store tours are the result of a partnership between H-E-B and the Field Trip Factory, Chicago, a provider of educational trips. Field Trip Factory trains H-E-B's store associates on how to conduct the tours, which are designed to complement the classroom curriculum.
Susan Singer, president, Field Trip Factory, said the tours are a perfect fit with H-E-B's heavy emphasis on nutrition, especially among children.
"H-E-B has designed the program to meet their needs in terms of reaching out to children," Singer said.
Citing the high rate of obesity among Texan children, Brasiola said the trips help educate children and their families about how to lead a healthier lifestyle and make smarter food choices.
"Since a lot of our customers are first- or second-generation [immigrants], the lessons that children learn really make an impression on the parents," Brasiola said.
Colgate and General Mills are sponsors of this year's program at H-E-B. As such, they help to fund the program and provide product samples for tour participants.
In return, certain General Mills and Colgate brands are highlighted during the tour.
Field Trip Factory tours are also running in Lowes Food Stores, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla.; and Dominick's Finer Foods, Oakbrook, Ill., among other retailers. Tours are expected to roll out soon in A&P stores in New Jersey, and are being tested at Shaw's Supermarkets, West Bridgewater, Mass., according to Singer.