Exotic flavor blends are sparking growth in the shelf-stable juice category at some supermarkets -- but for the most part, it's the traditional juices that provide the strong base of sales.
Retail buyers and merchandisers said price-conscious consumers remain the category's backbone, drawn primarily to juice products in larger bottles.
Apple juice, arguably the most traditional staple in the aisle, enjoyed a 4% hike in dollar sales and 11.6% rise in 16-ounce equivalent unit volume for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 9, 1994, the latest quarter reported by Nielsen North America, Schaumburg, Ill. And the segment enjoyed a similar performance the year before that.
But beyond the backbone of gallon bottles are more convenient sizes, such as single-serving bottles or aseptic boxes that fit into lunch bags, retailers said. SN collected opinions from the trade about what's driving sales in the category. Responses included:
Traditional flavors in larger sizes are the strongest sellers at Food Circus Super Markets, Middletown, N.J., where shelf-stable juice is a stable category.
New products and packages, added to traditional ones, are causing the department to grow at Dan's Supreme Supermarkets, Hempstead, N.Y.
At Hughes Family Markets, Irwindale, Calif., manufacturer promotions tied to giveaways are sparking shelf-stable juice sales.
Exotic flavors are providing a sales flurry in an otherwise flat category for Grand Union Co., Wayne, N.J.
In Dayton, Ohio, customers are reaching increasingly for single-serve sizes of familiar products at Schear's Metro Markets.
Here are the highlights from SN conversations with retailers about shelf-stable juices:
director, grocery purchasing
Hughes Family Markets
We see increased movement all over during the promotional periods. For example, Tropicana Twister has a freestanding-insert coupon to enter to win a trip. Ocean Spray has tied its promotions to the America's Cup races, which in southern California should be a big promotion. It seems to work.
We promote something different every week. Apple juices tend to be loss leaders and have the highest consumption. Apple juice is doing well, but that may be coming to an end because apple concentrate is going up.
Usually the others are making decent profit margins. The manufacturers come in with money for the ads and promotional slottings for new items.
Some of them offer pallet-ready modules of in-store merchandisers, but we don't use them too often. We usually promote advertised items in an off-shelf display, usually at the end of the aisle.
Blended products are doing a good job, mainly because of the competitiveness. The exotic blends are often short-lived products. They peak fast during an initial trial, then die off. They are something new to temporarily get people to try new things, then they go back to the items they're used to purchasing.
Single-service packages sell well out of the cold box, but the 48- and 64-ounce bottles sell the best off the shelves. That's where most of the sales are.
Apple juice sells best in the large gallon sizes, simply because people go through so much of the stuff.
Aseptic is going along well because of kids' lunches. It's a convenient form of package for kids to drink and the pricing is good too. A lot of these products are directly tied to the latest kid fad. They don't stay after the fad is over.
Food Circus Super Markets
Exotic flavors, like mangos, in blends are having some impact on sales. But a lot of our consumers, especially ones who are into name brands, keep coming back for the same traditional things.
In packaging, for example, what sells are the 32-ounce, half-gallon and gallon sizes. The single-serve [bottles] are doing well, but we don't have that much stock in them. However, the single-serve boxes in brick packs sell pretty well.
Every week there are new items and sizes in this category. The manufacturers replace products that didn't do so well and are being discontinued. Still, it's a fairly stable category. It's not gaining or losing any space.
The juices are promoted in our weekly sales fliers. People will try anything on promotion, and they are basically loss leaders. For example, we may feature Mott's Apple Juice at 99 cents a gallon. Sale items are usually displayed on endcaps, and the companies do provide signs to merchandise their products.
We promote this category through weekly ads and in-store displays. Our suppliers assist with promotional support in the form of price breaks and displays.
We do find that many of our consumers consistently buy specific brands rather than being attracted solely to price.
Currently, aseptic packages are very much in demand. Blends continue to perform well for us. In the new product area, Snapple is very popular. We are also adding stockkeeping units of shelf-stable juices, which are being promoted in aisle displays.
vice president, grocery
Grand Union Co.
The V8 and the Mott's Apple juices continue to sell steadily. They have some flatness in the brick packs. But regardless of whether they grow, brick packs have certainly gained a major foothold in the juice department. There will continue to be some dynamics in the drink category as the public looks for items that are perceived as healthful.
They all must be promoted, which we actively do. We promote them at reduced prices in our weekly roto ads, so long as funding is available over the period of the promotional allowance. Sales would fall flat if the products weren't promoted.
Promoted items are merchandised in-aisle in one section. They're not necessarily in the beverage section. They form a juice department that may be at the end of the beverage section or across the aisle from other beverages. We like to keep the brick packs together because they generate so much interest among youth and the younger audience.
Excitement is coming from the Fruitopias and the fruit-flavored beverages from Snapple. That's where we see a tremendous amount of growth.
We're looking forward to seeing what Quaker is going to do with the [recently acquired] Snapple line. We know some flavors will be trimmed. Snapple sports drinks will probably fall by the wayside, but they're going to add flavors like watermelon or raspberry in 20-ounce sports bottles.
Seaway Food Town
Any juice item you advertise does better. A lot of it depends on price. We keep our profit margin close, but we try to make a little money on them. Juices are not promoted as loss leaders, although they do draw people into our stores.
While juices are promoted regularly in weekly roto sections, we generate interest in the category through the "wall of values" and Plus Card campaigns.
We don't run coupon specials on juices or any other items. We have a Plus Card that customers can use to get additional savings on items on the shelves. It brings additional attention to the products, and it helps us find out who our customers are. Then if we want to target certain products to certain customers based on their buying habits, we can do that through mailings.
How well new products sell depends on how much the manufacturer plays them up. The more they're promoted, the more likely people will try them. From there on, it's a question of whether the kids like it. Then there are the basics. The tomato juices and apple juices have a regular following.
Dan's Supreme Supermarkets
The shelf-stable juice category is cutting into space for the canned fruits, which used to be in the same aisle.
We do quite well with the traditional apple juices and prune juices. A lot of these new blended varieties are doing quite well, except for pineapple. Pineapple has slowed to a crawl. Ocean Spray blends like banana-orange are selling. People used to go for just straight fruit juices, but tastes aren't what they were 20 years ago. People try more new things now.
Aseptic packages are doing very well because they're an easy lunch-box item. Parents get them for their kids, and working people go for them because they're
great for taking to work to have along with a lunch break or snack.
Our customers buy their fruit juices both in boxes and in bottles. I'd hate to say which sells better. What we haven't seen are the 20-ounce single-serve bottles, so I'm not sure how they'd sell here.
We usually promote a whole line within the category in our weekly roto ads. For instance, we'll promote all the blended ones together.
Sometimes, we'll put the sale items on an off-shelf display such as wings or endcaps. Popular items like apple juice will always be on a display, and sometimes we'll put blended juices on display. Whatever is on sale really sells.
The companies don't provide us with signs, but the promotional allowances are pretty decent.
advertising director-beverage buyer
Schear's Metro Markets
Breaking down cartons of bottles and aseptic boxes for sale in "fast-lane" refrigerated merchandisers at checkouts is contributing to the success of single-serve sales. Customers standing in line can reach in and grab a box of Minute Maid orange juice. The fast-lane merchandiser is paying off big time, and it requires very little promotion.
A promotion may cause some of our customers to switch, but they'll frequently go back to their favorite beverage. Our best sellers are single-serve packages, with the 20-ounce bottles doing extremely well.
In-store, the beverages are sold on the shelf in a juice section or within the soft-drink section. Very seldom do we promote the 16- or 20-ounce beverages, but the 46-ounce and half-gallon sizes are promoted weekly.
The manufacturers provide allowance for cents off and coupon promotions. We have some kind of juice in our ads every week. The exotic flavors don't sell as well as the traditional V8 or basic fruit juices. Aseptic packages are picked up by the back-to-school crowd, especially the brick-pack sizes.
vice president, merchandising
Great Scot Inc. subsidiary of CWC Inc.
The traditional tomato juices, V8 and Ocean Sprays are the strongest sellers in our stores. Part of the reason is the region in which we operate is very rural and traditional. The foods people make here, like the traditional chili and other dishes, really call for this kind of beverage.
Some sales are seasonal. The cranberry cocktails sell really well during the holidays.
Big bottles of traditional flavors are the best sellers. Aseptic packs sell better in the warmer months, when people are spending more time outdoors. As we get into spring, we'll see things take off and boom in this category.
For merchandising, we go more with our own in-store signs, instead of using ones from the manufacturers. Beverages are promoted weekly in ad sections, and we maintain everyday low prices on several items.
Promotional items are displayed on wings or endcaps, depending on space. Our stores vary in size, so our displays depend on how much space is available in each store.
Juice is a growing category. The national brands and beverage companies are coming out with more New Age beverages that have really cut into sports drinks like Gatorade. Space is always a problem. We have expanded the category in some stores, and we're always deleting the slower movers as new items come out. People just try new things.