CHICAGO -- When fitness guru Richard Simmons blew into the Windy City to promote his new Slimmons line of "better for you snacks" he created a whirlwind of excitement with a personal appearance at a Treasure Island Foods store here.
Simmons' hour and 45-minute appearance at Treasure Island's North Clybourn Street store in the trendy Lincoln Park area capped a day filled with appearances on local TV and radio shows. On those shows, Simmons plugged his new line of air-popped snacks: fat-free popcorn in caramel and butter toffee flavors, fat-free and reduced-sodium baked sourdough pretzels in twists or log shapes, and reduced-fat crunchy cheese snacks and reduced-fat cheese balls.
"Richard Simmons did a fantastic appearance in our store. It was the best personal appearance we ever had. It was just like a lovefest," Frank Kamberos, co-owner of the seven-unit Treasure Island chain, told SN.
"He started walking around the store. He got up to the front of the store where we have nine checkouts, sat on one of the checkouts and greeted everybody! He was absolutely magnificent. He is so good with people. People enjoyed being able to meet him," Kamberos said.
Kamberos said 50 to 60 customers had gathered outside the store to greet Simmons, including one man who had lost about 300 pounds through Simmons' personal coaching, and dozens more stopped by to visit him during his stay.
Portions of Simmons' visit were filmed by the nationally syndicated "Hard Copy" TV program.
Kamberos said Treasure Island built a 50-case display of Slimmons snacks.
"The product has been moving very well. It is getting repeat purchases," he said, adding that Treasure Island is merchandising the Slimmons line in the snack-food aisle instead of the diet section so it can get more exposure.
Kamberos said he likes the fact that Slimmons snacks are warehouse- instead of direct-store-delivered, which he says helps keep the price down. Treasure Island is retailing the 5- to 6-ounce boxes of Slimmons for $1.19, while the larger plastic tubs and jars are selling for $1.99 or $2.19.
"Since Slimmons is warehouse-delivered, we can sell it at a more reasonable price. Once you put it on a vendor, you've got to put about 20% or 25% on there for the vendor. It also lessens the profit that the store will have. We prefer the warehouse-delivery system and I think he was smart to do that here," he said.
Slimmons snacks are also being sold in other Chicago-area retailers, as well as in Boston, Atlanta, Cincinnati and New York. They are also being sold in Blockbuster video stores. The Slimmons snacks are being marketed and distributed by GT Foods, New York. Mike Waters, vice president and general manager, said GT Foods teamed up with Simmons because he is an "icon" for healthy snacking and a healthy lifestyle.
"While a lot of supermarket buyers are not rabid Richard Simmons fans, they recognize him as an icon for healthy living. There is a trustworthiness that is pretty strong with Richard," Waters said. "He has another side to him that is not comedy, but a real passion and concern for people with weight problems."