Retailers are gearing up for the peak beer-selling season, and putting the final touches on merchandising, promotions, displays and other plans.
Strategies include a focus on in-store samplings, select package sizes and tie-ins to sporting events, according to retailers polled by SN.
And there will be plenty of attention on main and secondary displays, along with in-store advertising. After all, "approximately 37% of beer is sold during the 16-week summer season, so most supermarket retailers are very focused on increasing their feature/ad/display activity for this key selling period," said Jim Wright, sales planning, manager, Miller Lite and Miller Genuine Draft, Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee.
At Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., the summer -- particularly Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day -- is a good time for beer sales, said Jeff Lowrance, company spokesman. Food Lion promotes the category in many ways, paying special attention to NASCAR racing through themed displays, life-size cutouts of drivers and other promotional items. The reason for this is that beer sales at Food Lion are aided by NASCAR events, as many of the NASCAR Winston Cup races take place in the retailer's territory.
"NASCAR race promotions are popular with many of our beer-buying customers," said Lowrance.
Manufacturer support for NASCAR is strong. Brewers sponsor several NASCAR racing teams, Lowrance said.
Lowrance stressed, however, that alcohol promotions and merchandising are subject to state and local ordinances that prohibit elaborate promotions. Food Lion stores in Maryland and Pennsylvania can't sell beer, he added.
Along with sporting events, the summer is a time when retailers focus on beer in other ways. Some are doing so by featuring certain beer segments and/or package sizes.
Tim Jennings, sales and marketing director, Roth's Family Markets, Salem, Ore., said retailers in his region typically support a specific beer category, whether it be malternatives, domestics, imports or microbrews.
This year, however, Jennings expects the large supermarket chains in his region to focus on cases of beer, while convenience stores will probably go with 18-packs. To differentiate its stores, Roth's won't use either of these tactics. Rather, it's leaning toward 12-packs.
"As an independent, it's difficult to compete with the big chains. So, what I'm considering is going down the middle of the road and supporting 12-packs," he said.
He described 12-packs as the "bread and butter" of Roth's. Therefore, any in-store or in-ad promotions will highlight 12-packs, he said.
"Since I can't go head-to-head in weekly ads with 24-packs, we'll be featuring the 12-packs," he said.
To capitalize on the summer selling season, Lamb's Palisades Market, Lake Oswego, Ore., typically allows manufacturers to use more point-of-purchase materials in its stores, said Waiken Sullivan, grocery manager. Lamb's is part of a six-store Thriftway group in Oregon.
Another change during the summer season is increased use of secondary merchandising locations, including side- and aisle-stacks.
"We try to feature brands in multiple locations to keep the category in front of the customer's eye," Sullivan said. Lamb's also beefs up advertising for certain brands.
Along with increased sales, one benefit of the summer season includes finding out which brands are strong performers.
"Summer is the true test to see which beer sells," Sullivan said.
To decide on which packaging size to promote, Lamb's takes pricing into consideration. While 12-packs are popular among consumers, Lamb's will focus on moving the lower-priced six-packs instead, said Sullivan.
"It's more enticing to sell a $5 or $6 six-pack than a $13 12-pack," he said. Lamb's usually features such promotions in the microbrew category due to the plethora of brands available.
The summer is a time when Lamb's beefs up the number of in-store beer samplings. On average, such events are held about twice a week during the season. In preparation of the samplings, Lamb's will buy and display extra product.
Such in-store samplings are funded by the manufacturers, which usually are regional and local companies looking for brand exposure.
"A company may come to us and offer us a savings for a certain amount of time. In return, they'll ask if they can do a demo to support it," he said.
To spur incremental sales, Lamb's usually conducts the samplings by the meat department on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The goal here is to get beer consumers to make a meat purchase, he said. Conversely, the samplings attract meat buyers into the beer department.
"Sampling encourages our shoppers to try a new flavor of beer to have with their steak," he said. The consumer may not make a beer purchase that day, but may do so on their next trip, he added.
Customer response has been excellent, said Sullivan, noting that customers especially enjoy trying the different microbrew flavors.
"The samplings give them an opportunity to try a [microbrew] flavor without having to buy a whole six-pack. Then, if they like it, it encourages them to come back to the store and buy that flavor," he said.
Lamb's doesn't significantly change its beer set in the summer. One exception is the malternative category, which Lamb's typically expands by about 3 linear feet during the warmer months.
"In the summer, we find more people, especially females, start buying malternatives," he said.
The summer season is a time when manufacturers flood the market with trade and consumer promotions. And retailers like Lamb's welcome the added in-store excitement they can create.
"During the summer, [brewers] come up with something to promote -- from microbrews to malternatives to national brands -- practically every week," Sullivan said.
Indeed, brewers have a full slate of promotions on tap. Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, for instance, is giving consumers a chance to win one of 99 electronic prizes -- such as music players, camcorders or DVD players -- during the "99 days" of summer. Called "Open For Summer," the promotion highlights the three traditional summer holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.
Along with "Open for Summer," Anheuser-Busch has introduced a "Think Fresh, Drink Fresh" theme that combines food and its Budweiser and Bud Light brands. A "Summer Savings Booklet" will be available at "Open For Summer" displays. The booklets include instant savings with cross-merchandising partners, including Kingsford and Match Light charcoal, K.C. Masterpiece barbecue sauces and marinades, Hidden Valley ranch dressing, Snyder's of Hanover salty snacks, Pringles Potato Crisps and Torengos tortilla chips.
Along with national promotions like these, Tom Levenick, vice president, sales, Labatt USA, Norwalk, Conn., said supermarkets are especially receptive to summer promotions that appeal to their markets.
"Supermarkets want promotions to be attractive to their specific consumers," he said.
Labatt is offering just that with market-specific promotions like Copa Tecate, a grassroots tournament supporting amateur Mexican-American soccer players. The program supports Tecate, Labatt's imported Mexican beer.
The program consists of a series of local playoff games held in 16 key markets, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Houston.
The tournament is being supported by two consumer promotions -- "Best Gol" and "Playing With the Pros." Best Gol is a contest for fans who can make the best "gooooooool" call. Playing With the Pros gives 14 participants a chance to play with eight professional Mexican soccer players in an exhibition game.
Increasingly, retailers are using beer promotions as a way to cross promote throughout the store, said Levenick. For instance, retailers will merchandise Labatt's Mexican brands with salsa and tortillas, or its European brands with lamb or beef tenderloin in the meat department. Kroger and Publix are among the retailers that are highly active in this area, Levenick said.
Meanwhile, other Labatt summer promotions include "Liquid Sports," a new promotion that ties Dos Equis, another beer imported from Mexico, to such water sports as kayaking, surfing, jet skiing, water skiing and wake boarding. The promotion includes retail giveaways, including kayaks and surfboards.
"This program captures import beer drinkers by leveraging the sports that appeal to them," Levenick said.
Other brewers have plenty of offerings as well. Miller Brewing Co. is giving consumers a chance to win $1,000 trips to a destination of their choice. Called "Destination Miller Time," the promotion features Miller Lite and Miller Genuine Draft. Legal-drinking-age consumers can enter to win $1,000 vouchers from Expedia.com, as well as portable bars, beach chairs and other prizes.
"Destination Miller Time" began this month with spring-themed point-of-sale materials. It will be refreshed in May with new materials featuring summer activities.
"This promotion, which celebrates the coming of the warm-weather months, reaches our key consumer groups, who look forward to outdoor activities," Buz Cady, manager of promotions, said in a statement.
Miller is also the official malt beverage sponsor of the Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary Celebration, a three-day event scheduled in Milwaukee in August. From June 1 to July 15, an on- and off-premise promotion will give consumers the chance to win trips to the party.
Also, from July 16 through Aug. 31, consumers visiting MillerTime.com can enter to win a 2003 Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Supermarket POS includes a stand-up motorcycle cutout with a chrome cooler, a patio table and chair set, display cards and floor decals.