Deli party trays are expected to score high this Super Bowl weekend.
Watching the trays come into their own over the holidays has spurred retailers to promote and merchandise them more aggressively than ever for the big game.
While the high-margin items have long had a role in the supermarket deli, retailers pushed them into the spotlight with very apparent enthusiasm at Christmastime. The reward: double-digit sales increases over the same period a year earlier.
Bigger ad space, top billing with dollars-off coupons and more frequent ads in December were part of the push. A handful of retailers SN polled last week said they also had implemented other success-producing measures -- efforts that will serve them well Super Bowl weekend.
Included were the addition of an 800 number for taking party orders, new party brochures, smaller trays with smaller price points, already-made platters displayed in self-service cases featuring more upscale party fare to set them apart, and an increased emphasis on customer service.
The reason for all this attention to party trays, as one retailer put it, is "they're a big ring, and the gross averages out at 60%."
The addition of a toll-free 800 number for party orders at Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., got some of the credit for "absolutely great" party tray sales Christmas week, which were up substantially over the year before.
"The central number is more customer friendly," said James Riesenburger, director of deli operations for the 47-unit chain. In TV and radio ads, the chain has let consumers know they can call the number to place party orders and then pick them up at a
Wegmans unit most convenient to them.
A newly added 800 number and a new party brochure gets much of the credit for Christmas week sales that were up 15% over the previous year at Consumers Markets, Springfield, Mo., said Michael Knisley, director of deli-bakery for the 23-unit retailer.
A full third-of-a-page ad with coupons for as much as $5 off a large party tray helped boost sales 10% from a year earlier for Food Barn Stores, Kansas City, Mo.
"For the ad, we used great photos that we had taken for a new party brochure," said Jerry Gunter, director of delis for the 44-unit chain.
"We'll do the same size ad and photos for Super Bowl, too. Previously, we've never had more than just a small block in the deli ad promoting trays."
With Super Bowl in mind, Montvale, N.J.-based A&P put a Jan. 30, 1994 expiration date on party platter coupons that appeared in holiday ads. A "do-it-yourself" cheese tray was a top seller there for the holidays, and is expected to be a winner for Super Bowl, too, said a source at A&P. The tray, which requires practically no labor, contains four different cubed cheeses in 1-pound, prepacked vacuum packages and a 6-ounce pack of pepperoni.
"It's a good impulse sale," said the source. "At $19.95 it's a nice value for the customer."
Pay Less Super Markets, Anderson, Ind., attracted impulse buyers during the holidays with a new, downsized, 12-inch relish tray, in the self-service case. It was $9.95.
"I think the lower price point helped sales. It appealed to more people and it was easy to pick up," said Tim Kean, deli-bakery-seafood merchandiser for the 9-unit independent.
For the first time, Pay Less has assembled a "party package" to serve 16 to 20 people for Super Bowl. It includes a meat and cheese tray, a chicken wing tray, a 3-foot submarine sandwich and chips with salsa, for $59.99.
"It's convenient for consumers to have everything put together for them, and it's a big ring for us," Kean said.
"We're definitely being more aggressive with advertising and merchandising this year for Super Bowl," he added, noting that the party package will have its own space in the retailer's ad this week.
Other retailers said they are devoting more ad space to Super Bowl party fare this year. Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas, has doubled its deli ad space to half a page this Super Bowl, said Jack Murdock, director of deli operations for the 77-unit chain.
A source at Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C., said the 141-unit chain, for the first time, has included a full-page insert in its ad circular calling attention to party trays and other Super Bowl party fare.
Besides ad attention, both Minyard and Harris Teeter have added smaller versions to their party tray line-up to appeal to a broader range of customers.
Harris Teeter has added two party trays with price points under $15 to target "customers who just want to feed three or four, not a large group of people."
And Minyard for the first time is offering a choice of three trays for under $20, Murdock said.
A new mini party platter, at $8.99, worked well for Quillin's, La Crosse, Wis., for the holidays and is expected to do a repeat performance for Super Bowl weekend.
It's a 9-inch, domed pie pan that's heaped with 1.5 pounds of meat and cheese cut in quarter slices. "The tray looks really full, and then we'll mass-display them," said Nancy Rand, deli supervisor for the 7-unit independent. Rand added that for Super Bowl weekend Quillin's will display at least 20 party trays in four or five different varieties and sizes in a grab-and-go section. "Those will all be additional sales," Rand added. "People who forgot to order ahead of time or want to grab something on their way to a party."
Super Bowl weekend will mark the debut of a new platter, too, which will have a place in grab-and-go -- a microwavable tray with 24 2-inch hot dogs in miniature buns.
"That'll make a great impulse item at $11.99," Rand added.
Putting more party trays in self-service cases pushed sales significantly at Christmas time, said most of the retailers polled. So that is a major strategy in Super Bowl merchandising, they added.
"We've sent out a directive, for the first time, to all our stores to devote half their cheese cases to displaying party trays Super Bowl weekend," said an executive at an East Coast division of a large, multiregional chain.
"In some cases, depending on the length of the case, that could mean more than 10 feet of ready-to-go trays," added the source, who asked not to be identified.