In perhaps their most ambitious attempts ever to enliven the January doldrums, well-positioned supermarket delis scored spectacularly thanks to the heavy partying inspired by Super Bowl XXXII.
Many retailers reported record results -- not surprising in view of the positive factors surrounding the football event, such as reasonably good weather in many regions and a buoyant national economy.
For supermarkets specifically, the spread of home-meal replacement programs and the rise in popularity of no-wait grab-and-go party platters provided a fresh reason to put the rush on Super Bowl season sales.
Super Bowl has become a "third holiday" that, in the eyes of some deli executives interviewed, rivals Christmas and New Year's. Certainly the event has turned into yet another supermarket talent showcase, in which deli and bakery get the chance to pool their strengths, as seen in the sell-throughs of items such as muscle-meat sandwiches on submarine breads dyed in team colors, much like a piece of pastry.
SN surveyed operators just after the game, particularly in the contending teams' Colorado and Wisconsin markets, where fan power alone would suffice to drive party business.
But retailers elsewhere profited from sharper merchandising as well, even in areas like Cleveland which lost its Browns football team two years ago.
"On average, our deli/bakery sales Saturday were up 24% and our Sunday sales were up 26%," said Kathryn Lowe, director of marketing for Chesterland, Ohio-based Russo's Stop-N-Shop. Lowe attributed the boosts to razzle-dazzle displays featuring both teams that drew attention to extensive offerings of self-service party platters.
At Roche Bros. Supermarkets, Wellesley Hills, Mass., a new dozen-item appetizer program -- with items like pesto-topped roma tomatoes -- led seasonal results that exceeded a record 1997 for prepared food. "With the home team [New England Patriots] in the Super Bowl last year, we experienced a double-digit increase in the kitchens," said Jarett Peppard, the chain's director of food service.
Larger chains tended toward $5 discount coupons to wear down resistance to bigger-ticket party trays, whereas smaller operations relied on their uniqueness to attract partygivers from a wider radius.
Owner Liz Little at V. Richards, a single-unit upscale supermarket in Brookfield, Wis., a Milwaukee suburb, noted that customers were tempted with cheddar/jalapeno and buffalo variations of bratwurst, a sought-after regional favorite. Little also had her demonstrators show the curious how delicious sauteed low-fat ostrich meat could taste.
Margaret Nabors at Mustard Seed, a 32,500-square-foot natural-food market and restaurant in Akron, Ohio, kicked off a party with blended homemade salsa and focaccia pizza, manned vendor samplings of a line of organic pot pies, as well as locally produced microbrews and 'passive' samplings of seed and nut mixes in dishes of munchies scattered around the store.
In many instances, retailers said they managed to tack on extra valuable selling days. Colorado's retailers were given the opportunity by the Broncos' championship to promote their improved prepared-food offerings, not for just over the weekend, but for much of January.
Spilling over from the holidays, Colorado residents' festive spirit added dollars to bakery/deli coffers starting with the playoffs; then it continued into the week leading to Super Bowl Sunday, and culminated in post-game events, such as the homecoming victory parade.
There was some evidence that supermarkets might even have wrested share dollars from bars and restaurants in the hot hometeam markets.
"Anything related to take-and-eat, or home-meal replacement, continues to rise, it doesn't stop. Anything that saves time. You build a following, then as new things are developed, and as holidays or special times approach, [customers] look to you," said Kim Schneeweis, director of bakery-deli for the 46-unit Kohl's Food Stores, an A&P division based in Wauwatosa, Wis.
Also, one retailer attributed the business in part to greater numbers of fans this year catching the various games on big-screen TVs at home, which in prior years they'd probably had to go to a sports bar to watch.
"Business at the large appliance chains was just booming the last few weeks, because everyone was buying big-screen TVs to get ready for the big game. So I think there were a lot of home parties," said Diane Claasen Nichols, deli/bakery buyer-merchandiser at the 11-store Cub Foods' Colorado division based in Denver's Aurora suburb.
Retailers further observed that sports bars in urban areas were packed with young singles. But they said they'd picked up business from more celebrants in offices throughout the week preceding Super Bowl.
According to bakery director Barb Harner with Steele's Markets, a four-unit chain in Fort Collins, Colo., large office parties at Teledyne and Hewlett-Packard, as well as school celebrations, helped bring in an additional $5,000 that week in wholesale sales.
Nancy Rand, deli supervisor at Quillin's, La Crosse, Wis., told SN she was tracking an evolving tailgate party trend so her company could run with the idea for 1999 Super Bowl week.
It used to be that such parties took place largely on Super Bowl Sunday. However, on the Friday before Super Bowl XXXI, when the Packers won the championship, Rand said she happened upon an office lunchroom party where bratwurst was being cooked up in the parking lot. "This year, they're doing them in a lot more offices and teachers and mothers are looking in our stores for green and gold cupcakes and cookies with the Packer emblem in putting together tailgate parties for the children in schools," Rand said.
Here are some Super Bowl victories in more detail:
Diane Claasen Nichols
Cub Foods Colorado
We were well-prepared to deal with Super Bowl which, for us, lasted pretty much the whole month of January. We experienced four weekends of improved sales, and ended up with double-digit increases over last year in bakery-deli.
We concentrated on orange and blue, [the Broncos team colors, for] everything: orange and blue braided breads for the submarine sandwiches in the deli, a whole range of baked goods, and so on. Displaying the team colors in bakery -- which is first in the traffic flow right inside the entryway to all our Cubs -- along with Super Bowl hats, T-shirts and other general merchandise products attracted a lot of attention.
We put together 48-count trays of spritz butter round cookies in bright Broncos colors for $6.99. They were a big hit. Also, we sold quite a few cakes with NFL-trademarked lay-ons showing a full-body image of [Broncos quarterback] John Elway. It was brand new this year and in short supply everywhere.
We reduced prices across the board -- really hot prices on items like potato salad and chicken wings; ads offering $5-off coupons on party trays 18-inches or larger, $2-off coupons on 2-foot or larger subs, quarter-sheet cakes, normally $9.99, for $6.99; sugar cookies at $3.49, 50 cents off. We tried to have the high-demand items already made up and available in self-service cases.
Kohl's Food Stores
We expanded our advertising. We raised circular distribution, and went into newspapers with freestanding inserts in the Milwaukee Journal. The FSI emphasized repeats of regular sale items and featured a coupon for $5 off on a 16-inch or larger party platter, selling in a range of $24.95 to twice that, with any combinations of two different products. We aimed for a larger transaction.
Our biggest sales generator was an offer to buy a pound of turkey breast and get a pound of ham free, to mix and match, use on a sandwich or to make up your own platter. We backed that up with potato salad, slicing cheese, lunch meat; in general, fixings for sandwiches.
We also promoted "drummies" [miniature drumsticks] platters designed to serve up to 25 people. These were sold at a per-pound price, as well as a platter price.
We played up what we consider finger foods: subs, chicken, pizza, a slab of barbecue ribs for $6.99, and also advertised items the customer could buy and then serve on a plate or platter, such as individually sized sub sandwiches at two for $4.
Last year, we focused on 3-foot and 5-foot subs, but they did not prove to be very successful. We also urged stores to make up 12-inch and 9-inch platters for smaller purchases and display them in their self-service cheese islands. That also did well. We feel the more platters out there, the more we are able to move.
Fort Collins, Colo.
We went all out -- balloons, streamers, 'Go Broncos' signs, everybody wearing football clothing. We started our demos on Wednesday, earlier than normal, and displayed cut-open sandwiches beforehand along with signs, 'Coming: Saturday and Sunday, 120-foot subs on sale' or 'Order Your 6-foot sub today.'
Everybody wanted items in team colors, so we colored the subs either blue or orange, with paste used in cake decorating. As a result, we had orders for 42 6-foot submarine sandwiches, for example. The deli department set up long buffet tables with 120 feet of subs, which we sold for 75 cents an inch. With that, we tied in all kinds of dips, shrimp and crab platters, cracker trays, and so on. We also did multicolored 18-inch subs with four braids, 2 strands blue, 2 strands orange, which were new for us. We sold 100 of those.
Other items that were very popular that we'd never offered included decorated 5-inch people sugar cookies which we made into players on the teams like, say Terrell Davis, the Broncos running back. Some had the name, some only the number. We had 57 orders for two different people, at $1.39. Elway was the biggest, Davis next, then Shannon Sharpe.
Kathryn Lowe, director, marketing
Russo's On The Run, our prepared food/home-meal replacement business, definitely has grown week after week. It's had a very positive effect on party sales, as we sell finger foods like wings, chicken tenders, and barbecued ribs that are easy to serve. We keep improving that variety. We now have sushi chefs in our Chagrin Falls, Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights, [Ohio,] stores. During Super Bowl week, we saw a lot of people picking up sushi appetizers.
This year, we put more emphasis on the Super Bowl. We increased signage the week before the game that listed deli items, football cakes, football cookies. We encouraged impulse buying through displays on 36-inch round draped tables in front of the deli cases. For one display, we hollowed out a football-shaped pumpernickel loaf, filled it with a spread, and then circled it with different Middle Eastern dips like hummus. This year, we also tried to give customers ideas on what they could do themselves, using our own staff to demonstrate foods like a quick chili recipe. We saw a lot of enthusiasm.