The holidays are a time for family gatherings, good cheer and gift-giving. And, for savvy and creative retailers, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's present an opportunity to rack up more sales in a shorter period of time than at any other time of the year with the help of special promotions.
"Store traffic is up dramatically. People are focused on eating home for the last two months of the year and, as a result, there are more people shopping for the goods that a grocery store offers," explained Tim Hawkes, managing partner of Trade Zone, a Westport, Conn.-based marketing services agency for the grocery industry.
Retailers are in constant competition during the last two months of the year to get a share of the customer's holiday dollar, Hawkes said. "They're discounting turkeys below cost rates per pound and building larger than typical displays of holiday-related items, whether these are baking items, wraps or ornaments."
Retailers also stay very responsive to the promotional endeavors of the manufacturers, "because obviously that's where the money comes from to make all this stuff happen," Hawkes noted. "If you look at a typical planning period for Christmas non-foods, you're out maybe a year to a year-and-a-half on certain items like package wrap and Christmas electronics. If you're a stuffing manufacturer, you're talking in July about the November-December time frame.
"Retailers make a significant part of their net profit in the fourth quarter, much more than double what a normal quarter's earnings would be," he added.
The holiday season also presents an opportunity for a lot of reactionary markets. "If one retailer has Pepperidge Farm stuffing for 49 cents a bag, and someone else has it for 69 cents a bag, not only are the Pepperidge Farm guys going to get their heads handed to them, but there will be an immediate price reduction to keep parity," Hawkes pointed out. "It's a very visible time from a competitive set, because everyone is walking into the other guy's stores and seeing what's going on."
At Price Chopper Supermarkets, based in Schenectady, N.Y., a loyalty program begins running seven weeks before Thanksgiving.
"If customers spend a total of $500, they can get a free turkey," said Joanne Gage, vice president, consumer and marketing services. Purchases are tied to the Price Chopper card so that customers don't have to save receipts.
The retailer has offered this promotion in the past. "We don't do it every year, and sometimes it is a chain-wide promotion and in other years, we've only offered it in certain market areas," Gage explained. This year, the promotion is being offered in all Price Chopper stores in the Northeast.
For Christmas, Price Chopper is offering a Holiday Guarantee program. The retailer prints a list of most-often-used holiday items in its circular, guaranteeing the lowest price in the area on items such as cranberry sauce, macaroons, nuts, chocolate chips and stuffing mix. Price Chopper doesn't group the items together in the store, but instead posts a tag identifying the holiday items under each display.
Smaller operations use different strategies to vie for holiday dollars.
At Highland Park Markets, Manchester, Conn., head buyer Pete Devanney explained there are no real holiday promotions. Instead, Highland Park Markets concentrates on offering the best possible products and advertising them without mentioning prices.
"We can't compete with the 59 cent-per-pound frozen birds at the chain stores, and we don't do anything like offering a free turkey by saving register receipts," Devanney noted. Highland Park also includes other holiday fare, like fruit platters, cold cut platters and gift baskets in its advertisements. Highland Park Markets has four locations in Connecticut, with a fifth store expected to open soon.
Some of the larger operations don't offer promotions chainwide, but instead allow their stores to offer their own price reductions and promotions that will keep them competitive in their local markets.
Hannaford Brothers, Scarborough, Maine, doesn't get involved in any sort of promotions for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. "Our stores are so busy during the holidays that we don't feel the need to do any sort of promotions," said Karen Epstein, corporate spokeswoman. "But that doesn't mean that any of our stores won't be doing any promotions individually, because the way we operate, our stores have a fair amount of autonomy."
Individual Hannaford stores are running varied promotions on a local level during the holidays. For example, the Hannaford's store in Bennington, Vt., is running a promotion with its sister store in Rutland, Vt. For the third year, the two Hannaford's locations are working on a turkey giveaway promotion with a local country music radio station, according to Bennington store manager Dennis Noel.
"The radio station is giving away 100 turkeys -- 50 from our store and 50 from the Rutland store -- to listeners who call in," Noel explained.
Once they are in the store to redeem their bird, winners usually go home with various Center Store products to complement the turkey.
Food Lion, based in Salisbury, N.C., is heralding the holidays and aiming to boost traffic and sales with a MVP Million Dollar Giveaway. Beginning this month, customers will be entered in the million dollar sweepstakes every time they use their Food Lion MVP card. Customers will receive one entry for each dollar they spend at any Food Lion store, and 10 entries for each MVP discount item purchased, until the contest closes on Friday, Dec. 24. "Food Lion's Million Dollar Giveaway promotion is one way to bring some excitement and fun to shopping during the hectic holiday period," said Tawn Earnest, a Food Lion spokesperson.
In an effort to build excitement and provide menu ideas for the holidays -- while boosting sales of its holiday items and private label goods -- Ahold U.S.A., Atlanta, Ga., distributes a glossy magazine called "Lifestyles" to customers beginning in October. Each Lifestyles magazine, which is very similar in appearance to an upscale gourmet publication, is tailored to specific retailers, including Bi-Lo, Giant Food Stores, Stop & Shop and Tops.
Inside the magazine, customers find recipes for everything from pralines and cannoli to hot spiced cranberry apple cider and linguine with fennel.
Recipes specify name-brand and store-brand ingredients. To spur customers to purchase holiday items, the publication offers cents-off coupons for items like Domino sugar, Diamond shelled culinary nuts and Schweppes brand mixers.