Foils and wraps may not elicit much excitement, but the categories have become the standard-bearers and must-haves of Center Store's nonfood offerings.
The items are easy to merchandise and require little promotion, retailers told SN. Innovations in materials have improved the convenience factor and, therefore, their appeal, operators added.
The products and their extensions basically sell themselves at Joe Wilkin's IGA, a single-unit operation located in Colquitt, Ga. "We don't promote those categories," said Jodie Wilkins, owner. "We will run an occasional ad just as a line item, no feature or anything. That's not even every week, maybe once a month -- one on a plastic wrap and one on a foil."
Like many Center Store categories, wraps and foils exhibit seasonal spikes in sales, including the end of the year and the beginning of the summer. Sales are flat during the remainder of the year and all is relatively quiet, unless a new product comes into play that shakes up the category, even if only for a couple of months.
"[Glad] came out with Press'N Seal and we couldn't keep it on the shelf," said Andy Tews, grocery manager at a Piggly Wiggly unit in Mayville, Wis., of one of last year's new products: a sealable plastic wrap that does more than just cling to products. "People are always interested in the new technologies that come out like the Press'N Seal. [Consumers] were really big on that. Now the appeal has died down. The sales are average now."
That product also was a big hit with consumers shopping at the Wooster, Ohio-based Buehler Food Markets units. "[Press'N Seal] has just blown everything away. It's doing really well," said Dots Niehaus, category manager for the 28-store chain.
The success of a product like Press'N Seal is not surprising, industry sources told SN. Convenience and improved functionality are what today's consumers are looking for in wraps and foils, as well as value-added elements like heavy-duty and non-stick aluminum foil, according to Dwain Celistan, vice president of marketing and sales, Alcoa, Richmond, Va., maker of the Reynolds brands of plastic wrap and aluminum foil.
"Consumers are gravitating to the higher-quality types. On plastic wrap, innovation is being rewarded through new items and innovations to existing items," Celistan said.
Still, the wrap and foil categories remain ones in which sales are "broadly flat over time," he added.
Sales figures from market research firm Information Resources Inc., Chicago, confirm Celistan's observation. Domestic sales of foils and wraps in the food, drug and mass channels were down 1.3% for the 52 weeks ended June 13, to $581.1 million. Figures do not include sales at Wal-Mart Stores.
Reynolds, the leading brand in the aluminum foil, plastic wrap and waxed paper categories, saw sales of its Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil drop by 3.1%, to $195.5 million. Sales of Reynolds Plastic Wrap dropped by 12.6%, to $39.1 million, and sales of Reynolds Cut Rite waxed paper dropped 5.8%, to $18.5 million, during the same time frame.
No doubt, all foils are not created equal and underperforming stockkeeping units sometimes need to be weeded out.
"We did a bag and wrap review last year and we took some companies out," Niehaus from Buehler said. "We decided we had to get rid of some of the dead sellers. And it's holding its own. It might be a little under some weeks, but other weeks it's real big. I guess it just depends on what people are using them for and what time of year it is."
Thanksgiving and Christmas are when wraps categories see the most activity at Tews' Piggly Wiggly unit. During summer, which is considered prime grilling season in many regions, sales jump a bit. "The rest of the year, you just dust them for the most part," he said.
Increasing promotional efforts where these categories are concerned might help maintain sales throughout the year, as plastic food storage containers threaten to steal share away from foils and wraps. To that end, Celistan suggested grocers step up efforts to "link their foil products more directly to their strengths -- the perimeter. We have developed tie-ins that make this an easy process. Many other channels are unable to compete as effectively with the grocery channel on meat, seafood and produce offerings."
Niehaus is planning to do just that. A buy-one, get-one free promotion on Reynolds' aluminum foil was scheduled for around this time in her stores. When she spoke with SN, she already had the shippers for that promotion ready to go.
"They'll sit back, maybe by the meats. They'll just position those through the store until they sell out or until they can move the rest of the product to the shelf," she said.
Store brands will also appear in Buehler's wrap and foil promotions as they often do, Niehaus said, adding that customers don't seem to exhibit the same amount of brand loyalty in these segments as they do with other Center Store categories.
"I have a tendency to lean toward private label. [Shoppers] don't mind buying a private label. I think where [they] draw the line are trash bags," she said. "That gets pretty heavy, so [consumers] don't want a cheap one. I don't put Reynolds [Wraps] in a lot. But the deal that Reynolds gave me this time was just too good to pass up. You can pass that value on to the customer."
Tews also said his store-brand wraps and foils move well compared to the name brands. IGA's Wilkins said her store-brand plastic wrap is a big seller.
"Private label plays a key role in these categories by providing an excellent consumer value vs. the national brands, while providing incremental retailer profits," said Norm Spencer, director of nonfoods at Topco Associates, a retailer cooperative based in Skokie, Ill.
Topco offers its members five foil items and two shippers under its Top Crest label, along with two plastic wrap items and one shipper item and a new "Easy Cover" product. "A comprehensive, private-label product offering can also differentiate retailers from their competition," Spencer added.
Sales of store-brand wraps and foils tend to follow the patterns of their national-brand counterparts. Both segments witnessed dips for the 52 weeks ended June 13, according to IRI statistics. Private-label aluminum foil, the second-leading brand, saw sales drop 7.4%, to $141 million, while private-label plastic wrap, the fourth-leading brand, saw sales drop 12.7%, to $28.2 million.
While Wal-Mart sales are not included in any of these IRI figures, they are always on the minds of grocers that compete directly with the mass merchandising giant. However, where the wrap and foil categories are concerned, Wilkins isn't feeling the heat that Wal-Mart often radiates. At present, the closest Wal-Mart supercenter is located about 50 miles from her single-unit operation.
"If they can't wait to get to Wal-Mart, they will buy it here," she said.
The convenience of disposable food storage containers has left the more traditional plastic wrap and aluminum foil categories looking a bit outdated, retailers told SN
"When [containers] first came out, people were a little leery of those. Now they are more mainstream," said Andy Tews, grocery manager at a Piggly Wiggly unit based in Mayville, Wis. "I think the fact that [consumers] can reuse them has slowed down the [sales of] wraps to a point."
According to Norm Spencer, director of nonfoods for Topco Associates, a cooperative based in Skokie, Ill., the situation could potentially be a bit more dire.
"With all of these categories being essentially flat, the market has stabilized and it appears consumers are using disposable food containers regularly. Based upon the repeat purchase trend, disposable food containers do not appear to be a fad," Spencer said.
The skyrocketing price of gasoline is causing consumers to stem their weekly shopping excursions, noted Dots Niehaus, category manager at Buehler Food Markets, Wooster, Ohio.
"With the gas prices the way they are, I think people want to go to the grocery store and buy their food and keep it -- they don't want to lose it. They want to store it in the right container," Niehaus said.
However, Jodie Wilkins, owner of Joe Wilkin's IGA, Colquitt, Ga., doesn't believe wraps and foils will ever become completely obsolete. Despite the convenience of the microwave, she said some things are just better left to the oven, where aluminum foil can aid in the cooking process.
"For example, last night I had a baked potato and I still liked mine cooked in the oven instead of thrown in the microwave," Wilkins said.