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Marketing the Flu Season

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Having been involved with the supermarket industry for some time, I remember the Avian flu scare. Astute grocers prepared for the possible pandemic. Industry organizations led discussions and provided resources. With all of the preparation for this potential crisis, it would be interesting to know how many supermarkets dusted off their plans and initiated some of these measures to help them deal with this year’s flu outbreak.

For example, hand sanitizers can be found at checkout counters in most grocery stores, and hand wipes are frequently located in spots such as in the front end. But what other measures are being taken?

I recently checked in with several of my customers, some of whom are grocery shoppers who had been very ill with the flu. They shared with me how much they liked chicken noodle soup, tissue, and other “flu critical” items being merchandised in the front end. A few grateful shoppers even told me how “their supermarket” featured sale pricing on these products, which they particularly appreciated in their “state of cold and flu misery.”

In addition to the grab-and-go convenience provided for the sick customers, there is another advantage to such product positioning: germs were less likely to be spread throughout the store.

An additional expense — like a box of tissue placed at a register — is a good idea, too. I’ve stood in line a few times and wished the cashier could have offered a tissue to the person in front of me. Or, quite frankly, I wish the cashier would have used the tissue.

This leads to my last point: Employee wellness. It would be nice to think everyone is conscientious about using hand sanitizers and tissues. But, some people must be reminded. And in today’s economy, some folks don’t feel they can afford to miss any hours offered to them in their work schedule, so they show up looking as if they were infected by the plague.

Here’s where a bit of coaching is important because a sick employee may mean the work gets done but also may mean many others become infected and become ill. Plus, customers typically are less than impressed when the person helping them in produce, cutting their meat or ringing up their groceries looks as if he or she belongs in a hospital ward.

So if you aren’t already doing so, consider responding to the current situation by taking a few extra steps to help contain the spread of germs and to make customers happy they are shopping in your store during this cold and flu season.

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