DOUBLE SPRINGS, Ala. — The rivalry between the University of Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn University Tigers football teams is one of the hardest fought in the nation.
So it was fitting that the Gateway Foods store here drew on the theme to sweep a different kind of contest in the state.
It took first place in both categories of the 2009 Buy Alabama's Best display contest — wet and dry. Winners were announced last month.
Sponsored by the Alabama Grocers Association, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, and the Alabama Food Manufacturers Association, the contest is designed to promote items made, manufactured, headquartered or processed in the state.
In addition to benefiting local companies, the effort has another tie-in. Proceeds from the sale of each item are used to fund pediatric cancer research.
“Alabama consumers tend to be very loyal, but many have no idea which products are made here,” said Ellie Taylor, president of the AGA.
A freestanding, tailgate-themed display positioned near the beverage and snack aisles helped drive awareness at Gateway Foods.
Featuring Red Diamond tea, Golden Flake potato chips, Moore's Marinade and Pilleteri Seasonings, it caught shoppers' attention with University of Alabama and Auburn posters, signs provided by the AGA, a blimp and streamers hung from the ceiling.
“Some of the customers actually took pictures of it,” store manager Allin Bailey told SN.
Gateway positioned a 6-foot frozen case beside a 6-foot refrigerated case for its wet display. Frozen fare like Dean's breakfast sausage and Country's Best biscuits were merchandised alongside Milo's Tea and Zeigler Meats.
Bailey could not pinpoint how significantly sales of highlighted items increased. But he did say the displays helped build awareness of the Buy Alabama's Best shelf talkers used year-round in its grocery aisles. Gateway has used the AGA-supplied tags for the past two years.
“Even though you got the little tags that say [Buy] Alabama's Best, consumers really didn't pay attention to those until they saw the display,” said Bailey.
Alabama's Best items also created a buzz at Sav-Mor Food Outlet, Calera. The retailer won second place in the Buy Alabama's Best dry display category.
“I don't think the ordinary shopper pays much attention to where their products are coming from, but when you put all of these products in one location it gets them pumped up and really makes them think, ‘Wow, that came from Alabama,’” said Phillip Davis, vice president of Sav-Mor's parent A&R Supermarkets, Calera.
Alabama retailers like to participate in the contest, not just for the incremental basket rings, but because it helps build a sense of community, noted AGA's Taylor.
“It boosts the retailers' sales when they have the displays out, but the main thing is the awareness to the consumer that the retailer is supporting products [made] here in Alabama,” she said.
To help get the point across to shoppers, Sav-Mor aimed to include in its dry display all of the shelf-stable Alabama products merchandised in its store, Davis said. Store manager Tony Adams built the display.
“If you're doing business in the state you want to promote yourself and your neighbor,” Davis said.
More than 30 items including Sunshine Mills dog food, Dr Pepper and Red Diamond tea were cross-merchandised at the back of the frozen food department in a display facing the meat case.
Sales lift during its four-week run was “significant.”
“Everyday, we had to go back and restock the display since people were buying off of it,” Davis said.
Also recognized for its efforts were Publix Super Markets store No. 841, Pelham (third place, dry category); Publix store No. 1202, Pelham (second place, wet category); and Super Foods, Greenville (third place, wet category).
Davis has already set his sights on achieving first place in this year's contest.
“Don't count us out, anytime,” he said.
Rules for the 2010 Buy Alabama's Best Campaign were recently announced.
There will be a new beneficiary for this year's promotion. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Alabama items will benefit the Children's Hospital of Alabama. Manufacturers will choose the level of donation.
“Some can afford to give more than others,” Taylor said.
Icons purchased by consumers in participating stores will also benefit the hospital.
Also new this year is the promotional timeframe. Retailers will highlight Alabama products through displays and ads during March and September to better coincide with Easter and tailgating seasons, noted Taylor.
“A lot of the Alabama products are tailgating-type items: barbecue sauces, a lot of meats, chips, dips and sour cream,” she said. “A lot are also Easter-type breakfast foods.”
To help promote the sale of more items, contest rules have also changed.
“This year, you're going to get points for every company you use, and every case of product used,” said Taylor.