LAS VEGAS -- Center Store took center stage at the National Grocers Association convention here earlier this month, as the traditional floor exhibit area was turned into a "concept show."
Thomas K. Zaucha, NGA president and chief executive officer, said the name change was made "because it's not an exhibition -- it's a show designed to instruct operators on how to market at shelf level and how to get back Center Store sales."
Grouped together under the banner "Center Store Concepts," a variety of vendors displayed their products and shared their wisdom on how to win back sales in these aisles, which lost about $4 billion to mass merchandisers over the past 10 years.
Mike Caponera, division space management manager for Kraft Foods, Rye Brook, N.Y., said retailers need to utilize category management to guide their stocking decisions "to make Center Store a profit center or category builder.
"Even a routine category like coffee, which doesn't necessarily build excitement, can become a destination category. Although people obviously aren't coming into your stores because you have coffee, you can make the section more desirable by redesigning the customer service level with a better assortment," he said.
One program that Kraft is utilizing to boost assortment levels involves the addition of a display rack from Starbucks -- with whom Kraft has a licensing agreement -- "that enables you to take a traditional, routine category and add enough excitement to make it a destination department."
Caponera also suggested retailers regroup products to merchandise to various occasions -- taking a traditional category like breakfast cereal, for example, and creating a breakfast category. He said Kraft is running a variety of tests involving the addition of a refrigerated case for breakfast items into traditional dry gondola sets, though he declined to indicate which retailers are involved in the tests.
Dave Nagel, vice president of sales for General Mills, Minneapolis, suggested retailers increase the variety of items they sell and boost their advertising. "That will create excitement behind the strengths of your own brands," he said.
However, he said retailers do not have to go cent-for-cent with mass merchandisers on price. "You need to be competitive, and pricing Center Store items within 5% to 9% of mass merchandisers is an acceptable range," he said.
Cecil Bragg, senior vice president, customer relations and industry affairs for Nabisco Biscuit Co., Houston, said his company is urging retailers to put impulse snack items closer to the beginning of the shopping tour, "before consumers have spent too much money. Consumers don't put Oreos or Fritos on their shopping list, and the visual suggestion early in the shopping pattern will make them sell."
According to Joe Celmer, national manager, sales administration, for Morton Salt Co., Chicago, retailers ought to group families of products together in a vertical set to make an entire category visible. "Sometimes what happens is you get product drift as other products are fit into the shelves and you lose that visual impression," he said.
Celmer also suggested retailers build strong point-of-sale displays that combine several items, such as including salt-and-pepper shakers in displays of picnic or camping supplies.