PHOENIX -- Retailers are finding that promoting special events, from beef "roundups" to backyard barbecues, is the way to increase meat sales in the 1990s.
"Whether it was a parking lot sale, an Italian Festival, a Mexican week sale or a good old price-buster roto ad, the best meat-selling experiences we've had have been due to selling events," said Mike Zecca, vice president of meat operations for Shurfine International, Northlake, Ill., a buying cooperative supplying some 22,000 supermarkets and 42 wholesalers in the United States.
Zecca said creating an event doesn't mean there has to be "one single red hot feature that distorts the rest of your product movement.
"We aren't telling you to blow your meat prices," he said. "A carefully planned mix is the single most important factor in obtaining meat margins."
Zecca made his remarks at a session on effective merchandising at the recent annual Meat Operations Conference of the National Grocers Association/National-American Wholesale Grocers' Association here.
Jeff Farnsworth, director of meat operations for Copps Corp., Stevens Point, Wis., and Pat Sylvester, director of IGA Brands for IGA Inc., Chicago, also spoke.
Zecca said a recent promotion, centered on a backyard barbecue theme, began as a simple idea and evolved into a widescale effort with input from the National Live Stock and Meat Board, Chicago, the National Pork Producers Council, Des Moines, Iowa, and a seasoning company.
At Shurfine, other departments, like cheeses and charcoal, got involved with product tie-ins, said Zecca.
Some other ideas that were successful for Shurfine have been a home cooking sale, a truckload sale and a cents-off sale.
Farnsworth said his company, Copps Corp., a wholesaler-retailer serving 38 independents and 17 corporately owned stores, "is promotional by nature and we try to create events weekly, with one major happening per month."
Farnsworth said it is important to make the grocery shopping experience "fun." He said customer surveys have shown that grocery shopping and meal planning are "very low on the pleasure scale."
In developing an event, he said all in-store materials should support the theme. "We must send a clear message as to who we are and why the customers should shop our store."
Farnsworth suggested using such themes as the company's anniversary, private-label sales, truckload sales, 12-hour sales, weekend specials, tie-ins with local sporting events and holidays such as Halloween and Cinco de Mayo.
Copps recently held a 99-cent meat sale and also sponsored a "Meat Roundup," when it encouraged shoppers to "stock up for cookouts" and "fill their freezers."
One of its "premier" selling events, said Farnsworth, has been a tie-in with Oscar Mayer Co., Madison, Wis., complete with the company's "wiener mobile." The hotdog car drove from store to store during the event; the week before, in-store announcements and radio commercials built anticipation.
The promotion included a cookout and a sale on Oscar Mayer hotdogs, a coloring contest for kids and a picnic basket giveaway. "This is done to build up business for years to come," said Farnsworth.
He added that while it's important to keep the theme consistent, keeping it flexible allows other departments to participate.
He also advised taking advantage of programs offered through trade groups and suppliers for tie-ins and cross-merchandising opportunities.
"If possible, do the unusual. Don't be tied to the traditional Sunday-through-Saturday promotional feature," said Farnsworth.
For the past several years, Copps has sponsored a weekly television promotion featuring a popular local weatherman. He broadcasts from unusual locations such as family backyard barbecues and makes humorous comments on the food and the preparation, while forecasting the weather.
Sylvester of IGA, a voluntary retail food network with 4,000 retailers in the United States and five other countries, said it has used various programs to spur sales of its TableRite brand meats.
Shelf cards, beef mobiles, poultry mobiles, pork mobiles, window banners and case dividers are available for stores to use at point of purchase.
IGA encourages creativity in the meat department with its annual "Meat Merchandiser of the Year" contest. Retailers submit entries showing an event they held during the year, which must last at least one to two weeks.
Some such events have included a farmers' market set up in a parking lot, a barbecue for charity, a dress-up contest for employees and customers, hay rides and a square-dance contest.
"The Beef Roundup is all about bringing people in and it has been one of the most popular promotions with our retailers," said Sylvester.
In general, he said, IGA has focused on cross-merchandising and offering value-added meats. "The customer is getting more acclimated to having something easy to prepare," said Sylvester.