A parade of new products entering baby needs and accessories sections is forcing supermarket retailers to pay closer attention to category management.
Grocers enjoy the high profit margins that accompany sales of bottles, disposable liners, pacifiers, lotions, washes and ointments, but often find it difficult to allocate enough effective merchandising space for them.
"We'd like a little more space to work with," said Kent Bolander, merchandising director of health and beauty aids at Thrifty Foods, Burlington, Wash.
Most Thrifty stores devote about 8 feet to baby needs, though some give it 16 feet of pegged space. Since expansion isn't possible in its smaller stores, Thrifty carefully evaluates how it manages existing space. Bolander said the company looks at product movement as an integral part of its category management program.
"We're constantly moving items on and off the shelves," he said, explaining that new products are added immediately after slow-selling ones are pulled.
Jan Winn, director of general merchandise and health and beauty care at Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., said she frequently changes Big Y's planogram to accommodate new products and sizes -- which is a tedious, time-consuming process.
To help make the procedure easier, Big Y manages its 16- to 20-foot baby general merchandise category by analyzing product movement.
This tactic pressures manufacturers to make sure they offer popular items and strong promotions so that they can maintain their market share -- and space on Big Y's shelves.
Manufacturers and wholesalers often work to help retailers find space for their new products. For instance, Gerber Products Co., Fremont, Mich., plays an active role in helping retailers plan their baby sections, said Michael Lawton, president of the baby care unit. Lawton said category management is especially important in baby needs because it's an impulse-driven category. "It poses a problem for our retail customer to have to eliminate another shelf [stockkeeping unit] to accept the new item," added Jann McKellar, spokeswoman for Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich. "Distribution is hampered sometimes as some retailers will wait to 'sell down' a designated slow item."
Spartan chooses products that grab the shopper's attention, said McKellar. Other factors also come into play, such as duplication of SKUs, value, quality and, especially, safety.
Attracting the consumer's attention is paramount for increasing impulse sales in this category, industry professionals agreed.
McKellar said Spartan attempts to offer the best planogram mix, particularly the subcategories, in order to boost impulse sales.
Along with choosing product assortment, an important part of managing baby needs is deciding where items will be displayed.
The Mad Butcher, Pine Bluff, Ark., primarily merchandises baby needs on pegged power panels over baby milk, said Roger Burks, vice president of sales and merchandising.
A medium-sized Southern independent also uses power panels. A source there said because the stores are small, they don't have much space to dedicate to the category. The power panels allow retailers to make easier and more frequent adjustments to the category, and to merchandise several SKUs in a small area. The source said about 70 different items are merchandised in the section.
The independent displays on the top half of a 4-foot section. Formula is featured on the lower half.
One of the problems with peg boards is that some items, such as bottles, aren't conducive to the j-hook system. In such cases, many retailers prefer shelving.
Harris Lewis, director of sales at E.S. Robbins, Muscle Shoals, Ala., said the responsibility lies with the manufacturers to use packaging that is peg-board ready, but that can also sit on a shelf. If a retailer doesn't use power panels, the manufacturer should be prepared to service those who use shelf displays, he stated.
The packaging has to be versatile enough so the retailer can merchandise in several locations. Cross-merchandising and endcap displays may not be the most popular way to display, but are occasionally used, retailers told SN.
Cosentino Price Chopper, Kansas City, Mo., uses endcaps to promote baby accessories when the stores run an event, such as a special on diapers, said Scott Maysent, nonfood director.