ATLANTA -- As the Olympic hoopla fades, athletes pack their bags and visitors go home, supermarket operators here are shining the medals they earned in the sales event.
Despite media reports of local merchants and restaurant owners not doing as well as anticipated, several chains contacted by SN said the two-week international competition, which ended Aug. 4, pushed up sales and bolstered store traffic at their Atlanta-area locations.
"The Olympics have been very good to us, and it is my understanding that is not universal to everyone," said Terry Ransom, chief administrative officer.
"[Sales] are well over last year's numbers. There is noticeable increase, and you can tie it directly to start of games," he explained. "We saw a huge surge the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the opening ceremonies. It dropped back to normal for a day or two and has picked up every day since."
Ransom attributed the sales spurt to a contract with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games for boxed meals, catering events for corporate sponsors and increased business from local customers.
"There were two things going well for us. One was the direct business we had to [the] ACOG. We supplied boxed lunches and family meals for the volunteers and staff. There were 400,000 meals contracted throughout the course of the games.
"Secondly, retail traffic at our three megastores was doing very well," he said. "It was party time, and [shoppers] were stocking up and buying food for all of their out-of-town visitors. There was no pattern to what was selling. It wasn't just beer and chips; it was everything. We were getting a fair amount of international customers, but we think it was mostly from the locals and their visitors."
While Harry's stores on the city's perimeter did well, its downtown location -- the one closest to the Olympic venue -- saw the least amount of traffic, Ransom said.
"The way the transportation was engineered, it went right past the store and bypassed much of the merchandising opportunities downtown. I have heard complaints from retailers that there was not a lot of opportunity for visitors to do any kind of shopping while going to the venues," he explained.
"The locals were scared away from downtown because of the horror stories they heard about the traffic problems there may be. The locals were staying away from the downtown stores and doing their shopping at the other stores."
Ransom added that Harry's extended the downtown store's hours but then ended up scaling them back down to normal once it realized the traffic wasn't coming in as expected.
Cub Foods stores also felt the pinch from the transportation snarl around the Olympics' main shopping district, according to Tim Henning, director of sales and marketing at the chain's Georgia division, based in Lithia Springs, Ga. Though it may be a bit too early to tell exactly how much sales were affected, volume during the first week of the games was lighter than usual at this time of year, he said.
"The locals aren't venturing out and, so far, people in town for Olympics are not shopping in the stores. We don't know where the people are," Henning said. "The Olympic area is packed, but they are not on the local streets. The public transportation, the Park and Ride and the subway system are also packed." Of the 13 stores Cub Foods has in metropolitan Atlanta, the locations near the train and bus stops did better than stores elsewhere in the city, Henning noted. Staple items like bottled water and individual-sized packages of meat and salads sold especially well, he added. Other chains told SN the Olympics proved to be a gold-medal opportunity.
"Our sales in the Atlanta area have been very good. We have noticed an increase in traffic," said Ruth Kinzey, spokeswoman for Harris Teeter, Matthews, N.C.
"It is interesting in that sales have been up across the board. There has not been an area that has experienced increases over another area. Business has been brisk. We're seeing good results in all categories," Kinzey noted. Hot-selling items, she said, included bottled water, prepared foods and fresh fruit. Although A&P anticipated a bigger turnout, business was good, particularly at stores away from the Olympic hub, according to Michael Rourke, senior vice president of communications and corporate affairs. A&P, Montvale, N.J., operates 41 supermarkets in the Atlanta area, many of which are located in the city's suburbs. "The stores are doing well, but sales are not as strong as we had expected," Rourke said. "We think that maybe the regular customers got out of town. There are more people in the area, but still some of the regular customers may have taken a vacation during the games."
Prepared foods, perishables, snacks, milk and bread were among the strong-selling items during the Olympics, according to Rourke.