The ads use the tagline, "Bring Home the Savings From Grand Union," with offshoots for specific categories -- e.g., Bring home breakfast bargains or bring home quality meat.
"We're developing strong marketing programs and staying with them," Philbin said -- "programs that capture the customers' imaginations, more so than just having the right items and prices.
"So instead of a traditional buy-one-get-one-free offer every few weeks, we've heated things up by running buy-one-get-two-free offers on six items at a time every six weeks or so. Not only does the program do well, but we've also found that things become very frenzied in the stores the week the offer is in place."
He said the program has helped the Northern division experience the chain's biggest turnaround, moving from a negative 6% in comparable sales at the end of 1997 to positive figures by late 1998. Grand Union has run the buy-one-get-two offer four times since last August, "and it's done well for us, but it's just one piece of our arsenal," Philbin said.
The company has also retained its customer-card program but changed the emphasis a bit, he explained. "Former management tried to prove the card could carry an entire program by itself," Philbin said, "but that proved to be a very expensive program, and the company fell into the trap of giving all the values only to its card customers.
"But you've got to give value to all customers, so we put in a powerful direct-mail program that makes special values available to all customers, including cardholders.
"The card is just the frosting on the cake, not the cake itself. The cake is the basic values program."
In the area of private label, Grand Union is reviewing all deals and looking at all quality issues, Philbin said, "to make sure we're carrying the right products.
"Our goal is to freshen up our labels so they convey the right message of what's in the package. It's been 20 or 25 years since the labels were designed, but we expect to begin seeing new labels by the latter part of 1999."