Few things inspire festive enthusiasm like the prospect of a good game. As fans flock to the nearest big-screen TV, supermarkets look to increase beverage sales by highlighting the beer and soda that every party needs. However, sporting events pose some unique challenges and retailers are under pressure to come up with new ways to make the most of the party atmosphere.
Selling products based on the intrinsic merit of the Super Bowl or the Final Four can be difficult for grocery merchandisers as they attempt to woo their traditional consumer, women between the ages of 25 and 40. Although an increasing number of women are watching (and participating in) sports, they are not the quintessential fans.
"We steered away from sporting promotions a little bit because we found it's not our target market," said Bill Terry, DSD buyer at Bashas' Markets, Chandler, Ariz.
Another problem cited by retailers is the fact that these are annual events and it can be hard to drum up sufficient excitement.
"A party's a party's a party. Who gets overly excited anymore?" said Frederic Van Roie, grocery director at D'Agostino Supermarkets, Larchmont, N.Y.
Yet, they can be a big deal, particularly when the home team is playing. One of the most successful tactics is to focus on geographic relevance. An event that may not have much nationwide appeal can be very profitable for an individual store.
For instance, Dahl's Foods in Des Moines, Iowa, sees an increase in beverage sales whenever the Iowa State or Iowa University football teams play, according to Ross Nixon, vice president of merchandising. Dahl's also runs promotions for the Drake Relays, a track and field event that takes place in Des Moines. Nixon sees a definite boost in beverage sales during the races as well, especially in one store that's only a mile away from the event.
At Dahl's, Nixon looks at the price and the market share of individual products when deciding which beverage to promote for a given event, looking for the top beer or soda. The formula is a dynamic one.
"We do not do a lot of corporate dictation, so every store is different," said Nixon. "There might be eight stores going with Pepsi, but each store has the autonomy to go with a Coke so they can address the needs of their particular consumer."
Meijer, Grand Rapids, Mich., devised a strong region-specific promotion featuring a company-sponsored car in the Indy 500 through Treadway Racing. The event was a result of a co-marketing agreement with several manufacturers, Coca-Cola being one of the primary catalysts, according to Mike Hackett, promotion coordinator with Meijer Partners Plus.
The store ran feature prices on Coca-Cola in addition to display contests and a guest contest offering personal appearances with Indy car drivers. Hackett said the Indy program was very successful, increasing turns on key products through a community event.
Manufacturers also realize the importance of marketing with a local bent and are creating programs that can be geographically tailored. Coca-Cola's season-long fall football promotion takes a made-to-order approach.
"This fall, our football promotion is quite customizable. It can take the theme of an NFL, college- or high school-themed promotion," explained Scott Williamson, a spokesman for Coca-Cola. "All of our point-of-sale materials are customizable so retailers can best meet the needs of the local market."
Retailers have many options when it comes to hyping the beverage section for the big game, and some would advise against going overboard with contests and giveaways.
A store can end up running too many contests, like a trip to the Super Bowl, said Terry. Bashas' had programs in the past in which customers were automatically entered for a contest when they used their loyalty cards to buy certain products. The problem was that customers were often unaware they were entering the contest. According to Terry, the recipe for sales is simple, regardless of what event you're trying to sell.
"Price and display sells product. You could have a Groundhog's Day display and it's going to sell just as much as if it says Super Bowl," he said.
Bernie Rogan, director of public relations for Shaw's Supermarkets, Bridgewater, Mass., said he has seen particular success with display contests for the Super Bowl when the New England Patriots are involved.
"We have great luck with contests centered around who has the most creative display. We've had replicas of Foxborough Stadium going up in the middle of our stores," said Rogan.
When it comes to beverage pricing, it's always wise to highlight one or two in each category without offering too much at a cutthroat price. At D'Agostino's, one beer, one soda and one water are chosen as the preferred products for each event, said Van Roie. "We always try to rotate one of the imported beers as well," he added. D'Agostino's has also begun to include a non-alcoholic brew on special during the Super Bowl, and Van Roie said the product is definitely moving.
In addition to sale items, D'Agostino's offers larger packs during major sporting events. According to Van Roie, New York is a six-pack market, but in anticipation of Super Bowl parties and the like, his stores will carry more 12-packs. Bashas' follows the same rules when it comes to limiting the number of beverages on sale.
Cross-merchandising is one of the most important elements in any sports event-related promotion, because who wants soda without chips, or chips without dip? To realize the full benefit in the beverage section, onecommon strategy was to go with the traditional favorites: a soda, a beer, a pizza and a chip.
"These larger-than-life events have to be storewide events. The home entertainment aspect permeates the entire store," said Rogan.
Last month, Shaw's Supermarkets and Gatorade sponsored the Celtics NBA summer camp for the second year running. This year, the program bused more than 15,000 kids from all over New England to the University of Massachusetts for eight days of basketball-related activities, which included the appearance of NBA players. A new addition to the program was the Jam Van, a 40-foot trailer that expanded into an interactive display on basketball. The promotion was supported by in-store materials featuring Gatorade.