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    GROCERY: Super Bowl Snacks: The big gain

    Planning for the Super Bowl well in advance can ensure tremendous midwinter sales spikes.

    By Bob Phillips

    When the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs squared off for the championship of pro football on Jan. 14, 1967 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, few, if any, people had the notion that history was in the making -- least of all, grocers. Now, some 40 years later, grocers stand to gain more than any championship offensive squad when it comes to sales of beverages, snacks, and other party food.

    Never mind the score (for the record, the NFL's Packers defeated the AFL's Chiefs, 35-10), but the game itself just wasn't that big a deal. It was televised on two networks, and neither NBC nor CBS experienced the kind of ratings bonanza a broadcaster would see today. In fact, the game didn't even have a catchy name; back then, it was referred to as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. (NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle wanted to call it "the Big One.")

    Not until the third annual game did the event become known as the Super Bowl.

    In retrospect, a more appropriate name couldn't possibly have been chosen. Today the world comes to a standstill during the Super Bowl (well, at least the United States) as millions upon millions of people -- fans and nonfans alike -- assemble at homes, apartments, restaurants, and bars to celebrate what has become a de facto national holiday: Super Bowl Sunday.

    And the time leading up to the big game can be a goldmine for enterprising supermarket operators.

    Since the game is traditionally played either on the last Sunday in January or the first Sunday in February, it would seem to be the ultimate challenge to create a significant sales increase in cold beverages, particularly in Northern climes. Then again, no other event has ingrained itself in the American cultural landscape quite like the Super Bowl party has.

    "The Super Bowl is one of the top three events of the year in terms of customer purchases," Rich Savner, v.p. of public relations at Carteret, N.J.-based Pathmark, told The Wall Street Journal before the 2006 game this past February. In fact, according to the Elmwood Park, N.J.-based American Institute of Food Distribution, Super Bowl Sunday is trumped only by Thanksgiving as the top annual one-day food consumption event. That fact alone means effective merchandising and cross-merchandising programs can yield yards and yards of profits in grocery aisles.

    Nationwide party

    The party, not the game itself, is the driver of all of this consumption. According to www.superbowl.com, the NFL's Web site, there are typically 7.5 million parties on Super Bowl Sunday, a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by major vendors.

    "Super Bowl is the No. 1 at-home gathering/party occasion during the football season," notes Jim Wright, sales planning director for Miller Brewing Co. in Milwaukee. "The average at-home party is attended by at least 15 people, providing plenty of opportunity to drive sales for a number of key supermarket categories, including beer, soda, snacks/dips, prepared meals, deli, and meat."

    That beer gets a healthy bump in sales for the Super Bowl is no surprise.

    "Over time the Super Bowl has become one of the most watched events of the year, making it a hot property for any consumer product that seeks to reach a primarily male audience," observes Erik Carlson, mega promotions manager for Golden, Colo.-based Coors Brewing Co., whose Coors Light is the official beer of both the NFL and the Super Bowl.

    According to ACNielsen data, the beer category saw more than $12.76 million in incremental sales during the week leading up to Super Bowl 2006. (For the purposes of this report, ACNielsen defines sales as "incremental" when they exceed the average sales of the previous three weeks.)

    And while dollar sales can often be misleading, reflecting deep-discount price promotions rather than incremental volume, such is not the case for this event. In 2005, Super Bowl week saw over 900,000 incremental cases of beer sold.

    "According to ACNielsen, between 2003 and 2005, 53 percent more incremental dollars were generated in the beer category during Super Bowl week vs. the average Q1 week [total U.S. grocery], and 67 percent more incremental dollars were generated in the premium light segment," says Carlson.

    Given that the beer will be flowing -- even in the traditionally frozen period in some regions -- the door is wide open for other categories to step up to the plate as prospective merchandising partners.

    "Beer purchasers are more likely to purchase complementary items like frozen pizza, salty snacks, and soda," says Carlson. "Leveraging incremental purchases by cross-merchandising creates greater dollar volume opportunities and increased basket rings."

    Carbonated soft drinks showed even more impressive incremental dollar gains -- $17.5 million -- during the most recent Super Bowl week, according to ACNielsen.

    A natural companion to all of that soda and beer at Super Bowl parties would be salty snacks. Sure enough, both potato chips and corn chips showed up on ACNielsen's list of the top 10 categories experiencing incremental sales dollar bumps during the week leading up to the 2006 Super Bowl.

    Given its investment in the game itself, Purchase, N.Y.-based Pepsi and its entire brand portfolio take a major interest in the Super Bowl and the promotional period leading up to the game.

    "As football fans and marketers, we look forward to the Super Bowl every year," says Pepsi spokeswoman Michelle Naughton. "This event offers an incredible opportunity to showcase our products on the world's biggest stage. Pepsi is a mass brand, and reaching a mass audience like the one watching the Super Bowl makes sense for us."

    Made for each other

    Salty snacks also tend to see a healthy bump during the period immediately preceding the Super Bowl. According to IRI data, salty snacks (chips, nuts, and pretzels) saw a 6.6 percent gain in both dollar and unit volume in the combined food/drug/mass channels (excluding Wal-Mart) for the four weeks ending Feb. 26, 2006, which included Super Bowl week. That contrasted sharply with dollar and unit declines in the four-week periods immediately preceding and following the Super Bowl.

    The numbers would seem to indicate that beverage and snack suppliers were virtually made for each other, particularly on this "holiday."

    "Cross-merchandising is a key component of our retail programming, and we look to partner with relevant national and retailer brands," explains Bill Laufer, St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch's v.p., supermarket channel. "Specifically, we focus on items that gain both the attention of the retailer and the consumer, and enhance the Super Bowl party experience, brands that might be in everyone's Super Bowl basket and drive sales volume for the retailer.

    "Cross-promotion is a proven basket-builder," continues Laufer. "For the retailer it's all about driving the shopper basket ring, and cross merchandising with key national or retailer brands for 'Bud Bowl' [the mythical gridiron contest waged each year between Budweiser and Bud Light] delivers sales volume for the Bud family and for the key brands that are a part of every Bud Bowl party. All these add to a higher shopper basket ring."

    Diamond Foods, producer of the Emerald line of premium nut products, is one supplier that has had a solid relationship with A-B in cross-promoting its brands at supermarkets nationally during the Super Bowl selling window.

    "Diamond Foods considers Super Bowl the most important single day when it comes to snack food consumption and marketing opportunities," says Andrew Burke, v.p. of marketing at Stockton, Calif.-based Diamond Foods, Inc. Statistics from the Arlington, Va.-based Snack Food Association indicate that Americans double their average snack food consumption on Super Bowl Sunday to 30.4 million pounds—including 2.5 million pounds of snack nuts.

    Plenty of groundwork needs to be laid well in advance to take full advantage of the immense grocery sales and marketing opportunities offered by the Super Bowl.

    "We begin planning six to nine months in advance," notes Burke. "We have found an integrated marketing campaign with multiple components to be most effective in driving our branding and building sales of our Emerald snack products."

    Emerald went all out in 2006, launching a Super Bowl campaign that included in-store promotions, print advertising, online advertising (on Yahoo!), a contest on the company's Web site, and a 30-second commercial that aired during the fourth quarter of the big game.

    Plan ahead for profitability

    According to Burke, supermarket retailers would be well advised to plan significantly ahead of the Super Bowl to maximize sales of salty snacks. "Actually, the two-and-a-half-month period from mid-November to the first week of February is prime time for snack sales," he says, adding that the period includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, and the college football bowls. "Of course, it all culminates with the No. 1 snacking event of the year, the Super Bowl."

    From Anheuser-Busch's perspective, while the evaluation of last year's execution begins the day after it ends, the real push for Super Bowl promotions typically starts following the New Year's holiday, while the NFL teams are battling it out in the playoffs.

    "Typically the stores will be set with displays two weeks prior to the game, but you will see some that have displays up as many as four weeks in advance of the game," says Laufer. "Some progressive retailers designate specific areas, usually in front of the store, to cross-promote and merchandise all the key items that make for a great party well in advance of the Super Bowl. Many of these have been successful in increasing overall foot traffic and market baskets for weeks leading up to the game."

    It only makes sense for snacks and beverages to team up in brand-specific cross-promotions in an effort to increase grocery sales of both.

    "Snack nuts pair naturally with items like beer, wine, and soft drinks," notes Burke. "Cross-merchandising our snack products with beverages has been a winning formula for us. This includes special store displays featuring both brands, and big-value coupons for our Emerald snack nut products."

    In 2006, Emerald teamed up with Anheuser-Busch in a cross promotion that yielded an estimated 10,000 incremental grocery displays for the brand across the country. That fueled the brand's in-store executions. Look for the two brands to link up again for a 2007 Super Bowl cross-promotion.

    "For the week leading up to Super Bowl, we generally see Emerald snack sales increase an average of 40 percent vs. the prior week," says Burke. "We feel this is largely due to our in-store promotions."

    "Super Bowl munching is all about snack food and beverages," says Burke, adding that the company's Diamond culinary nuts have also experienced healthy Super Bowl gains via cross-merchandising programs. "We've partnered successfully with some of our baking aisle partners like Pillsbury and Nestle," he notes.

    While Anheuser-Busch doesn't technically own the Super Bowl, a foreign visitor might easily get the impression that the megabrewer has an equity stake in the event. From the many in-store Super Bowl-themed displays that proliferate across the country, starting just right after the holidays, to the aforementioned "Bud Bowl," Anheuser-Busch is tied in as closely to the Super Bowl as a company can be.

    And that doesn't even count the scores of award-winning Super Bowl TV spots A-B produces each year (which has become an event unto itself).

    "The Super Bowl offers an opportunity that Anheuser-Busch recognized as a perfect beer occasion many years ago," says Laufer. "Because of the significance of Super Bowl as one of the largest home party occasions, we really focus on starting off each year with great Super Bowl programming and setting the tone for the upcoming selling season."

    Laufer sees supermarket retailers as generally receptive to the Anheuser-Busch Super Bowl promotions steamroller -- as well as to programs offered by competing brands in the beer category.

    "From the retailer side there is a tremendous amount of anticipation and excitement as they realize the brewers will be delivering strong promotions to compete for the all important display space and jump-start the retailers' selling season," he says.

    But it's also important to note that among Super Bowl party attendees, at least 50 percent are women and children. That opens cross-merchandising opportunities throughout the store, incorporating wine, cheese, candy and nonsalty snacks (bakery items).

    In the end, it's mostly beverages -- CSDs and beer -- that will drive incremental sales in these other categories.

    "We look to place primary and secondary displays in high-traffic areas, such as the lobby, deli, meat and seafood areas, the salty snack aisle, and the frozen pizza cooler," explains Laufer. "All of these areas represent incremental display and volume opportunities for our brands and the partner or retailer brands that are part of our program."

    By Bob Phillips
    • About Bob Phillips

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