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The Super Bowl is the second-largest food consumption day of the year, after Thanksgiving, so grocery retailers can benefit greatly by leveraging this quasi-national holiday to increase traffic and boost sales in their stores. The key to making the most of the big game is to go beyond the obvious plays. Looking at what product categories achieve the highest incremental sales boosts from the Super Bowl reveals some interesting -- and largely untapped -- opportunities.
First come the stars on the field. As might be expected, products such as frozen pizza, potato chips, beer, soft drinks, and tortilla chips get the largest incremental sales increases measured in dollars from the Super Bowl, according to an analysis by ACNielsen of more than 650 food and beverage product categories sold in grocery stores. To calculate the jump, ACNielsen compared the average one-week sales performance of each product over the three weeks prior to Super Bowl XXXIX, which was held Feb. 6, 2005 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Beer is the MVP of the Super Bowl. The overall category actually accounts for two positions on the list of biggest gainers. It takes the No. 3 and No. 4 slots, with light beer generating nearly $5 million in incremental sales (a 9 percent leap) during the week before the Super Bowl, and regular beer garnering a $4.8 million increase in sales, a 9 percent gain over its weekly average.
"The Super Bowl is the first major beer holiday of the year," says Jim Wright, Miller Brewing Co.'s sales planning director. "Beer is a huge part of the football season itself. In fact, the big game is the biggest home-party occasion of the year."
For beer, the Super Bowl is one of the top seven key time periods for sales, with 3.5 percent of all cases sold in a year taking place in the two weeks before the game.
Beer, snacks, and soft drinks top a list of the 10 categories with the largest overall incremental sales during Super Bowl week. Frozen shrimp, ice cream, and domestic dry table wine round out the top 10 list.
It's no surprise that Super Bowl viewers age 21 and over are 23 percent more likely than the national average to have had a beer during the past month, according to a study conducted by Scarborough Research (which, like ACNielsen, is a division of Progressive Grocer parent VNU). Domestic light is the beer of choice, according to Scarborough. Thirty-six percent of Super Bowl viewers 21 and over consumed domestic light beer during the past month. Twenty-seven percent drank domestic regular beer and 24 percent drank an imported beer, but only 2 percent of Super Bowl viewers age 21 and over consumed nonalcoholic beer during the past 30 days.
The category's popularity as a Super Bowl party essential leads major vendors to seize the opportunity to promote their products for the occasion. Anheuser-Busch has bought the most commercial time on the Super Bowl telecasts for the past six years. In 2005 the brewer led all advertisers on the telecast with 300 commercial seconds, followed by Pepsi-Cola, at 135 seconds, and Ford Motor Co., at 120 seconds, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.
Overall, beer was the third-largest category of advertising on the telecast, following automotive and motion pictures. The soft drink category was fourth, according to ACNielsen.
The buildup to game time is monumental. According to Wright, Miller starts promotions and marketing planning approximately 10 months before the Super Bowl, which means the supplier's activities start in March or April for the next championship game.
Post-New Year's kickoff
According to ACNielsen data, for most of the leading Super Bowl product categories, sales at grocery stores start indexing higher right after the year-end holidays, the usual start of the National Football League playoff schedule. Football-themed displays and promotions start going up in stores right after New Year's Eve.
Suppliers enthusiastically endorse the use of in-store displays to boost Super Bowl sales. "The most effective programs are the in-store displays that make beer drinkers stop in their tracks, tie into a theme, and increase sales for the retailer," says Wright. "For example, our oversized, inflatable Superparty Chair, which we paired with Miller Lite and Miller Genuine Draft, has been very successful the past few years."
Cross-merchandising displays are also valuable in enhancing the basket ring for retailers. Again, beer is a pillar in the process. Nearly all the product categories that get the biggest incremental sales boost from the Super Bowl are items that align well with the brew. Large thematic displays that pair beer with items such as soda, chips, cooking supplies, and other food-related items that tend to be purchased that weekend help drive incremental sales.
For example, Miller offers a promotion that gives consumers a chance to win a Superparty kit, which has everything game viewers need for a home party, including beer, a cooler, chairs, banners, a keg tap, cups, napkins, coasters, and more. Deluxe kits even include a television and other higher-end items.
Of the top 10 Super Bowl product categories, there's one that stands out as an atypical choice: No. 10, domestic dry table wine, which generated almost $3 million in incremental sales for grocers during Super Bowl week, a 6.6 percent increase over its year-long average weekly sales.
That might seem odd, considering that wine isn't a product typically associated with Super Bowl viewers. However, the data shows that Super Bowl viewers are more likely to purchase both champagne and wine than the overall population. According to a study by Scarborough Research, Super Bowl watchers age 21 and over are 21 percent more likely than all consumers to have bought champagne or sparkling wine during the past three months. One-quarter of Super Bowl viewers purchased red wine during the past three months, and they're 16 percent more likely than all consumers to have done so.
For most, it's hard to imagine a bunch of screaming football fans sitting around a television set sipping wine during the big game. Perhaps the increase in wine sales during Super Bowl week is also attributable to non-Super Bowl viewers, such as spouses, looking to drown out the noise from the Super Bowl party in the other room.
Some industry observers suggest that an opportunity exists for retailers to "counter-program" against the Super Bowl, by paying explicit attention to non-football fans in the weeks before the game. For example, wouldn't it be a good idea to create an end cap of everything needed for non-football fans' anti-Super Bowl parties, such as a selection of drama or comedy videos/DVDs (think "Gone With the Wind" or "When Harry Met Sally..."), wine and cheese, yogurt, fresh vegetables, and vegetable dips?
Indeed, a further breakdown of sales increases during Super Bowl week -- focusing on percentage sales gains rather then raw dollar sales -- reveals seasonal event gains for a broad variety of products, from dips and dip mixes to cheese, cookie, and brownie mixes.
Another key observation that should feed into any retailer's playbook: Not all markets see the same gains in the same categories.
ACNielsen also looked at products that sold especially well in the week leading up to the Super Bowl game in the two markets that were home to the 2005 contending teams: Philadelphia (Eagles) and Boston (New England Patriots).
While all of the products that benefit from the Super Bowl nationally also enjoyed sales gains in those two markets, there were still some noteworthy differences between them. For example, scrapple and mush, a dish that dates back to the earliest Pennsylvania settlers and is now available in grocery stores, enjoyed a 14 percent bump in sales in the Philadelphia area during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. In Boston, refrigerated deli pizzas (up 54 percent) and make-it-yourself pizza ingredients (frozen pizza crust was up 23 percent, shredded cheese gained 16 percent, and pizza sauce saw a 13 percent sales gain over yearly average sales) showed strong performance that week.
Super Bowl XL will be held Feb. 5, 2006 in Detroit. Depending on the contestants, there are likely to be numerous regional product opportunities next year, as well. Currently New England, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis are the favorites to play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Detroit next year, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers.