'Tis the season for boosting sales


As soon as Halloween’s witches and goblins fade into the first light of dawn, grocery retailers across Canada gear up for the biggest shopping season of the year.

And there is good reason to go all out – after all, consumers typically spend more during the month of December–some $6.1 billion in grocery last year–than any other time of the year, according to Statistics Canada. But with ongoing gloom and doom about the economy combined with rising food prices, it may take extra effort to jolly consumers into a holiday spending mood this year.

Tom Mainville, director of grocery and general merchandising for Atlantic Co-op, based in Moncton, N.B., is one retailer who believes that many holiday shoppers are likely to be cautious this year. “We expect to see consumer behaviour heavily influenced by promotional sales at retail this Christmas season – this is a continuation of a trend that we’ve seen all year,” he says, adding that consumers will likely go from banner to banner looking for pricing deals to stretch their dollars.

So, as well as the usual festive decorations, seasonal music and Santa Clauses brought in for the kids, the 100-odd Co-op Atlantic stores located throughout Eastern Canada will be using a lot more point-of-sale materials from suppliers and lots of promotional activities to encourage purchase. The Co-op head office offered stores a complete package of posters and shelf strips carrying a Christmas Holidays theme and Co-op retail flyers for November 4 promoted the Christmas Shopping Party.

While money may be tighter than usual this year for some people, consumers’ ongoing demand for convenience and healthfulness are also likely to have an impact on what they buy during the holiday season. Consumers like to be guided into making smart holiday purchases, says Sami Demnati, national key accounts manager for Fontain- Santé Foods. “These days, many people want options to traditional high fat, salty snacks and packaged foods. The market has evolved so much that retailers can now offer healthy alternatives with no compromise on taste.

“It’s also important to use creative merchandising because consumers make their buying decisions in less than 10 seconds, Demnati notes, adding that the holiday season is a “gold mine” for retailers. One suggestion he has for capitalizing on the festive mood is to create a display of hummus with pita chips and microbrewery beer in an end cap display with a sign stating: “Get the party started.” Demnati explains that Fontain-Santé recently launched HUMM! Hummus Cocktails, a product created for parties and available in a variety of flavours including roasted jalapeno, carmelized onions, roasted pine nuts and chipolte.

Although the supermarket is loaded with holiday fare, dips are a perfect product to feature during the festivities, especially since 82% of Canadians already buy dips, according to an Angus Reid survey. Combine that trend with consumers’ demand for healthier alternatives and dips come up a winner, says Cathy Antinozzi, client development director, Priority Brands, which markets the Marzetti brand. Marzetti recently introduced three new Greek Yogurt Veggie Dips and three new Hummus Veggie Dips under the Otria brand. All contain as little as 60 to 70 calories.

Nuts are another holiday favourite. Traditionally, the fall/Christmas period represents the vast majority of snacking nut sales for the entire year, says Joseph Milando, vice-president of sales Eastern Canada, Trophy Foods Inc. “Festive events and increased entertainment, coupled with consumers adapting a more ‘stay at home’ attitude have greatly increased snacking nut consumption these past couple of years. More and more consumers are becoming increasingly health conscious and heart healthy commodities such as almonds and walnuts are exploding in usage as consumers realize the true health benefits associated with these snacking nuts.

“Retailers should make sure that snacking nuts are merchandised in a highly visible position and cross-merchandised with other snack items to capture impulse buying,” advises Milando.

Of course, dips and nuts are just a couple of the many holiday food products that retailers will feature and consumers will buy this holiday season. Sure, consumers may be cautious and on the hunt for bargains, but it’s still a time of year that’s ripe with opportunity to boost category sales all over the store.

Merchandising tips

  • Encourage impulse sales by cross-merchandising products from different categories. Examples: create a secondary display of vegetable platters and veggie dips; display cream cheese and yogurt dips next to fresh fruit; merchandise caramel dips next to apples and chocolate dips next to strawberries and bananas.

  • Use product demos to entice consumers to indulge in premium coffee, specialty cheese, patés and fancy holiday pastries.

  • Offer quick meal ideas and easy recipes to help alleviate the stress of holiday entertaining and extended family get-togethers.

  • Create a “stocking stuffer” display that pulls together a wide range of products from all over the store: candy and chocolates, oranges, nuts, small packs of premium coffee, specialty tea, mugs, candles, small toys, trial-sized toiletries, cooking utensils, CDs/DVDs, and pet supplies.

Holiday consumer trends

Healthy eating - Just because it’s a holiday, doesn’t mean consumers no longer care about healthy eating. “People generally behave the same as they do all year long,” says Marion Chan, principal, TrendSpotter Consulting. “They may indulge more but still feel that they are ‘being bad.’ It’s important for them to buy something they can feel good about such as food with natural ingredients or organics.”

Indulgence - Today’s holiday shoppers who are looking for premium products don’t necessarily want the most expensive – they want the “best of the best”, says Chan. “They want something with a twist, something unusual that will impress people. Whatever they choose, it must convey that is is the ‘better’ choice and grocers have a real opportunity to encourage multiple sales by grouping these types of products together.”

Charity - Many consumers become more charitable during the holiday season, says Chan. “This can be a benefit to retailers if they can offer ways for shoppers to make charitable donations as gifts.” As well as collecting items for the food bank and holding toy drives, the holiday season is a great time to remind customers that the store is committed year round to the environment or to various charitable causes.

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