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INDUSTRY VIEWPOINT: The perfect promotion partner

It is harvest time, and the best apples from across the country are heading to market. Once the apples are off the trees, the next big challenge is to find the best way to let consumers know that they are ready for purchase. The majority of consumers do not decide what they are going to buy until they are actually standing in the supermarket aisle, so it makes sense to reach consumers with information about apples when they are ready to make the decision to purchase: in the store.

That is where the U.S. Apple Association's National Apple Month program started and still anchors its strongest promotional events during the year: at the point of purchase. This year, National Apple Month has Kraft Global, the National Peanut Board and Smucker's as partners in its fall display contests -- one for supermarkets and another for military commissaries. This year's message is that by simply merchandising apples and apple products along with the partner products of "Kraft Caramels" and "Kraft Caramel Bites," along with U.S. peanuts and "Smucker's" peanut butter, retailers will experience increased sales.

It is the attractiveness of apples as the lead item in the produce department, the healthy choice that they provide to the diet and the fact that apples are one of the higher revenue generators in the section that make merchandising a win-win for retailers. National Apple Month stepped up trade outreach to make this year's fall display contests even more successful.

Many apple shippers and processors from across the country, along with the larger state and regional apple associations, have incorporated the promotion into their sales mix. In some cases, they are offering added incentives to merchandising apples and apple products during the fall promotional season. The three-month promotion runs through November, and there is plenty of time for any interested retail store or military commissary to participate in the 2007 contests. It is as easy as building an attention-grabbing display featuring American apples, "Kraft Caramels," "Kraft Caramel Bites," U.S. peanuts and "Smucker's" peanut butter. This year, the apple industry is backing the fall display contests like never before. Add a health theme for additional chances at winning; combine all of these elements to enhance sales and provide extra judging points.

It is an exciting time of year, and National Apple Month stands poised to assist with the marketing of the 2007 apple crop. The NAM program makes a real difference for participants. While the awards and prizes distributed to individual stores and foodservice operations are attractive and fun, the result of the promotion is a positive impact on sales. Recent fall promotion winners recorded an average overall sales increase of more than 26 percent. Fresh apple sales increases ranged from 4.4 percent to 49 percent, while processed apple products experienced sales increase of 2.8 percent to 45 percent.

NAM partner products also enjoyed sales increases last year, with the winner of the recent contests recording a sales increase of more than 16 percent across all products and brands.

Merchandisers should follow the nine-point checklist for successful displays that attract consumers and stimulate impulse sales.

*Keep the color scheme simple. Use brighter or contrasting apple varieties that provide colors in a specific area to draw attention.

*Have something extra to catch viewers' eyes. You must first get their attention in order to make the sale. Feature new or regional varieties along with your best sellers. Use signage or create a picture with the apple display. Size matters. Keep visuals and graphics large and easy to read from a distance.

*Add interest with a contrasting shape or design within the display. If the basic shape is rectangular, a round or unusual shape can break the monotony.

*Use a combination of smooth and rough surfaces to add interest. Partner products provide the perfect solution with packages and peanuts. Apples are available in a multitude of packages, so feature the tote bag, the poly-bag, loose apples and clamshells.

*Movement attracts viewers' attention. Be certain to provide a safe venue for any moving elements.

*Simplicity sells. Convey only one major thought or idea about apples. Make copy brief. Over-worded exhibits require too much reading time. Ten seconds of reading is plenty.

*Ensure access. Make it easy for the hurried customer to grab and go.

*Create user-friendly displays. Make sure some spaces show where bags or packages have been removed. A customer should not have to worry about taking the apples and spoiling the display.

*Additionally, today's consumers are busier than ever, so remember to advertise and promote the category and any special events that your store is featuring. Draw the customer into the store and to the apple display. Including menu and meal suggestions in the display will boost overall store sales. Cross-merchandising ingredients can save customers valuable time, provide them with simple meal and snack ideas and increase impulse sales along with your register ring.

Entries for the display contests are being accepted through Jan. 1, 2008. More than $10,500 will be awarded in cash prizes. Recipients may donate the prize money to a charity of their choice, keep it within the retail organization or distribute it to the individual submitting the entry.

Entry forms and contest details are available by contacting the USApple office at 717/432-0090 or sending an e-mail to ksrentzel@aol.com.

(Kay Rentzel is director of the U.S. Apple Association's National Apple Month program.)