Mix and Match Malts

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Mix and Match Malts

By Mehgan Belanger - 11/19/2007
Customization has become a keystone to success in all channels of retail. From Burger King's tagline of "Have It Your Way," to Italian car manufacturer Maserati's personalized automobiles, this trend has stretched to the convenience industry, mainly in the foodservice category with made-to-order meals. However, one innovative convenience chain, Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, is now taking the idea and putting it to use in an atypical way -- with beer.

The company's Create Your Own 6 Pack program offers customers the opportunity to purchase six different bottles of beer -- many of which are imports, microbrews and craft beers -- for $8.99. The program was the brainchild of Matt Paduano, who is the vice president of information for the Canastota, N.Y.-based chain, who came up with the idea last year.

"The idea came out of the blue," he said. "I was talking with beer vendors and looking at the influx of all the microbrews and crafts. I asked, 'Where do you find space in the cooler?' and the light bulb went on."

The program was implemented into one of the test stores in late March when Paduano took a door away from milk and dairy there. "We had eight [beer doors]. We grabbed the ninth [from dairy] and put the program in," he said. This test store is now selling 36 six-packs per week on average, according to Paduano.

Currently, the program is offered in eight stores -- three of which stock the beer in the cold vault, while the rest offer the program on warm sets, which Paduano explained was because in smaller stores, sometimes it's not worth dedicating a cooler door to the program.

"If you only have six beer doors, you can't sacrifice the space or the profits," Paduano said, noting that stores with more doors can take one from an underperforming category and see incremental sales. However, if stores take an existing door from the beer category, they may see a loss from the removal of big sellers such as Budweiser, Coors or Miller.

"Basically, we're looking for high-volume stores with a lot of beer doors, where we are able to consolidate to free up a door. We don't want to sacrifice [profitable] cold space to put the program in," he said.

For the stores offering the program in the cold vault, Paduano installed green glides similar to those found in the 20-ounce beverage doors, which can stock 54 unique facings of beer.

Decaling for the cold vault sets was designed by one of the chain's beer suppliers. Red vinyl outlines the door, while Create Your Own 6 Pack appears to be etched on the glass. They also installed yellow channel strips displaying the $8.99 price point on all of the door's shelves. "It makes the door stand out -- it's dressed up," Paduano said.

"Customers stop and glance at it, look it up and down, wander away, then they'll come back," he said. The program attracts various customer demographics -- women are attracted to the flavored malt beverages, while the craft brews are mainly purchased by men, who will also buy an 18-pack of premium beer, he said.

Shelves are organized by type, with the top shelf featuring malternatives, such as Smirnoff, Parrot Bay and Twisted Teas. Next, there are shelves of local beers from New York State, including Middle Ages, Thousand Islands, Ithaca Brewery and Saranac. Below that are national craft beers -- Magic Hat, Blue Moon and Sam Adams -- and the bottom is filled with European imports, such as Hoegaarden, Becks and St. Pauli Girl, Paduano said.

The brands and flavors chosen for the program are primarily based on the product's six-pack sales. "A lot of these [beers] had good six-pack sales and saw decent movement, so we put them in as singles," he said.

Paduano explained that no matter the selection, the price point stays at $8.99 for a custom six-pack. "Most crafts and imports in the store are $7.99 to $8.99." Stores also offer white carriers with a UPC for scanning.

One advantage the program gives is added flexibility to test new products. "As we are getting new items such as brands or flavor offshoots, we'll test them there before bringing it in as six-packs," he said. The program also allows customers to sample new beers, an advantage that has lifted the entire category, he said.

Flexibility also comes from the layout. "The nice thing about it is if something is not moving, we can swap it out for another product or new item," he said, adding that compensating for limited editions such as seasonal beers is simple. "We slip [Oktoberfest beers] in, and when they are gone, we have winter brews."

While the cold-vault program offers more variety, the warm program -- which is limited to 18 varieties of beer -- allows more flexibility for where it is arranged in the store. The stores use a freestanding fixture that offers beer similar to a wine rack. "I want to get to 40 to 50 facings [for the warm program]. This fall, we're working on a plan to create a warm set that can be put in many more stores," Paduano said.