KANSAS CITY — At Gelson’s Markets, seasonal promotions are a continual part of the retailer’s business that helps the grocer better engage with regular and newer customers more frequently, longer and at deeper levels. As the biggest holiday season of the year draws closer with the approaching fall and winter months, Gelson’s is gearing up for a busy season of promotions.

“Seasonal at Gelson’s means traditional holidays and themed events,” said Paul Kneeland, vice president of operations for the Encino, Calif.-based retailer. “Themed events usually include highlighted categories and occur mainly in the spring, summer, or fall.  For holidays, we are constantly looking for ways that we can stay traditional for our customers that like traditional and upping our offerings to enhance curiosity and elevate the experience for the customer that likes to experiment. In all our seasonal promotions, high quality of goods takes precedence.”

Last holiday season, many families and individuals weren’t able to celebrate fall and winter traditions like they usually do because of COVID-19. While retailers can expect the pandemic to leave some lingering effects, Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator for the Madison, Wis.-based International Dairy, Deli and Bakery Association, predicted that consumers will be wanting to make up for last year’s missed celebrations. 

Richard pointed to Fourth of July weekend sales as an indication for the upcoming holiday season. The week of Fourth of July this year brought in $100 million more sales in the instore bakery than in the final two weeks of July combined. 

“That’s a good indication that people are returning to the fresh departments for the holidays,” Richard said. “A lot of us in the industry really expect those numbers to be good for the upcoming fall and Christmas holidays because last year people weren’t able to celebrate like they typically do.”

Even with the Delta variant surging and new variants popping up, more people are vaccinated this year, and consumers are more familiar with what precautions need to be taken to stay safe. 

Retailers should, however, continue to cater to customers of all comfort levels. That means having seasonal promotions and offerings visible and accessible both in the store and online for pick-up and delivery. It will also be wise for grocers to continue offering products in grab-and-go formats that come in a variety of sizes to serve individuals, small families, and mid-to-large-sized gatherings.

Seasonal flavors, product innovation

Planning what seasonal flavors to highlight within limited-time promotions is all about getting a sense of what other segments in the market are doing, noted Richard.

“What are other segments within the market doing that really makes customers anticipate buying certain spices, when are they starting to release those products, and what’s the overall trend throughout the economy?” Richard said. “Be vigilant about what people are buying, what trends you’re seeing, what people are sharing on social media. Get to know your customer base.”

Take pumpkin spice, for example. Starbucks released its anticipated PSL (pumpkin spice latte) in late August. Holiday flavors are showing up earlier and earlier each year, and Richard stressed that retailers should pay attention to what companies like Starbucks that belong to other food industry segments are doing.

An assortment of seasonal products and events will reach different customer demographics, Kneeland noted.

“For example, our Hatch Chili Pepper roasting is very popular with foodies,” said Kneeland. “Marketing is a key tool to help get core customers and expand the range of demographics into the stores.” 

For Gelson’s, every fresh department is vital in holiday planning and promotional activities. The bakery is a favorite for almost any event, while the meat and seafood departments tend to shine during grilling season. Produce takes the stage for seasonal fruits and vegetables, and the deli comes to the spotlight to help customers plan for holiday gatherings.

In the past, the retailer has used sampling to highlight seasonal promotions, but amid the pandemic, Gelson’s created a sampler box that goes out to top-level rewards club members.

Retailers with strong private label portfolios should use that to their advantage and focus on seasonal promotions that highlight those private brands, pointed out Andrew Moberly, senior director of strategic advisory for Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon.

Private portfolios are specially positioned with the ability to easily cross categories and departments to allow one brand to be the solution for many consumer needs and occasions. Moberly noted that this can be especially helpful in the curation of meals, gift baskets or celebration packages that tie together multiple areas of the store by utilizing private brand products. 

“Private Brands need to be closely integrated with retailers’ seasonal promotions in order to continue driving store loyalty during the holiday season,” Moberly said. “Unique limited time offer items, as well as seasonal, nostalgic and locally relevant flavors, are ways to differentiate yourself from your competition. Progressive retailers often leverage both local and holiday flavors to put their own spin on the season in a way that can be ownable and proprietary for them.”

This story appeared in the October issue of Supermarket Perimeter.