Save-a-Lot Stretches Media Budget by Delivering Free Groceries

Test Run in Louisiana Town Likely First of Many

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Damn the newspaper ads and the circulars. The Save-a-Lot supermarket is engendering some good will and great buzz with a simple, but effective, promotional campaign to announce its presence in one community in the South -- free groceries delivered to your home.

In a test-run case in Opelousas, La., a small town an hour west of Baton Rouge, the chain supermarket today delivered a bag of free food and other staples, unannounced, to about 1,000 homes within a one to one-and-a-half mile area surrounding the store.

Recipients have taken to social media to trumpet the news. One man wrote on Facebook: "Dearest neighbors ... come home for lunch! It seems there are free groceries being delivered by Save-a-Lot to your door steps."

Sound too good to be true? Sound like the "Send this e-mail to 100 friends and get $500 from Microsoft" scam? It isn't.

An assistant store manager in Opelousas confirmed the promotion.

Mark Kotcher, director of brand marketing and design for Save-a-Lot, a St. Louis-based subsidiary of Supervalu, said the company wanted to do something different to reach out to the community.

"We're always looking for new ways to break through," Mr. Kotcher said. "A lot of grocery advertising today is people saying 'Our prices are the lowest, our prices are the lowest.' Well, we believe in proof points and what better way than to take it right to [the customer's] front door?"

The bags are filled with about $10 to $20 worth of groceries. Mr. Kotcher said the items are mostly household staples that resonate with buyers, such as three-for-a-dollar macaroni and cheese. All of the items are also strictly Save-a-Lot's own brands, which he said are typically 30% to 40% lower than name brands.

Ernest, the assistant manager at the Opelousas store who declined to give his last name but nonetheless was happy to speak to a reporter, said many customers have approached management and cashiers to ask, "What's the catch?"

"There's no catch," Ernest said. "We're a new store in the community and we're just trying to reach out to customers."

This is the first instance that Save-a-Lot has tried the free-groceries promotion. Marketing and advertising decisions for Save-a-Lot are made separately from the parent company, a Supervalu spokeswoman said, and the modest media spend -- $1.9 million through the first six months of this year -- means Save-a-Lot has to get creative when necessary.

"It's been tremendously successful," Mr. Kotcher said of the Opelousas promotion. "We're glad it has legs, and we're thrilled that it's become part of the social-media landscape."

Save-a-Lot has plans to double its current 1,179 stores in the next five years, "So I imagine you'll see this promotion in other places," Mr. Kotcher said.

"We're not a huge retailer; we prefer to put all the savings into a product," he said. "So we wanted to think of something that was nontraditional but resonated on an emotional level. A lot of grocery companies do sampling, but it's in-store. What's easier than coming home to a bagful of groceries?"

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