GMDC Executive Director Rick Tilton said the conference was scheduled because the group noticed that "more and more wholesaler grocers were providing these product categories to their retail customers and that in a growing number of operations these product categories were being handled by the general merchandise division."
Both non-foods divisions and grocery people (where non-foods is not involved) as well as manufacturers suppliers are being invited to this first-of-a-kind meeting.
"Non Non-Foods" as a Category
One-fourth of GMDC members are already offering products that might be called "non non-foods," and the group has held several workshops on the subject.
Service merchandisers are also active in the field. The National Association of Service Merchandising (NASM) has been tracking this trend for several years. It's estimated that nearly half of NASM members carry at least some grocery lines.
Several chains' non-foods departments have found candy and tobacco to their liking.
Many non-foods distributors are entering the grocery business in another line of edibles--specialty foods. This line includes dietetic products, gourmet, international and health foods.
The switching of product lines from grocery to non-foods has been going on for a long time. Light bulbs, brooms and mops, and sanitary napkins are some of the many product lines that have come to non-foods in most companies.
The addition of grocery edibles and tobacco (excluding cigarettes in most departments) marks another step in a process that strengthens non-foods by expanding its base. By adding to its sales volume, responsibilities and personnel, non-foods becomes a bigger entity. This improves potential economies of scale and enhances non-foods' status.
Names of the Game
Why the move to non-foods for certain grocery lines? Non-foodsmen claim it's because they can do a better job. Small-size repack merchandise, rotation for freshness, seasonal selling, wide variety in tight shelf space, and relatively slow turns are all the name of the game for non-foods, they say. The fact that non-foods clerks in some areas receive a lower rate of pay than grocery clerks is also a factor.
A quick check around the country finds some companies playing the "non non-foods" game.
* At Ralphs Grocery Co. of Los Angeles, candy and tobacco (including cigarettes) are rung up as general merchandise since the buyers report to the GM director, and non-foods clerks do the stocking and ordering.
* The non-foods department of West Coast Grocery, a Tacoma, Wash.-based wholesaler, has more than 10 years' experience in tobacco, cany, specialty foods and spices through non-foods. David Hills, the merchandise manager, says the lines account for more than 20% of the division's sales.
Rawson Drug & Sundry of San Leandro, Calif., took on candy about 12 years ago and gives it full service as with its non-foods. Confections, including gum and mints, is considered one of the company's top product lines, according to Vice President David Herbert.
* The Grand Union chain, East Patterson, N.J., has a non-foods subsidiary, S&G Distributors, which carries specialty foods that are service by non-foods people, but rung as grocery. Tobacco also uses the non-foods distribution system, but is merchandised, ordered and stocked by the grocery department.
* Millbrook Distributors, Leicester, Mass., has offered candy and a wide variety of food specialties to its supermarket accounts for more than 10 years and provides non-foods-type service when requested. President Morton Sigel says the program, combined with non-foods, reduces the number of store vendors. One of the other advantages is the preparation of statistical reports.
* Associated Grocers of Seattle, Wash., has a long-standing candy program through its non-foods division. Some spices, tobacco and specialty foods have been added in more recent times. "Candy is an impulse sale which is part of the reason it suits us so well," says GM Director Gil Harding.
* Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., has provided tobacco through its GM division for six years. More frequent deliveries, a more economical approach and better merchandising are part of the program, says Francis Willmes, GM vice president. The non-foods division also offers specialty foods (through a specialty foods distributor), dietetic foods, specialty teas and natural health and beauty aids, all with or without store-level service.
* The Caron Co. of Portland, Maine, has offered extensive lines of specialty foods for more than 10 years through a subsidiary company. Beef jerky, natural snacks and tobacco specialties have been added to the available lines.