The LAOOC shops at Vons.
But after 78 years of feeding the West, Vons has agreed to take on the world. That's the message the Southern California chain is relaying to its customers. "We're making it known," says Joe Raymond, vice president of sales, "that we're the supermarket that's feeding the world's best athletes during the Olympic Games when they need the most nutritious, freshest, highest quality food. And that same food is available to our customers everyday at Vons."
When the LAOOC--shopping list in hand--approached Vons last November, it was looking for a food company with buying skills and experience in the marketplace that could keep food costs to a minimum. As part of the bargain, Vons would be required to supply $10 million worth of food--the first $2 million free and the balance at cost. "The fee," says Raymond, "was not negotiable, and we knew other companies would be interested if we weren't."
Vons had already purchased the television advertising package for both the Winter and Summer Olympic Games and had been searching for ways to use its media buy to greatest advantage. The chain had discovered, however, that it couldn't do much with the Olympic theme because of the protections on the various Olympic logos. But by becoming the official supermarket of the 1984 Games, a great many Olympic merchandising possibilities became available.
Of course, supplying the Olympic Games is a big responsibility. Vons will be feeding more than 12,000 athletes, coaches and trainers in Los Angeles this summer. "We will use our experience in turnover," says Raymond, "and hopefully time deliveries in such a way that we'll move product easily into the various locations. We certainly don't want to have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of inventory sitting around. It will basically be a matter of good organization."
Vons will work in coordination with ARA Services, the Philadelphia food service organization that will prepare, cook and serve the food. ARA has also planned the menu according to the diet worked up by its nutritionist. Specifications of the menu have been approved by the LAOOC and Vons will deliver to those specs.
"ARA has not selected a lot of exotic, esoteric foods," says Raymond. "It's essentially about a 550 SKU foodline. The menus are fairly straightforward with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Each dinner and lunch will include a series of hot entrees with a fish, meat and poultry item; rice, pasta and potato; four vegetables; assorted cold garnishes; luncheon meats; a salad bar and condiments." Ample Produce Supplies
Fruits and vegetables will abound on the Olympic table. "Afterall," says Raymond, the Games are taking place in America's fruit and vegetable basket, so to speak. The LAOOC and ARA took that into consideration. Supplying fresh produce is one of the easier wings we'll be doing. We've always been proud of the produce in our stores. I think our fruit and vegetable selection will be a highlight for the world athletes."
Currenty Vons is making plans for procuring the food it will be supplying. "One thing that will uncomplicate the situation is that we will use institutional, not warehouse, packs," explains Raymond. "We are beginning to develop our supply lines right now. In a real supply sense, our obligation will begin around the middle of June and extend through the Olympic Games. That's when we'll start to gather, consolidate and deliver."
Vons will deliver to the villages in the first part of July, stocking up with non-perishables. In general, the chain will only deliver food to three villages--UCLA, USC, and the Universityof Santa Barbara. They will also deliver supplies to a location where box lunches will be made up.
"The delivery curve," explains Raymond, "will start to build when the Olympic villages open in mid-July, 10 to 12 days prior to the games. And then, of course, it will be heavy durin gthe first part of the games and taper off as the games close down. It will all boil down to about a six week period when we will be delivering merchandise."
Vons is proud to be supplying the 1984 Games and it feels it will benefit from this affiliation. "If the Olympics is as successful as we think it will be, then it will be terrific for the country and the greater community," says Raymond. "To be a part of that will naturally be terrific for our company. Also, it's something that we feel may have a long-lasting value. We believe people in Sourthern California will remember that Vons was the major food supplier for the 184 Games."
Of course, there is some concern that not everyone in Southern California will react positively to the Olympic Games being held in Los Angeles. "There could be quite a few who might say, 'Who needs it?'," admits Raymond. "We realize there are going to be some traffic problems and that some people aren't going to be happy about having the Olympics take place in their backyard, but we still believe overall it will be regarded as a great event for the city of Los Angeles--a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"Besides, the country in pretty good straits right now. Retailing rebounded very nicely over the Christmas holidays and the average citizen is feeling pretty good. Also, the LAOOC has done an excellent job of keeping city costs to a minimum. Our approach, first and foremost, will be to stay in the grocery business, run our stores, but at the same time, try to make the marketplace and our stores as interesting as possible utilizing the Olympic theme." Pre-Games Publicity
Vons does have a great many Olympic merchandising, advertising and promotion plans in the works. The chain began its Olympic merchandising early. First came a billboard announcing that Vons is the official supermarket of the 1984 Olympic Games. In early January, the chain began advertising its Olympic tie-in in newspaper supplements and Olympic logos began to appear on selected Vons' products. In mid-January, TV and radio commercials went on the air, drawing a parallel between the Olympic athletes preparing for the games and Vons preparing to deliver food.
Olympic store decor was also in place by mid-January to coordinate with the chain's Olympic advertising during the winter games and to announce Vons' Olympic affiliation to its customers. "We invested in an upscale store decor package," says Raymond. "We're hanging red, white and blue, 3-foot by 8-foot cloth banners from the ceiling to create a pageant effect. We also have flags in all of our concourses and all of our signage has been adjusted to call attention to the official supermarket of the 1984 Olympic Games."
Olympic buttons and patches will be worn by employees and special ties have been designed for store managers. The chain has other plans for changes in the employee dress code during the Olympics. To encourage employee pride and involvement, the companywill be sponsoring some Olympic-related store contests. "For example," says Raymond, "each of our district managers will have the opportunity to present the best decorated store in the Olympic theme."
On the consumer side, Vons recently took part in the Youth Legacy Torch Run. During the month of February, vons offered coupon booklets to customers and employees for $3. The booklets include coupons from official food-related companies worth $7 or $8. For every thousand booklets sold, Vons purchased one kilometer in the torch run for $3,000. The names of the people who purchased booklets were put into a drawing and one person won the opportunity to carry an Olympic torch for one kilometer in the Youth Legacy Torch Run. Three Main Departments
Vons plans to merchandise three of its perishables lines--meat, produce and deli--in connection with the Olympic theme. "We will place a little extra emphasis on the selection, quality and nutritional value of these departments, because they are the main lines we will be supplying to the athletes," explains Raymond. Meat items will be marked with the Olympic logo, as will deli and plastic produce bags. Vons will also feature special promotions on these products at point-of-purchase and in advertising, particularly during build-up time.
Vons also plans to merchandise products by other Olympic sponsors where they are appropriate. "We will try to work out promotional activities that will tie in well with other Olympic family members," says Raymond, "but we don't want to lose sight of the other vendors out there."
Vons has scheduled Olympic related activities from mid-January through the Summer Olympics. There is some concern that Olympic fever might turn into Olympic frustration, so Vons is trying to pace its activities so customers and employees won't tire of the Olympics too soon.
"They're going to be innundated with Olympic news on TV and in the newspapers, and there will be a lot of talk about it," says Raymond. "We're trying to integrate it carefully into our everyday business, making sure we hit the crescendos when the customers are feeling the excitement. There is a risk, but we hope we can keep the right pace."
Overall, Vons is extremely optimistic about its Olympic connection. "We're going to do more than our share to make it a success," says Raymond. "It will be fun to look back and say we did it and we did it very well. We think our customers and employees will realize what a good operation we have and what a good grocery store we operate. There's a level of price in being able to say we can feed those athletes better than anyone else."