The same people who fought the great grocery price war of 1982 are locked into another major sales promotion battle for consumer loyalty and market dominance.
With their profit-squeezing price war suspended, Giant Food Inc. and Safeway Stores are attempting to expand their customer base with what might be called the great giveaway of 1983.
Literally millions of dollars in prizes are being offered to consumers just for going into the companies' stores.
Actually, a little more than that is involved to be eligible for prizes being awarded in a joint promotion by Safeway and the Roy Rogers fast food chain, in which the odds of winning the top prizes run as high as one in 1.6 million.
Consumers are being offered a chance to "scratch" their way to Barbados or to "Buy American" in simultaneous promotions being run by the area's leading supermarket chains.
Safeway and Roy Rogers (a subsidiary of Marriott Corp.) are offering more than 2 million prizes worth more than $4 million between now and April 15, while Giant is giving away 10 automobiles a week for 10 weeks, ending May 22.
Participants in Giant's Buy American promotion are required only to fill in an entry blank and deposit it at one of the chain's Washington-area stores.
The Safeway-Roy Rogers "Scratch for Scratch" game is a little more involved, however. Contestants can become instant winners by scratching the surface of game tickets (a la D.C. lottery) in an attempt to match prizes, or they can win more valuable prizes by collecting ticket stubs similar to pieces of a puzzle that complete a picture. In addition, there is a grand sweepstakes prize of $100,000.
Although nobody has won one of five cars in the "Scratch for Scratch" promotion, more than 1,000 prizes have been awarded, including three trips to Barbados.
It is not necessary to make a purchase to be eligible for prizes, but the aim of both promotions obviously is to generate traffic that will lead to future, if not immediate sales.
"We always try to develop reasons for the customer to shop at our stores as opposed to shopping at our competitors," concedes Israel Cohen, Giant's chairman and chief executive officer.
"Competition is very keen and you have to generate interest in the grocery store," a Safeway spokesman volunteered in explaining the importance of the promotional budget to market share. "Promotions are important to generate new customers and protect the ones you have."
Safeway reports sales are up 8 percent compared to figures of a year ago, largely as a result of the current promotion.
Business at the 140 Roy Rogers restaurants in the Washington-Baltimore area is also ahead of last year's results for the same period, a Marriott official reports.
None of the three companies is willing to say what the current promotional campaigns cost, but, based on auto industry wholesale figures, Giant probably paid between $600,000 and $700,000 for the 100 cars in four models it is giving away.
"This promotion is acceptable. It's within our budget," Cohen allowed after a long pause.
But Giant has taken its current promotion a step further than the usual, indeed to a more altruistic level. In doing so, the local food chain could become a catalyst for improvement in a key sector of the national economy.
In effect, Giant is promoting domestic auto sales by giving away cars manufactured only in the United States.
The idea originated three years ago when Giant offered to pay $100 to any employe who bought American-made autos. That was followed last year by a test promotion in Frederick where Giant gave away American-built autos in a promotion similar to the current campaign.
"All we're suggesting is to compare the American-made product," Cohen says. "We believe based on what we're seeing that the American-made product is competitive with the imports."
Nobody knows how many of Giant's customers agree with that thesis but the Buy American promotion attracted more than one million entries in the first week. Score one for motive No. 1--generating traffic in the stores.
To Giant's credit, it hasn't stopped there. Indeed, the company has appealed to executives of the Fortune 500 group to consider similar campaigns that could stimulate consumer interest in American-made autos.
Giant's Buy American promotion admittedly is an expensive undertaking but, duplicated by major corporations in other metropolitan areas, it could make a difference in the struggling U.S. auto market.
In any case, it's a model for private-sector initiative that can be applied with several variations.