Bratsgiving's Flexibility Enables Expansion to More Retailers

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Bratsgiving's Flexibility Enables Expansion to More Retailers

By Samantha Nelson - 11/19/2018

Johnsonville Sausage may have made up the "Bratsgiving" holiday, but thanks in part to the manufacturer's willingness to tailor unique activations, the August grilling program has become a regular calendar event for a growing list of major retailers.

“We’re solving a problem for the retailer,” Johnsonville shopper marketing manager Stephanie Plehn told P2PI. “[As that's] when we see brat sales dip.”

Johnsonville works with a lineup of retailers to design activations that suit their individual goals and resources. In 2018, Kroger participated for the first time, with the brand pairing its sausages with Bimbo Bakeries USA’s Arnold buns via bunker displays accompanied by co-branded shippers.

The program activated Kroger’s “What’s for Dinner?” meal solutions platform, presenting shoppers with a package of Arnold buns free with purchase of two packages of Johnsonville fresh dinner sausages from Aug. 29 to Sept. 4. The deal was presented through chain circulars and websites. The retailer also delivered a $1 Johnsonville coupon to the 350,000 shoppers in its MyMagazine sharing network.

“Partnering among CPG companies can be difficult given the resources it requires and the complexity of retail execution,” Bimbo account executive – Kroger team Jacque James told P2PI. “By taking ‘the road less traveled,’ we were able to collaborate, leverage the differences in our distribution methods and provide Kroger shoppers with an inspiring, in-store shopping experience.”

The program was so successful that Johnsonville and Kroger are in talks to do future What’s for Dinner? collaborations for other occasions including St. Patrick’s Day and summer 2019.

For the past two years, Johnsonville has partnered with Ahold Delhaize’s Stop & Shop, Giant Food and Giant/Martin’s divisions for a cause-focused version of the campaign. Each division’s meat manager chose a local food bank to receive 25 cents for every brand purchase made from Aug. 10-16 (up to $6,000 per division).

“One of the things we really liked about this was a lot of the donation programs tend to be center store items,” Johnsonville shopper marketing manager Fiona Redhair told P2PI. “Meat is rarely involved and rarely included.”

The effort was promoted through in-store bunker signs, chain circular features and geo-targeted Facebook updates. While the effort was identical both years, Johnsonville actually had to resell the program in 2018 because of the retailer’s decentralization efforts. But the fact that the program was localized with different charities for each banner helped it fit into Ahold Delhaize’s community focus.

Johnsonville brought a similar program to Kroger’s Harris Teeter, which operates on a separate promotional calendar from the rest of the grocer's banners. Brand purchases from Aug. 1-14 triggered a 25-cent donation to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina (up to $13,000). The effort was promoted through circular features and social media updates from the brand, chain and nonprofit.

Meijer remains one of the biggest Bratsgiving partners. Johnsonville received three weeks of bunker signage in stores supported by mPerks coupons, emails and digital banner ads that directed consumers to a landing page counting down to the Aug. 16 Bratsgiving holiday.

A sweepstakes running from July 29 to Aug. 11 awarded one weeklong trip for four to a Wisconsin cabin. One runner-up received a gas grill and 12 others won free brats for a year in the form of 12 coupons for 16-ounce packages of Johnsonville Brats. Consumers entered via Facebook by sharing how they top their brat.

Lansing, MI-based Harvest Creative Services developed a trio of promotional videos with an actor depicting the character “Carl the Great Bratsgiver,” which were shared on social media to promote entry and reveal the winner.

"For the third year, the Meijer and Johnsonville partnership delivered an exceptional Bratsgiving event for our shoppers, leveraging the familiar face of Carl the Bratsgiver in our digital activation to inspire them to show us how they top the brat and celebrate," Meijer senior marketing specialist Crystal Stowe told P2PI. "It’s a very fun and collaborative project that we are all proud of."

Supervalu’s Cub Foods also made a social media sweeps the center of its Bratsgiving activity. Consumers entered from Aug. 9-29 by taking a picture with a six-foot-tall Carl the Great Bratsgiver standee at a Cub Foods store and posting it in the comments section of a designated update on the chain’s Facebook page. Five winners received a cornhole set, six won a $50 store gift card and two won 12 coupons for free packages of brats. Sponsored social media activity and an ad in the chain’s Aug. 9 coupon book supported the program.

Friendly competition fuels the Bratsgiving program at Albertsons Cos. In 2017, the brand designed a gaudy “Bratsgiving Championship Belt” that they promised to award to the meat manager who drove the most Johnsonville bratwurst sales during the promotion.

“The annual belt has become a trophy each of our division teams aspire to win and proudly wear (or at least display) the rest of the year,” Albertsons group vice president, meat & seafood John Beretta told P2PI. “Throughout the challenge, we send images of great merchandising displays along with weekly updates on the unit and sales results. With over 20 different Albertsons Cos. banners across the U.S., the competition is fierce. So we win, Johnsonvilel wins, and our customers win.”

Some of the divisional activations included appearances at Albertsons-sponsored events. Johnsonville grilled sausages in the picnic area at Seattle Seafair and brought professional cornhole players to teach people the game. They also offered a free brat to anyone who could score a point on one of the players. Johnsonville also made appearances at Albertsons stores in Northern California to sell brats and donate the proceeds to wildfire relief efforts.

Those programs combined with retailer-wide efforts. All stores displayed Bratsgiving sign toppers and Johnsonville utilized Albertsons Performance Media to deliver a coupon for $1.50 off the purchase of two brat packages one week and $2 off the same purchase the following week. The result was that brand sales spiked 10% year over year.

Ahold Delhaize’s Food Lion operates a clean store, but Johnsonville was still able to get signage in stores near their SKUs that directed shoppers to a deal for the brand available through the chain’s mobile application. Food Lion has its own creative shop and wasn’t interested in using Carl the Great Bratsgiver, but they did develop a “Best of the Wurst” digital program that ran on from Aug. 8-21. The program used Food Lion-developed recipes for sausage and related dishes.

“We say Bratsgiving is a holiday that is totally subjective to how you want to celebrate it,” Johnsonville integrated marketing manager Marc Bennett told P2PI. “This holiday is a bit of a Rorschach. We work with our customers to make sure they’re successful with what they do. That’s why you see the variety. It’s this kind of evergreen thing and we love to see how people take it and run with it.”

Johnsonville expects the program will continue to spread to more retailers, and that existing partnerships will expand based on past successes.

“Every year it gets easier,” Plehn said. “They know what it is. They see it in the marketplace and don’t want to be left out.”

(See more Bratsgiving images on

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