(Dec. 1) To help customers celebrate the “Year of the Monkey,” which begins Jan. 22, showcase Asian specialties in preparation for this 15-day holiday.

Chinese New Year, which generally falls in late January or early February, is viewed as a celebration of family and a time for reunion and thanksgiving.

The holiday offers an opportunity to gain the loyalty of your Asian-American customers while educating others about the versatility of Asian staples and specialties.

KNOW YOUR CLIENTELE

Asian-Americans accounted for 4% of the U.S. population in 2000, and that number is expected grow to 4.6% by 2005.

While Chinese New Year is celebrated by Vietnamese, Koreans and Chinese, Japanese New Year is in early January, and Cambodian New Year is in April.

“Each culture eats totally differently,” says Jim Atkinson, produce manager at one of nine Buy For Less stores in Oklahoma City. “It is important to know who your customers are.”

While traditional Asian items include bok choy, napa cabbage, snow and sugar peas, enoki mushrooms, Asian pears and daikon, Atkinson promotes lesser-known items Asian-Americans look for during New Year celebrations.

“There are things (Asian-Americans) buy traditionally like (Americans) buy pumpkins during Halloween,” Atkinson says. “(Asian-Americans) create centerpieces and offerings on their tables that include watermelon, Mexican papayas, pummelos, mangoes, tangerines, chayote squash, finger bananas and other items we don’t usually associate as being Asian items.”

Buy For Less sells 200 cases of watermelon during the two weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, while papaya and finger banana sales increase tenfold, Atkinson says.

BIGGER IS BETTER

Decorations, variety and display size draw shoppers to Chinese New Year displays.

Use red and gold to attract attention. In Chinese culture, red represents happiness while gold represents wealth. Make signs that describe the significance of these colors. Chinese lanterns, dragon decorations and good wishes written on red paper also entice customers to check out your display.

Chau Truong, sales executive for Truong Enterprises Inc., Chicago, says green is an important color because it signifies longevity. Use yo choy sum and gai lan to represent green in your display.

Matt Roy, produce manager at one of seven SuperSaver stores in Lincoln, Neb., places a 12-foot handmade banner above the promotion and uses marketing items supplied by Melissa’s/World Variety Produce Inc., Los Angeles.

SuperSaver’s 12-foot display features 20 Asian items, including lemon grass, ginger root, taro root, bok choy and napa cabbage, arranged on tables and in bins.

Errol Watson, produce manager of Food Emporium’s The Bridgemarket, New York, sets up an 8-foot Chinese New Year display of Asian specialties using a waterfall treatment. He uses red and gold streamers, pictures of the animal featured each year and point-of-sale materials from Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif., to decorate the display. Frieda’s offers retail kits that include a banner, paper lanterns, price cards and dragon decorations.

Buy For Less’s Atkinson creates a watermelon display 25 feet long by 60 feet wide. The display holds at least 100 cases of watermelons. Atkinson also uses end caps to merchandise 25 to 30 cases of Mexican papayas, mixed with pummelos.

Don’t forget to offer oranges and tangerines. It’s Chinese tradition to bring a bag of these citrus items when visiting guests during the holiday.

CROSS-MERCHANDISE

Frieda’s suggests adding egg roll and won ton wrappers to Chinese New Year displays, as well as assorted noodles like chow mein, yakisoba and udon noodles.

Econofoods in Houghton, Mich., one of 52 stores owned by Nash Finch Co., Edina, Minn., offers customers recipe cards, says Brian Fredianelli, produce manager.

Fortune cookies also bring fun to your display. Truong of Truong Enterprises suggests retailers build a massive display using up to 20 cases of fortune cookies. He also reminds retailers to include rice, an important staple of Chinese New Year celebrations.

DEMOS AND SAMPLING

Help your customers learn about Asian produce with demos and samples. Remember to give customers recipe cards and nutrition information for the sampled products.

The Bridgemarket offers customers samples of Asian pears and steamed bok choy during the holiday. Sales of these items increase when customers get to try the product before they buy it, Watson says.

A SuperSaver employee samples highlighted items on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to help increase sales of Asian specialties among non-Asians, Roy says.

Robert Schueller, assistant marketing director at Melissa’s, suggests that retailers highlight the nutritional value of Asian items.

“Simple stir-fry with Asian fruits and meats — what a wonderful way to extend your diet after the holiday,” Schueller says. “Asian cuisine offers a variety of healthy choices.”

ADVERTISE

Schueller says retailers have an opportunity this year that they haven’t had in recent years.

“Chinese New Year promotion always conflicted with Super Bowl promotion,” Schueller says. “But since Chinese New Year is earlier this year than in past years, retailers have three strong weeks prior to the holiday to advertise.”

Atkinson says Buy For Less’s corporate office writes advertising for Chinese New Year highlighting bok choy, napa cabbage, egg roll wraps and wonton wrappers.

Econofoods, which serves the diverse student group attending Michigan Technological University, runs ads in the local newspaper for seven to 10 days before and during Chinese New Year. The store’s sales of Asian items increase 30% to 40% during the promotions, Fredianelli says.

Truong of Truong Enterprises suggests retailers contact local Asian organizations to see if they can perform a dragon dance in front of the store. Or you can hand out “lucky money” to children ages 10 and younger. Traditionally during Chinese New Year, Asian children receive red envelopes containing money to buy candy, toys and other fun items.

Have an in-store promotion the first day of Chinese New Year and give children red envelopes containing $1. If your store doesn’t have the resources to hand out real money, put in $1 in-store coupons instead.

BUILD YEAR-ROUND LOYALTY

Buy For Less caters to a population of more than 15,000 Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodians and Koreans.

“Competition is tremendous in the Asian specialty market,” Atkinson says. “Ethnic consumers are very price-conscious”

In order to stay competitive during the Chinese New Year, merchandise to these consumers year-round.

Truong suggests that retailers train their staff to be knowledgeable of Asian items and Asian culture.

“The best way to gain loyalty is to be openly nice, smile and talk to your Asian customers with respect,” Truong says. “Once you do something very special, they will remember you forever.”