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Computer system helps marketers track sales

Catalina Marketing Corp. unveiled Monday a new way to manipulate the reams of supermarket sales data in its vast computer banks in hopes it will grow into a $30-million to $40-million piece of business within three years.

St. Petersburg-based Catalina developed the system in a 50-50 joint venture with Chicago-based Information Resources Inc., one of the two biggest sources of sales information sold to the nation's consumer products giants.

"Our system is a microscope manufacturers can use to look right into the store and see how their products are selling day in and day out," said Mike Scroggie, president of Catalina Information Resources Inc., the new company for the joint venture.

Catalina's was just one of dozens of new high-tech products on display at the Food Marketing Institute's annual Marketechnics exposition that convened this week at the Tampa Convention Center.

More than 3,000 supermarket executives from across the country gathered to see and absorb sales pitches on the latest developments created by 371 suppliers.

Although a handful displayed futuristic best guesses at what virtual reality grocery shopping will be like, most exhibitors stuck to high-tech ways grocers can cut costs today.

They're trying to capitalize on recent supermarket industry anxiety over the growing threat supermarkets face from two new forms of competition _ membership warehouse clubs and the arrival of discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kmart Corp. that are beginning to elbow their way into the grocery business.

Both discounters are far ahead of grocers in using computer scanner technology to help their suppliers sell more product.

To answer the new competitive challenge, the Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association and the food brokers trade associations have joined in an initiative to find computer technologies to chop $30-billion out of their costs in the next few years.

Catalina said it has created the first system to allow marketers to find out how their products are selling in supermarkets almost as quickly as they go out the door.

Companies like Procter & Gamble now wait three or four weeks to find out how their products are selling in grocery stores. And even then, they can find out only how they are selling across an entire grocery store chain.

Now they will be able to track sales daily in each of 7,000 grocery stores wired into Catalina's sales system. And they will be able to spot their sales trends in each store on a daily basis, as well as competitors'.