By Thomas Lee
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
What's red, white and blue and sells on the Fourth of July? Apparently, everything.
From tortilla chips to potted plants, retailers this year are selling a broad and eclectic mix of flag-colored food and merchandise. While stores traditionally have sold patriotic products in anticipation of Independence Day, retailers and manufacturers say this year's holiday will carry even more meaning for consumers because of the terror attacks in September.
For example, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's largest retailer, is selling products ranging from patriotic picnic cups to hair accessories.
"Any red, white, blue item you are looking for, you can probably find it here," said Karen Burk, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.
In the months after Sept. 11, retailers refrained from selling patriotic merchandise for fear they would appear to be exploiting a national tragedy, said Marshall Cohen, an analyst with the NPD Group, a market-research company.
"Anyone who hesitated to capitalize on (patriotism after Sept. 11) before will not hesitate now," Cohen said.
Consumers attach different meanings to Sept. 11 and Independence Day, said Lori Willis, a spokeswoman for St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets Inc., a supermarket retailer. Sept. 11 represents tragedy and grief, but Thursday will be a time when consumers can express their patriotism joyously, she said.
"Sadness has turned into pride," Willis said. "As we turn to the Fourth of July, we are seeing that emotion has turned into a strong source of pride and excitement of how we were able to weather that storm."
This year, food seems to be a popular expression of patriotism. Among the red, white and blue snacks Schnucks stores carry are Tostitos Bite Size Rounds tortilla chips, Jumbo Push Pops, Mike and Ike Stripes candy and Marshmallow Peeps Stars.
The supermarkets also sell Pillsbury Stars & Stripes cake mix and frosting. The mix has red and blue candy bits; the frosting comes with red and blue sprinkles in the shapes of stars and stripes.
"There is a strong interest in products that are red, white and blue, and we are responding to that demand," said Jim Seitz, a spokesman for International Multifoods Corp., which makes the Pillsbury products.
Target Corp. has come out with a patriotic-themed clothing line called America Land. Stars and stripes appear on everything from sandals and T-shirts to swim trunks. Target also sells flowers with red, white and blue centers.
Despite consumer zeal for all things patriotic, some retailers are concerned about good taste.
"Yes, there is a fine line we must walk," Willis said. "You want to provide customers what they want but do it in a respectful way."
© 2002, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.