(FORTUNE Magazine) – CATALINA MARKETING Landfills of America overflow with Sunday newspaper ad inserts, and research shows that shoppers who actually cash in their Tender Vittles coupons are usually the same brand loyalists who would have bought the stuff anyway. Catalina Marketing lets food companies peek at a customer's shopping habits before they issue coupons -- and thus pitch their discounts with surgical precision. How? As a clerk passes groceries over the checkout scanner, bar codes trigger Catalina's automatic printer, which promptly spits out coupons based on the customer's purchases. The coupons, handed over with the customer's change, can be for competing or complementary products: A six-pack of Coke might yield a coupon for Pepsi, a bag of potato chips, or a larger bottle of Coke. Says Catalina CEO Tommy Greer: ''Anything food companies want to say to their customers, we can say it for them.'' More and more shoppers are getting the word. Last year 780 million coupons were dispensed from 4,189 supermarkets by the Anaheim, California, company. Kraft, Nabisco, Borden, Heinz, and others book in four-week cycles to have Catalina belch forth coupons in any of 400 different product categories. The food companies are charged 5 cents to 10 cents a coupon. Supermarkets have so far benefited mainly because Catalina has kept shoppers coming back (coupons are valid only in the stores where they are issued). Now, many are using Catalina's coupons themselves to steer shoppers to high-margin fish, bakery, and deli departments. Says Kevin Davis, vice president for sales and advertising at Ralphs Grocery: ''The big advantage to us is that we can tie in Ralphs private-label items: If someone buys Oreos, we can give him or her a coupon for Ralphs milk.'' Catalina went public at the end of March at $20 a share. Analyst Alan Gottesman of Paine Webber sees earnings rising 82% next fiscal year to $8 million on a 20% increase in sales, to $60 million. The stock traded recently at $28.25, or 33 times his 1993 estimate of earnings per share. That's steep, but with just 13% of America's supermarkets wired to Catalina, prospects are expansive. Says Gottesman: ''Theoretically this can work for any company with a scanner, be it Wal-Mart or Kmart.'' Catalina is broadening its range by issuing Sears coupons to grocery shoppers; Sears pitches its portrait studios to buyers of baby food.

DAHLBERG Shhh! Loud noises cause sensory neural hearing loss. That's bad news for legions of baby-boomer rock fans but good fundamentals for Dahlberg, a Golden Valley, Minnesota, company that pioneered in-the-ear hearing aids. Indeed, the combination of Jethro Tull, an aging population, and pervasive cable television advertising has lifted Dahlberg's sales 15% annually since 1987. The company sells its Miracle-Ear hearing aids through two separate organizations -- 667 franchised stores and a network of 245 hearing centers in Sears stores staffed by Dahlberg employees. But because franchisees outsell their Sears counterparts 2 to 1, the company is converting its Sears centers to franchise shops. Revenue growth will slow over the next year or two while former retail sales are booked as wholesale. Profits should rise even faster than in the past, however, since overhead will be lower. Says CEO K. Jeffrey Dahlberg, son of the founder: ''It's an incredible efficiency move.'' Analyst Douglas Eayrs of John G. Kinnard & Co. estimates 1992 earnings will grow 12% to $4.4 million on a 13% increase in sales to $104 million. The stock traded recently at $17.25, or 24 times his 1992 estimates.

NATURE'S BOUNTY Evidence is growing that some vitamins not only deliver nutrients to our bodies but may also help fight illnesses. Nature's Bounty is the pure play to play in the vitamin business. The Bohemia, New York, outfit sells its pills through seven brands, each for a different market. The Hudson brand goes to independent drug stores, Nature's Bounty to chains, Natural Wealth to supermarkets, and American Health to health food stores. There's even a brand for chiropractors. The different lines help retailers build brand loyalty although the vitamins are identical. Nature's Bounty also owns 35 Vitamin World retail stores in the East and Midwest. In a business where fads come and go, says CEO Arthur Rudolph, the stores ''feed us information on what consumers are asking for.'' Because Nature's Bounty makes its own vitamins, it can react quickly. This fiscal year, Rudolph sees sales rising 22% to about $90 million. Profits will rise above last year's $1 million too, he says. The stock recently traded at $19, just 17 times 1991's fiscal earnings. The cheap shares are no market oversight. Outstanding lawsuits from a 1989 recall -- the result of suspect batches of L-tryptophan supplied by a Japanese company to several U.S. vitamin makers -- help keep the price low. So far, however, the Japanese outfit has made good on promises to settle the suits.