ALBERTSON'S CONTEST IS ICING ON CAKE

BOISE, Idaho -- Albertson's here held a chainwide cake-decorating contest this spring, as part of an overall effort to give its cake decorators more visibility in the stores.In a culmination of the contest, finalists from each of the retailer's 13 divisions came face to face last week at the company's headquarters, where the best of the best was to be selected in a championship competition.Local television

BOISE, Idaho -- Albertson's here held a chainwide cake-decorating contest this spring, as part of an overall effort to give its cake decorators more visibility in the stores.

In a culmination of the contest, finalists from each of the retailer's 13 divisions came face to face last week at the company's headquarters, where the best of the best was to be selected in a championship competition.

Local television and other consumer media were expected to cover the event, which was held in conjunction with the company's annual stockholders' meeting.

"This is the first time we've had a decorating contest that's companywide. One or two divisions have done it before on a local level," said Russell Blake, vice president of bakeries for the 750-unit chain. The company has 656 in-store bakeries.

"The contests create excitement in the stores. Competition has been going on for weeks at the local level. Four or five stores' decorators would meet at one store to compete. It's all done right out in front of the bakery so customers get to watch. Some stores even had bands and cheerleaders," Blake said.

Semifinalists and finalists were chosen over the last few weeks. In-store signs let customers know when the contests were to be held. "The contests provide recognition for a real skill. The front end is so much more important these days," Blake said, referring to the theater and service offered by a store's cake decorators.

Blake added that the bakery will become a focal point for the chain, with added animation in new and remodeled stores.

"Everything will be more out in the open. We'll install lower-profile display cases so customers can see more of the activity behind the counter, and we're bringing our decorators out front [in front of the bakery]," he said.

The contestants compete against each other in three areas: speed, accuracy and creativity.

"They have to ice six German chocolate cakes -- our No. 1 cake -- for example, in seconds. And cakes are checked to see if they have the right number of ounces of icing," Blake said.

In the accuracy arena also, the decorators are required to duplicate a decorated sheet cake from one shown in a photograph. But it's the creativity segment of the contest that generates the most excitement, Blake said. In that part of the test, the contestant can let his or her imagination run free. "We've had one cake entry that was a miniature Mount Rushmore, and one woman decorated a cake to look like a shopping cart, complete with all the groceries sticking out the top of it," Blake added. Finalists and semifinalists will receive plaques that will be hung in their respective bakeries.