NEW YORK -- D'Agostino's Supermarkets hosted Belgium's Crown Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde at a store in Chelsea here on Sept. 10, right in the middle of D'Agostino's coincidentally scheduled, first-ever, Belgian Week, promoting products from the European country throughout the 24-store chain.
The store, a 7,000-square-foot unit at 315 West 23rd St., was chosen because it was just renovated, according to the store manager, Mark Tucciarone. Vendors, shoppers and D'Agostino's Supermarkets executives milled about expectantly before the royal couple, in town to promote Belgian goods and companies of all kinds, arrived 40 minutes late. The two stayed perhaps 20 minutes, tasting cheese, viewing displays of chocolate and other specialty items, and spending time in the beer section.
The timing was pure coincidence, according to Walter D'Agostino, vice president of merchandising. "We decided we'd reach out to the trade mission, because we were having a Belgian Week. It just so happened the Prince had planned his trip at the same time," he told SN. Another coincidence: director of grocery for D'Agostino's Supermarkets is Belgian native, Fred Van Roie.
"The primary idea behind this is to create awareness of the Belgian products," Van Roie said, adding that all the products featured were already being carried by the store, in some cases for ten years or more.
The store remained open for business during the visit, although security was much in evidence once the prince and princess arrived. Photographers from European television were part of the entourage, as was Gui de Vaucleroy, the chairman of the board of directors of Belgian-based Delhaize LeLion. The reason he was part of the mission, Van Roie explained, is that de Vaucleroy is the head of a society of CEOs in Belgium.
Store circulars promoted Belgian Week with a full-color photo of several brands and called attention to "This Week's Bonus Item," which was a 17.6-ounce bar of Callebaut Belgian Chocolate for cooking and snacking, milk chocolate or bittersweet, for 99 cents with a purchase of $50 or more. Usual price is $6.99, but the sale price, without a $50 purchase, was $4.99. Belgian Chef frozen waffles were also on special, 99 cents for eight ounces, usually $2.49.
Inside, Yahaira Roman, customer service manager, was giving samples of Belgian cookies to shoppers, who seemed appreciative. At the back, in the beverage section, Bob Mazza was sampling Spa mineral water and juice. Beer stayed on the shelf, although Jim Pickett from Interbrew, the Leuven-based company that owns Stella Artois beer, had set up a table with openers and glasses as if he was going to uncap a few. His sign read "Belgium's #1 Beer. On sale $5.99 a six pack." Ommegang Belgian style beer, 25.4 ounces, was on sale at $2.99, and so was Hennepin Belgian style beer.
Right in the front end, where the royal pair could not miss it, was a table of Leonidas chocolates, the largest manufacturer of chocolate in Belgium, and which a D'Agostino Supermarkets executive said later is so upscale (half an ounce for $12) that it really isn't practical to sell it in the supermarket, with one exception: D'Agostino's does sell Leonidas chocolates in its flagship Rye Brook, N.Y., store. Only 20 locations in the United States sell Leonidas, including Leonidas' importer, Duchateau (U.S.), Ltd., from a store on Madison Avenue, and Draeger's Markets in California, according to Jacques Bergier, general manager and vice president of Duchateau (U.S.)., Ltd.
The store was decorated in the black, yellow and red colors of the Belgian flag, with shelf talkers to identify the items that were on sale as part of the Belgian promotion. Big signs in the window advertised Callebaut chocolate and the aforementioned frozen waffles, at 99 cents apiece.
At Roman's sampling table were boxes of Belgian Butters, butter almond cookies; Creme de Pirouline, the rolled wafers with hazelnut cocoa cream filling; Demerara sugar cubes, for coffee, tea and all hot beverages, $3.99 for one pound, 1.5 ounces; Vallee de l'Ourthe raspberry jam and sweet orange marmalade, $3.19 for an eight-ounce jar; Callebaut block chocolate, 500 grams for $6.99, which Lisa D'Agostino, who was there, said she cooks with "all the time." Lisa D'Agostino is one of the five family members who are active in the company, and she serves as director of prepared foods.
Also ready for sample were Poiret Pear & Apricot Spread, $2.99; Gourmet Pidy, boxed mini puff pastry shells ready to fill, 12 for $3.09, candy bars of Cote d'Or caramel for 99 cents, and Galler pralines and other assorted cookies.
Spa brand spring water, a Belgian import, was seemingly all over the city, being sold in delicatessens which usually stock other brands. In this D'Agostino's, it was featured at three one-liter bottles for $4 and two 1.5-liter bottles for $3.
In the chilled case, serious Belgian ales like Ommegang, Hennepin and Chimay were displayed, having usual prices that rival those of wine, which cannot be sold in New York state supermarkets. However, they were all reduced in price for the Belgian Week.
Hennepin and Ommegang have a joint venture in Cooperstown, N.Y., where Belgian beer importer Vanberg & de Wulf built a Belgian farmhouse and brewery on 136 acres, growing hops, according to Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield, husband and wife and co-founders of Vanberg & de Wulf, which brews the beers from Belgian ingredients.