BIG Y GEARING UP SALES WITH NASCAR CAKES

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Big Y Foods here is looking to improve its already impressive track record and further rev up bakery sales with the addition of NASCAR race-car cakes.The paczki season was just winding down and Saint Patrick's Day wasn't here yet when the chain brought NASCAR cakes onto the scene. The 40-ounce yellow cakes, shaped like cars, measure 15 inches by 8 inches. Frosted with white icing,

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Big Y Foods here is looking to improve its already impressive track record and further rev up bakery sales with the addition of NASCAR race-car cakes.

The paczki season was just winding down and Saint Patrick's Day wasn't here yet when the chain brought NASCAR cakes onto the scene. The 40-ounce yellow cakes, shaped like cars, measure 15 inches by 8 inches. Frosted with white icing, they're plastered with colorful, edible decals like those on the vehicles driven by two of the more popular drivers in the NASCAR stockcar events: Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt.

The new items got a high-profile start at Big Y with a top-of-the-page ad spot that occupied a full quarter of a full-page bakery ad in the chain's circular for the week of Feb. 28.

"[The NASCAR cake launch] has created a lot of excitement in our bakeries, among our employees as well as among our customers. A lot of our employees are NASCAR fans and they love this. Nobody else in our area that I know of has these cakes," said Steve Bordonaro, bakery sales manager for the 46-unit Big Y.

While he said it's too early to analyze sales results, he expects sales to build steadily as the 35-week NASCAR season gets into high gear.

"The races are on TV every weekend. And they're getting more and more popular," Bordonaro said, adding that the cakes will be great for NASCAR fans having a birthday or just a get-together. Big Y's bakery display cases show off four to six of the cakes, which are sourced frozen and then iced and decorated in-store.

The ad for the NASCAR cake in the chain's circular sports a large, color illustration that's at least 6 inches wide and 3 inches high. Checkered race flags are in the background.

The page is topped with a banner that says, "The Freshest Bakery." Then, this headline: "You'll see them first at Big Y. Introducing NASCAR race cakes. 44 oz. Yellow only. $24.98. Serves 18 to 20."

A strong believer in theme-merchandising, Bordonaro explained that featuring a themed product like the NASCAR cakes helps keep the department interesting during the slump-prone spans between traditional holidays.

"We try to pick some unique products. It's a way to keep excitement up, gives us a reason to change the department around. We can call attention to the bakery with them."

Theme-merchandising does its part, too, to keep employee morale up, Bordonaro added. So he's always looking for ways to tie merchandising into national and local events as well as to holidays, he said.

Indeed, the same ad that featured NASCAR cakes offered several themed products. Mardi Gras-related King cakes were pictured and offered for $2.98. In honor of the approach of St. Patrick's Day, a 5-inch high banner running the width of the page was headlined, "Irish Savings." It featured fresh-baked Irish soda bread for $2.48 and a 12-ounce package of "Original Irish Muffins" for 98 cents. Full-color photographs showed off the products.

Just above that banner sat a platter of paczki (pronounced poonch-key) with a starburst that read, "Only 9 Days Left." Those huge, pre-Lenten, Bismarck-like pastries -- thanks to the Laurel, Md.-based Retailer's Bakery Association and Carl Richardson, who heads its National Paczki Promotional Board -- have steadily gained in popularity across the country each year. Retailers have told SN that paczki have boosted sales for them at a time of year when sales are apt to fall off. More supermarket chains are jumping on the paczki bandwagon each year, they said.

Big Y, for one, sold more than a quarter-million paczki this year. Polish flags, decorations, and an Olympics-style marathon helped hike paczki awareness this year at Big Y, Bordonaro said.

Constantly on the lookout for lesser-known holidays and events to create a theme, the chain's bakeries marked St. Joseph's Day for the first time this year. The patron saint of Italy's day is celebrated March 19, just two days after St. Patrick's Day. Zeppoles and Italian pastries were spotlighted in the chain's ad circular for the week of March 13.