FIRED UP

ATLANTA -- As this city rallies for the Summer Olympics, supermarket delis and bakeries are also getting into the games, with innovative merchandising and promotion plans to score additional sales.As the start of the Games drew nearer, local observers and supermarket executives told SN that a huge potential awaits the industry, particularly as restaurants fill to overflowing during the events and

ATLANTA -- As this city rallies for the Summer Olympics, supermarket delis and bakeries are also getting into the games, with innovative merchandising and promotion plans to score additional sales.

As the start of the Games drew nearer, local observers and supermarket executives told SN that a huge potential awaits the industry, particularly as restaurants fill to overflowing during the events and festivities.

"I can't imagine a supermarket chain that won't be trying to take up the slack," said a deli specialist at a local food brokerage firm. "Everybody has to eat. All the hotels are booked, and people have rented out their houses. Nobody's going to be cooking, you can bet on that. It's a tremendous opportunity for takeout of all kinds."

As another local industry source put it, "It's going to be like Christmas Eve in the deli and bakery, but more so."

People are already starting to pour into this city, where the total infusion of Olympics-related visitors is expected to reach two and a half million.

In the pre-games rush, bakeries and delis are already festooned with international flags and flying patriotic balloons. Some operators are making full use of Olympic mascot Izzy -- in stuffed form -- on their service counters.

But merchandisers are taking the challenge a lot further than that. For instance, some are also adding product cards in foreign languages, grilling outside to attract consumers' attention as well as to offer them convenience, decorating cakes in athletic and American flag motifs, and putting on extra labor so they can boost their inventory of freshly made takeout items each day.

At its Brookhaven store here, Harris Teeter will be grilling hot dogs and making Philly cheese steak sandwiches under a tent on the outer edge of its parking lot. Significantly, the outdoor site is just across a hedge from a McDonald's unit.

"We're in a perfect spot. There's a rapid transit station right at the edge of the lot, and one of the marathons is going to be run by here also," said Nicolas Granju, food court manager at the store.

Starting early in the morning, the tent station will sell fresh coffee, bagels, doughnuts and muffins in the parking lot, he said. Then at lunch time, sandwiches will be hawked from coolers.

At the same time, the grill will be fired up. Granju emphasized that all day, store associates will be manning tables in the parking lot tent, not only serving food, but telling customers what's available inside.

"We'll probably have some mini party trays out there, too," he said, adding that menus and fliers describing sushi and the chilled prepared items available inside the store will be passed out at the tent.

Meanwhile, the chain is gearing up inside both its stores here with roll-in coolers that it will set up in the fresh food aisle, to offer a greater number of grab-and-go packages.

The chain will introduce a bundled meal for the occasion, as well as offering sandwiches and salads packed together and individually, according to Craig McKenzie, operations manager for Harris Teeter's Region VII, which includes Atlanta.

The Brookhaven store already does a huge volume of sales in prepared foods and takeout sandwiches and salads, McKenzie said.

However, Harris Teeter expects to substantially outdo itself in the coming weeks. McKenzie said he anticipates sales of fresh prepared items will increase as much as two and a half times while the Olympics are in town.

While the 140-unit Harris Teeter chain, based in Charlotte, N.C., has just two stores here so far, it already has made a name for itself with its fresh, prepared foods, local sources said.

Another operator, Cub Foods' Georgia division, based in Lithia Springs, Ga., started giving all its stores an Olympic touch several weeks ago, by stringing a row of attractive international flags over its deli service islands.

"We've tried to inject an international flavor in whatever way we can," said Donna Bohannon, deli-bakery director for the division.

"Since we have a great selection of imported cheeses, we're going to particularly call attention to that case. We're making up product cards for the cheese case in different languages," she said, adding that she may also have some made for the deli service case.

Just getting labor in place to keep cases stocked is a task of Olympian proportions, Bohannon said. "We've been moving people around. Unemployment here now is almost nonexistent. Our store in the Buckhead section, I know, is going to be very busy. We're going to be in there early every morning making a lot of sandwiches," she said.

Bohannon added that even though traffic gridlock could be a business basher in some areas, the Cub Foods store in Buckhead has a preponderance of walk-in traffic.

"We're right near a bus stop, and there are a huge number of apartment buildings around that store," she said.

In addition to having lots of grab-and-go sandwiches ready at all times, Cub will concentrate on packing up fried chicken and rotisserie chicken in family packs, Bohannon said.

Cubs' in-store bakeries have been featuring cakes with approved Olympic lay-ons, and also building displays of red, white and blue sugar cookies, Bohannon said.

What's more, the company will put the spotlight on its European-style breads during the Olympics, she said.

Officials at Montvale, N.J.-based A&P could not be reached for comment on the Atlanta division's preparation for the Olympics, and officials at the division office declined to comment.

However, in the stores themselves the Olympic merchandising fervor was in bold evidence. At least one A&P in Atlanta was bursting with U.S. flags and balloons in the deli. A soft, stuffed Izzy sat prominently on the top of the service case there.

In the opposite back corner of the store, where the in-store bakery is located, a 6-foot, eye-catching display featured quarter- and half-sheet cakes with athletic and patriotic motifs. Above the case, an American flag, and a display of T-shirts and mugs created an Olympic atmosphere.

As of last month, other chains in the area had no merchandising in their delis or bakeries that called particular attention to the Olympics. Officials at the division and corporate offices of those chains could not be reached for comment. They include Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla.; Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla.; Kroger Co., Cincinnati; Bruno's, Birmingham, Ala., and Harry's Farmers Market, Roswell, Ga.

Some sources said that sales patterns marketwide seem already to be shifting. One local food broker that works with supermarkets said he has generally seen increased movement of rotisserie items, for example.

The broker said that in anticipation of more repeat business and new business for their rotisseries, supermarket delis have been busy adding to their rotisserie items. Ribs and turkey breasts, for example, are being added, apparently to bolster the variety of takeout items for the busy Olympic days.

"Supermarket delis are trying to come up with more types of in-store prepared foods to take out. I've seen them buying more ethnic items such as different cheeses and deli meats and even German cookies," he said.

He also said delis are sourcing more to-go containers. He's seen a particularly high increase in sales of rigid plastic containers for takeout. "I think they're replacing their cardboard containers or chicken buckets with plastic. It travels well," he said. Meanwhile, alternate sources for fresh takeout, such as Pano's Food Shop, operated by the Buckhead Restaurant Group, are coming up with their own ways of grabbing the meals business. All the Buckhead Restaurant Group's establishments will have extended hours. Pano's Food Shop, devoted to fresh, prepared items for takeout, has already begun to enjoy a boom in catering, said Tori Stoner, manager.