FRESH DEPARTMENTS POST STRONG SALES FOR EASTER

NEW YORK -- Bunny trails, sushi, specially priced rib roasts and giant orchids pushed Easter sales to new heights for retailers this year.In fact, retailers contacted in a spot check around the country told SN last week that traffic and sales were very strong in their fresh-foods departments.One floral department posted a 30% sales gain for the Friday and Saturday preceding Easter compared to the

NEW YORK -- Bunny trails, sushi, specially priced rib roasts and giant orchids pushed Easter sales to new heights for retailers this year.

In fact, retailers contacted in a spot check around the country told SN last week that traffic and sales were very strong in their fresh-foods departments.

One floral department posted a 30% sales gain for the Friday and Saturday preceding Easter compared to the same two days last year.

"I can attribute a lot of [the sales hike] to our 'Hoppin' Down the Bunny Trail' event on Saturday," said Amy Adams, floral manager at Lee's Marketplace, a Logan, Utah, independent supplied by Associated Grocers, Salt Lake City. "It got everybody into our department, and they saw what we had -- some very nice things."

For the Bunny Trail event, children and their parents were given a colorful map of the store, and were put on a route that took them to each department, where the kids received candy. At the end of the route, every child received a plastic egg with a ticket inside that could be redeemed for a prize named on the ticket. Prizes ranged from ice cream sandwiches to basketballs, even a bicycle donated by Dr Pepper.

"It was exciting," Adams said. "Better than the Easter egg hunt we had last year. That was over in five minutes. On the map this year, floral had a coupon good for $2 off on an Easter lily, and customers took advantage of that. We sold 150 of those. It helped that it was a beautiful day here, too. The turnout was great. Just to give you an idea, we had a box of 500 candy necklaces we were giving out in floral, and they were all gone by 11:30 [a.m.]. We had to bring over some boxes of taffy to fill in."

When she tallied up her numbers on Easter Monday, Adams said she was pleasantly surprised to see that floral's total sales had zoomed up a full 30% from the same period last year.

"We had some cute things like a new, 'egg-shade bouquet,' made up of pink, blue, lavender and yellow dyed daisies with some bear grass sticking in them. And our splendor mums were newly on ad. They're purple, yellow and white, all in one bloom. Very pretty."

Adams said having a variety at a large range of price points was an important key to strong sales, too.

"We had something for everybody. Bouquets from $6.99 to $19.99, and some baskets at $39.99 and $49.99."

At Rudy's Newport Market, a single-unit, upscale supermarket in Bend, Ore., sushi is a surprisingly good seller at Easter time, said Debby Dory, one of the owners.

During Easter week, the store sold $4,040 worth of sushi, compared to $3,020 last Easter, Dory said. Normally, sushi sales there hover around $2,000 in a normal week.

"We did very well in floral, too, up 10% Easter to Easter. We did well with potted, four-inch bloomers -- daffodils and jonquils," Dory said.

A new supplier provided a handful of unique items, including an Easter Bag bouquet, for $12.99.

"That was made up of all pastel flowers, such as mums and snapdragons, placed in a miniature shopping bag with a wicker-type handle -- the kind you might see at a fancy store," said Judy Shaw, Newport Market's floral director.

"But what got the most attention were the cymbidium giant orchids. The sprays were two feet long, beautiful in pink and green and white," she said. The orchids were a sell-out at $19.99 a spray.

For Easter dinner, traditional center-of-the-plate items like hams and legs of lamb sold well this year, retailers told SN.

"Our ham sales were very strong compared to the last couple of years," said John Gerlach, meat director at Stauffers of Kissel Hill, a four-unit independent based in Lititz, Pa.

Sales of lamb were decent, too, even though high prices kept the retailer from promoting it, Gerlach said.

"We sold our fair share of lamb. Beef roasts, too, have been a growing category for Easter weekend," he said. "This year was no exception. They moved briskly, up from last year."

Other meat directors pointed to beef roasts as good sellers for the holiday.

"I had rib roasts as my lead ad item at $5.99 a pound," said Richard Travaglione, vice president of meat/deli operations at Morton Williams Associated, a 10-unit, Bronx, N.Y.-based independent with most of its stores in Manhattan.

"American lamb has gotten very expensive because of limited supply. I haven't seen a leg anywhere [at retail] for under $50.

"Why buy that when you can get a beautiful rib roast for $40?" he said. "We sold a lot of rib roasts and smoked ham. I also was selling some Australian lamb."