GERLAND'S OFFERS SPECTRUM OF BAGELS

HOUSTON -- Gerland's Food Fair here is letting customers know in a big way that it now has fresh bagels.A large vinyl banner, several feet long, hanging outside a store in Sugarland, Texas, proclaims the fact. Just inside the door, self-service bins display six different varieties of bagels for 49 cents each, or $4.90 a dozen.Officials at the 20-unit retailer's corporate offices here did not return

HOUSTON -- Gerland's Food Fair here is letting customers know in a big way that it now has fresh bagels.

A large vinyl banner, several feet long, hanging outside a store in Sugarland, Texas, proclaims the fact. Just inside the door, self-service bins display six different varieties of bagels for 49 cents each, or $4.90 a dozen.

Officials at the 20-unit retailer's corporate offices here did not return SN's phone calls seeking comment about their bagel program.

A source at the store said the bagels are made by Bagel Express, a Houston bagel restaurant. They are delivered fresh each morning, she added.

On the particular day that SN called, the varieties offered were plain, cinnamon raisin, blueberry, sesame, poppyseed, and onion. The best-seller is cinnamon raisin, the store-level source said.

Bagel Express delivers the three best-sellers -- cinnamon raisin, plain, and blueberry each day, and rotates three or four other flavors less frequently.

Colored bagels are a hit for special occasions, according to Steve Weltman, vice president of Bagel Express. The week the Houston Rockets won the National Basketball Association championship, Bagel Express supplied plain bagels in blue and red in honor of the home team's colors, which are red, blue and white.

"We make a huge variety of flavors, such as jalapeno, honey wheat, and strawberry, and we try different ones at Gerland's. People here in Texas like their bagels sweet. Strawberry, for example, is popular in addition to blueberry and cinnamon-raisin. Cranberry pecan and pumpkin spice for the holiday season," said Weltman. He said the next to be given a run at Gerland's will be two more sweet varieties -- maple walnut and honey almond.

Bagel Express also is about to launch a selection of its specialty cream cheeses at Gerland's. They'll be merchandised in a refrigerated grab-and-go case next to the bagel bins.

Weltman said the Sugarland Gerland's unit sells about 35 dozen bagels a day -- eight dozen cinnamon raisin, six dozen plain, five dozen blueberry and a smaller number of each of the other varieties.

Sales volume has been heftier than he had anticipated, he said. The outside banner, which says "We now have fresh bagels," paid for itself in less than a week, he added. Besides the Sugarland store, Bagel Express supplies three other Gerland's stores in Houston, as well as some units of Fiesta Mart, also based here.

Bagels, once thought of as an ethnic item, and sold mainly on the East and West Coasts, are booming in Houston, Weltman said.

"Seven years ago there was only one bagel shop in Houston. Now there are 10. By next year, probably 30," he said.

Four of those bagel outlets will be Bagel Expresses. The company has sites staked out for building three more bagel restaurants in the next year in addition to its existing restaurant.

"We planned it so we'll have a restaurant and production facility in each quadrant of the city, so distribution won't be a problem," Weltman said. The company anticipates selling its products in additional area supermarkets, he said. It also supplies local traditional food-service operations.

"Once people taste bagels, they like them. There's great opportunity for growth, and I think supermarkets who don't have a program like this are missing the boat. There's a 100% mark-up, and it's efficient," Weltman said.

"Those that are making bagels from scratch are taking up a tremendous amount of space with equipment. Even bake-off bagels, which most supermarkets here have, require a lot of storage space," he added.