MICHIGAN IN BIG FAT TUESDAY PACZKI PUSH

DETROIT -- Drivers in Michigan better get ready to loosen their belts. For Fat Tuesday this year, 108 billboards across the state are tempting motorists to indulge in the twice-fried, pre-Lenten treats called paczkis.Bakers in the state want everyone in Michigan to buy the Polish-style doughnuts this year, said Carl Richardson, vice president of Hearth Oven Bakeries, Farmer Jack Supermarkets here,

DETROIT -- Drivers in Michigan better get ready to loosen their belts. For Fat Tuesday this year, 108 billboards across the state are tempting motorists to indulge in the twice-fried, pre-Lenten treats called paczkis.

Bakers in the state want everyone in Michigan to buy the Polish-style doughnuts this year, said Carl Richardson, vice president of Hearth Oven Bakeries, Farmer Jack Supermarkets here, a division of A&P Montvale, N.J.

Richardson is chair of the National Paczki Committee, a new group which has solicited funding from the baking industry to pay for the billboards and other promotional tools.

"The committee will have spent probably $70,000 before it's over," said Richardson. "It's an industrywide effort. Manufacturers and distributors as well as retailers are involved."

The payoff is expected to be the biggest bakery sales day yet in Detroit. Already, for the last few years, Paczki Day here has been a bigger bakery sales day than Christmas, said Richardson, who is a longtime promoter of paczkis and of theme-oriented merchandising.

Last year, just in the metropolitan-Detroit area, in-store and retail bakeries together sold a million-and-a-half dozen paczkis on Paczki Day/Fat Tuesday, the traditional day of pre-Lent indulgence. Busch's Valu Land, Ann Arbor, sold 40,000 paczkis last year on Fat Tuesday and expects to double that number this year, said Dan Courser, vice president of perishables for the 6-unit independent.

Rick Zehr, bakery coordinator for 24-unit D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, Mich., said the statewide promotional effort will undoubtedly push sales up for D&W.

"Paczkis aren't as common in the western part of the state as they are the east, so the commmittee's efforts will help us here. Last year was the first time we had promoted paczkis to any extent and we did very well with them," he said, adding that some D & W stores had sold out by mid-day on Fat Tuesday.

"The billboard idea is great. They're designed to arouse people's curiosity, and get them thinking about paczkis."

The billboard campaign is two-tiered. Teaser billboards went up January 24 in locations determined by the billboard company to have large populations of Michigan residents of Polish descent, and in other selected areas.

"What's a paczki?" the billboards said in huge white lettering on a red background. Then the phonetic pronunciation (poonch-key) is supplied. The last line says, "Coming to a bakery near you February 15th."

Last week those messages were replaced on the 108 billboards with the answer: "Not just another doughnut! Paczki (Poonch-Key)! At local bakeries Fat Tuesday February 15."

Both messages include a line indicating they are sponsored by the National Paczki Committee.

The billboards are just the beginning.

"The committee has hired a public relations person to spread the word," said Richardson. "We're talking to bakery organizations in other states, and maybe next year we'll do something in other regions. Chicago, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, particularly are possibilities."

Richardson declined to say what Farmer Jack's sales of paczkis were last year or what the company's projections are for this year. Paczkis are usually made from scratch or with a doughnut mix plus added ingredients to make them richer.

One major manufacturer of bakery supplies, for the second year, is offering a special paczki mix for a limited period of time.