Hamburger and hot dog buns helped retailers increase in-store bakery sales this summer, with displays typically piled high and prices marked low for the picnic and barbecue season.
However, many supermarket promotions went far beyond those basics to lure shoppers to the in-store bakery.
Customers were enticed with seasonal strawberry festivals, "lemon month" themes, new cookie and crusty-bread lines, and even a "Christmas in the Summer" pie promotion, according to retailers surveyed by SN.
"Every week in the bakery we have some kind of promotion," said Brenda Saunders, a bakery buyer for Byerly's, Edina, Minn. "Sometimes we do a theme with a holiday, be it Memorial Day weekend or Fourth of July. There were also some more kids' specials and picnic-type specials this summer."
But the season standout, she said, was July's month-long storewide "lemon" promotion.
"We did the lemon loaf, the lemon angel-food cake and lemon-kiss cookies," recalled Saunders. "Every week we did something different with lemon."
Not only was an ample supply of lemons on hand, but prices on confections were lowered by about 30 to 50 cents, depending on the item, said Saunders.
While the company doesn't use newspaper advertisements much, it did announce the promotion in its own monthly newsletter to consumers.
Lemon pies were also included but were merchandised in the stores' delis, she said. Items from other store departments tied into "Lemon Month" included lemon-pepper meats in the meat department; fresh lemons in the produce department; and lemon-flavored salads in the deli.
At Miller's Super Valu stores, an 11-store independent based in Lagrange, Ind., strawberries took center stage in a joint promotion with the produce department.
"We built a big display of pies and cakes in the produce department," said Rene Dearth, bakery department manager. "We used an island case that is a cooler, and we put the cakes and pies in there."
In the center of the display was a chair decorated with a pot of strawberry plants. There was a secondary display of strawberry cakes and pies in the bakery department, Dearth said.
Items featured in the ads were "priced a little lower," but everything else was sold at regular prices, she noted. Promoted items included shortcakes and angel food cakes. The special ran for three weeks and the items "moved really well," Dearth said.
Meanwhile, one retailer left summer fruit themes far behind, along with other traditional seasonal ideas.
"For the first time, we had a 'Christmas in the Summer' promotion," said Detlef Petzel, bakery/deli director for Byrd Food Stores, a 43-store chain based in Burlington, N.C. "We featured all the different pies, and let people know what was coming for the holidays."
Featured pies included apple, cherry, peach, pumpkin and sweet potato, and the store's line of sugar-free pies, Petzel said. "The best-sellers were the apple and the sweet potato. Those are the favorites here in the South."
Christmas trees and some signage adorned the large pie displays, although, Petzel said, "it was tough to find [seasonal decorations] for it."
Pie prices were lowered on average $1 per pie for the two-week promotion held in July, Petzel said. The price for apple and cherry pies was two for $5. All other 8-inch pies were $3 each.
With pie sales up at least 10 percent for the period, Petzel already plans to run the Christmas promotion again in 1997. "And next year's will be bigger and better," he vowed.
Houchens stores, Bowling Green, Ky., is ending its summer with a big lift in cookie sales, thanks to a new cookie line launched in August, said Jim Reneau, bakery director.
The six-flavor line features Hershey's candy bar pieces in the cookies, which for the promotion were priced at $1.99 a dozen, 29 cents below the normal price. "It is taking off and doing really well," Reneau said.
In the first week of the launch, total chain bakery sales rose about $3,000 to $5,000, Reneau said. "Some stores sold over 200 dozen cookies in one week. That's about $400 in extra sales, which is good considering it was just cookies."
Flavors include English toffee, chocolate peanut butter, double chocolate, chocolate chip, peanut butter and coconut surprise.
To encourage departments to promote the line, the company is sponsoring a chainwide contest through which department managers can win a grand prize trip to Disney World and the Daytona 500, or one of nine cash prizes ranging from $100 to $250.
"It is not just [determined by] who sells the most cookies; it's based on the department's gross, the labor costs and the total operation's expenses," explained Reneau.
In addition to sales and dollar figures, the competing bakery departments will also be judged on appearance, which counts for 50 percent.
"We will walk the stores ourselves to evaluate the department as to how it looks, how clean and neat it is, and how well it is merchandised," Reneau said.
The contest runs for 12 weeks, ending Nov. 9. Holiday Quality Foods, a chain with 31 stores based in Cottonwood, Calif., also held cookie promotions using big displays, said Steven Mashore, bakery/deli director.
Additionally the chain featured dinner rolls for some of the holidays, he said. But the best summer seller was its line of 8-inch fruit pies, which were price-adjusted to bring them all to the same level.
"All the pies were the same price instead of a range of prices which usually vary because of the fruit costs," Mashore said.
He said "a lot more" pies were sold than usual and profits "ended up averaging out in the long run" despite some reductions. All pies were sold for $2.99, instead of the usual $2.99 to $4.99, he said.
Throughout the summer, Holiday Markets treated its customers to a few specialty items such as pineapple upside-down cakes, which Reneau said was an extremely successful promotion.
"I had a supplier call me and say he had a couple of thousand cases," Reneau said. "We took them and marked them down to $2.99 and sold them all. If we get a deal, we try to pass it on to the customers."
In addition to the usual seasonal features, Furr's Super-markets, Albuquerque, introduced shoppers to a few new crusty breads and a new cookie-bar product this summer, although the cookie-bar sales were disappointing, said Chris Paulos, bakery, buyer/merchandiser.
Merchandising for the two major holidays featured both the cookies and the standard hamburger buns and pies.
"We featured miscellaneous picnic-type items that we make at store level, ranging from garlic-bread hamburger buns to the cookie bar. But sales of the cookie bar were mediocre at best," Paulos said. The 8-by-8-inch bar retails for $2.99.
But what has done well is a new fruit-topped, fat-free crumb cake, with apple, blueberry or "the standard fruit toppings," Paulous said. "We've been featuring fat-free stuff all year, but this is new for picnics."
To keep the department profitable up for the summer promotions, the chain opts for a high-low pricing strategy. "We mix up the prices," Paulous said. "We typically mix in both some reduced prices and regular prices. What we run on ad is deep-discounted, but the other items are at regular price."
A different pricing strategy was in use this summer at Butera Finer Foods, a 13-store independent in Elgin, Ill., near Chicago.
"Basically, we kept the retails the same, but placed more emphasis on massive merchandising and expanding selection," said Dan Barsotti, director of produce and bakery. Barsotti, who just recently took on the added responsibility of bakery merchandising, has been adapting some produce-merchandising schemes for the bakery section.
This summer, it was evident with a promotion of the department's fruit pies, designed to increase sales, he said.
"We built bigger displays for the pies, and in addition to the regular apple, we added pies that had different types of berries and combinations of fruits, such as apple and berry," Barsotti said.
New flavors are increasingly important to consumers, he added. "People are getting into other things; [they want something] a little different."
The pies did get some advertising exposure, but the focus was really on in-store merchandising, Barsotti said.
"My theory is people come in for the basics like bread and so forth, and the other items have to have an eye appeal to them. So most of our emphasis was on in-store promoting."