WEDDING CAKE VARIETIES, SALES GROW

Supermarket bakeries are ringing in the season with new emphasis on high-margin wedding cakes.Retailers surveyed told SN they're adding new varieties and ways of presenting cakes in order to get an edge on the competition. Some are using large color photos of wedding cakes they have created in order to sell more. And at least one retailer is using a clear acrylic stand that makes the cake's tiers

Supermarket bakeries are ringing in the season with new emphasis on high-margin wedding cakes.

Retailers surveyed told SN they're adding new varieties and ways of presenting cakes in order to get an edge on the competition. Some are using large color photos of wedding cakes they have created in order to sell more. And at least one retailer is using a clear acrylic stand that makes the cake's tiers appear to float in mid-air.

Another has added a groom's cake this year for tie-in sales.

"It's an old custom that we're reviving. It's often served alongside the wedding cake or at the rehearsal dinner. The groom gets to choose the variety of cake and its shape reflects his interests. We did one for a lawyer that was shaped like a stack of books," said Wendy Leipold, bakery manager for a unit of Edina, Minn.-based Byerly's, a 9-unit, upscale independent.

As satisfied customers spread the word that a good wedding cake can be obtained at the supermarket, sales are on the upswing, according to those polled. To meet the demand, bakeries are adding staffers or sending present employees to training seminars to learn the trendiest ways to decorate the cakes.

They are also fine-tuning production scheduling this year and are ironing out delivery problems. With June -- traditionally the most popular month for weddings -- approaching, SN asked bakery executives in different markets how they're making the most of the season. Here's what they had to say:

John Smolders

bakery director

West Linn Thriftway West Linn, Ore.

We had such a surprise last year. From about 60 wedding cakes the year before, we sold 407 last year. It was word-of-mouth, and this year, we've already sold 192 and it's just the beginning of May.

Before, we had shown customers a whole lot of 3- by 5-inch photos of cakes we'd created, but this year we took about 20 of the best and had them blown up to 8 by 10 inches. It's less overwhelming.

I'm also offering a clear acrylic stand. It's like a stair step, holding each layer individually. That's something people tell me they can't get anywhere else.

We haven't run into a problem with delivery.

Last year, I began building the delivery price into the cake price and now I give that whole amount, $25 to $60, to the person who delivers the cake. I have employees begging to deliver the cakes.

Tim Kean

deli-bakery-seafood

merchandiser

Pay Less Supermarkets Anderson, Ind.

We've had steady growth in our wedding cake business because word of mouth has spread. We just concentrate on producing a quality cake. And also, in our area there are fewer specialty bakeries than there used to be. I think that may be a factor in sales gaining momentum about four years ago.

The biggest challenge is just the logistics of production in a season when we're doing a lot of special occasion cakes anyway.

Anthony Mondello

bakery director

King Kullen Grocery Co. Westbury, N.Y.

We make wedding cakes and do them beautifully but not having delivery is a problem for us. People are reluctant to pick them up because with four or five tiers, they're fragile. And catering halls in this area offer a wedding cake as part of their package.

Susan Murphy

assistant VP

bakery operations

Basics/Metro Markets Randallstown, Md.

We don't deliver, but we show people how to put the layers together.

We added wedding cakes just a year and a half ago because we wanted the added sales.

Wendy Leipold

unit bakery manager

Byerly's Edina, Minn.

We do very well with our wedding cake program, and I think one of the reasons is, we try new things.

For example, we've begun using a rolled fondant to ice our wedding cakes and just this year we sent one of our pastry chefs to a company to learn how to make blown- or spun-sugar decorations.