You won't find any sign of the post-holiday blues inside supermarket bakeries, for a new season of profit potential is just getting under way. Department managers keen on prolonging sales beyond the traditional Thanksgiving to New Year's stretch are turning back the clock come January, when they begin merchandising old-time ethnic baked goods in the weeks leading up to Lent.
For Carl Reisterer, Sr., owner of Reisterer's Bakery, a three-unit independent and supermarket supplier based in West Hempstead, N.Y., Germany's Fastnacht kuechle is the lenten treat of choice. Like the Polish Paczki, Germany's Fastnacht kuechle, literally "little dessert," dates back to the fasting traditions of Lent, when people prepared for their lenten fast by emptying their pantries of sugar, flour and eggs. The sweet dessert made from these ingredients became special because it was only enjoyed once a year, on Fat Tuesday. Similarly, as the holidays near in Fond du Lac, Wis., customers at Prescott's Pick 'n Save head to the bakery, where they end up purchasing more than 4,500 Danish Kringles by the end of the season.
The traditional pastry has become a favorite at Prescott's since the chain purchased the locally well-known Everix Bakery, also based here, nearly two years ago. The operation has retained its name and now functions as Prescott's in-store bakery.
The history of the Kringle dates back to the 1800s when Danish bakers went on strike and bakers were brought in from Austria to fill the jobs. They brought with them their own dough technique called Viener brot or Vienna bread. The Danes adopted the process, in which yeast dough is folded with butter, and their version became known as the Kringle. While bakeries may have carried ethnic items like Fastnacht and Kringles for as long as they can recall, many in-store bakeries are new to such traditions and search for guidance when introducing them. Recognizing a need for such nurturing, the Retailer's Bakery Association, Laurel, Md., sponsors the Paczki System of Sales, a sales and marketing program that intends to revive traditions in the baking industry through the promotion of baked goods steeped in "history, energy, and tradition."
"Consumers are more likely to buy a product if it is associated with a theme," said Carl Richardson, chairman of the RBA Paczki Board.
Participants include Montvale, N.J.-based A&P; Big Y Foods, Inc., Springfield, Mass.; and Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., among others. Richardson said the board is constantly on the lookout for items that fit their mantra of "history, energy, and tradition."
The newest addition, Fastnacht, joins the program's existing members: the Kringle, Paczki, King cakes and hot cross buns.The Fastnacht's fitting profile was brought to their attention from retailers on the east coast, where Richardson said recognition of the German doughnut is more prevalent.
Among the supporters was Reisterer, who assisted the board in assembling the historical background of the Fastnacht. While his bakery has been making the oversized, oddly shaped doughnuts for 58 years, Reisterer recognized the lack of understanding among the general public as to the lenten doughnut's history and tradition.
"I know of several bakeries on Long Island who also make them," he said. "But now we're going to introduce them to the world."
Reisterer's begins making Fastnacht the week before Ash Wednesday and continues doing so, at the rate of about 10 trays (or 180 Fastnacht) per day, until Easter Sunday. The lenten treats are about 3 inches by 5 inches and fairly flat, only about an inch high, compared to other doughnuts. Their shape is rectangular, cut at a slight angle. The bakery offers many variations on both topping and filling. Customers select from plain, powdered, cinnamon sugar, and plain sugar or custard or fruit fillings like strawberry or peach. Reisterer stressed these are real fruit fillings, not jelly.
The plain and coated Fastnachts, according to Reisterer, are the more popular options and sell for 90 cents each, while the filled versions cost $1.75 each. He added that plain Fastnacht left at the end of the day are often filled for the next day. The filling, he said, preserves the moisture of the pastry allowing them to get an extra day out of them.
At Prescott's, all components of the Kringles -- the dough, the fillings and the struesel topping -- are made from scratch and while history calls for a smear of butterscotch inside, Everix has always used a smear of brown sugar mixed with butter. Everix regularly offers seven fillings in all: cream cheese, raspberry, cherry, apple, almond, blueberry and pecan, which is the most popular. The ISB's director, third-generation Ellen Everix, said sometimes they will make combination flavors like raspberry and cream cheese or pecan and cream cheese, simply to offer greater variety.
"The combination fillings offer a nice variety and are always very popular," she said.
The Kringles are finally topped with what Everix calls the "basic struesel topping" of buttery, brown sugar crumbs drizzled with a light glaze. The danish are about 14 inches long and five inches wide. All flavors sell for $4.58 a piece.
Customers here tend to buy one or two Kringles at a time, but Everix said the danish are made fresh seven days a week and so many customers make several trips a week to get the freshest Kringle. In addition, while the Kringle is traditionally a breakfast item, Everix finds many of her customers using it as dessert.
Reisterer said his customers generally purchase many Fastnacht at a time, at least those who know about the pastry. Each year brings new customers who see the signs in the store and fumble over the name as they inquire about them.
"We put out the name and some signs and people always ask about them," Reisterer said. "No one can ever pronounce it, so we always share a good laugh at that. It's like the Paczki. People don't know what it is, but they want to."
For that reason, RBA's Richardson encourages heavy in-store merchandising and sampling, as well as interaction with the community in the form of eating contests and deliveries of samples, along with the historical background, to local radio stations.
"I tell them, if you're not going to work at it, if you're not going to market it, don't bother getting involved," Richardson said. "You need to educate your office staff and your store-level employees and then you can educate the public."
Everix said that Prescott's had actually carried Kringles for years before her bakery was brought in, but they were purchased from a wholesaler and were much more commercial. "We are very highly regarded in this area," said Everix. "Everyone knows the Everix Danish Kringles. They really are a tradition here."
The Kringles are made in the Everix plant, in downtown Fond du Lac, and delivered daily to Prescott's ISBs where they are carried in an area devoted to a variety of danish. And while they are available year-round, Everix said sales pick up quite a bit around the holidays when past locals return to visit family and orders come in to ship the danish all over the country.
Even with their longtime popularity here, Everix still likes to demo the Kringles within Prescott's bakery departments. She prefers to have a manned demo station so the employee can talk to the customers and tell them about the Kringle and about Everix as well.
She added the demos are especially helpful for business in the Prescott's locations outside of their familiar, established territory where consumers may not be familiar with their name or their reputation for making Kringles.
"It's really a great way to introduce them to [any product]," she said.
Reisterer added while some patrons are still unfamiliar with the Fastnacht tradition, many more are waiting anxiously for them to begin this year's production.
"We've gotten calls asking when they will be available," he said.
Reisterer hopes to contribute to the expansion of Fastnacht within supermarket bakeries as he intends to introduce it this season, via a distributor, to Westbury, N.Y.-based King Kullen Grocery Co. Reisterer's already provides doughnut shells and old fashioned crullers to King Kullen units.
"[Reisterer] is one of the few who have had great success with [the Fastnacht]," said Andy Hislop, sales manager for Inter-County Bakers Inc., Lindenhurst, N.Y., Reisterer's distributor. "We've discussed an attempt to bring [Fastnachts] into stores. It will be interesting, since Carl does such a great business with them, to see how well they are accepted."
Hislop added the product currently supplied to King Kullen is shipped frozen, finished off at store-level and carried in the ISB.