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Retailers are readying their bakeries for spring by creating sampling programs, cross-promotions and cross-merchandising schemes aimed at the holidays. Many of the smaller independent chains are focusing on decadence, selling everything from fresh-fruit pastries and elaborately decorated cakes to hand-painted European chocolates made by classically trained chocolatiers. Larger chains, however, tend

Retailers are readying their bakeries for spring by creating sampling programs, cross-promotions and cross-merchandising schemes aimed at the holidays.

Many of the smaller independent chains are focusing on decadence, selling everything from fresh-fruit pastries and elaborately decorated cakes to hand-painted European chocolates made by classically trained chocolatiers.

Larger chains, however, tend to stick to the standard holiday foods, Ed Weller, president of the Weller Co., Phoenix, told SN.

Weller cited a list of bakery items commonly found at larger chains, including 8-inch round cakes, cutout cookies, Easter logs, carrot cakes, cupcakes and doughnuts.

“Because these items are made by pretty much all of the large supermarket chains in the United States, it's the displays, signage and other promotional activity that really makes the difference,” Weller said. “The problem is, product and merchandising decisions at the larger chains are usually decided at the corporate level, so the individual stores don't have much freedom to decide how they will promote their bakery goods.”

As a result, the independents usually have more unique items and decorate their stores better, he added, stating that the big chains could “really learn something from the independents.”

According to Denise Brasefield, cake decorator for Highland Park Market, Glastonbury, Conn., the six-store chain goes to great lengths to offer one-of-a-kind cakes, pies, pastries and other bakery goods during the spring holidays.

“We have an Easter basket cake that takes around 20 minutes to decorate, compared to the five minutes that it takes to decorate a regular cake,” Brasefield said. “We ice each one in a basket weave of pastel colors like pink, blue and yellow, top them with green coconut, pile on candy and add colorful pipe cleaners as handles. They're so elaborate we put the cakes in a display case by themselves, with no other decorations.”

Despite a hefty price of $24.99 each, the Easter basket cakes are among the chain's top sellers, she added.

Highland Park's cake decorators pipe icing flowers onto cupcakes and cookies during Mother's Day, decorate multicolored eggs around Easter, and tint virtually every frosted and iced food in the department green for St. Patrick's Day. Key lime pies are also featured during St. Patrick's Day, tying into the holiday's green theme.

Fruit tarts are a big seller during Mother's Day.

“We import sugared puff pastry shells and fill them with vanilla custard and glazed fresh fruit,” Brasefield said. “The tarts usually sell for $22.99, but last year we sold them for $9.99 for Mother's Day.”

For shoppers who can't make up their minds, Highland Park promotes assorted dessert platters in 12-, 16- and 18-inch sizes. Customers can choose from a wide selection of eclairs, cake slices, tarts and other pastries, with prices ranging from $22 up to $67, depending on the size of the platter and whether they want whole or half pieces.

Dorothy Lane Market, Dayton, Ohio, boasts a wealth of gourmet bakery items during the spring holidays.

“We make King Cakes for Mardi Gras and hot cross buns for Lent,” said Jennifer Dahm, retail bakery manager for the three-store chain. “We also have Irish soda bread for St. Patrick's Day, and each year, our pastry chef creates a new line of egg-shaped French pastries during Easter that are layered with different flavors like coconut and chocolate genache.”

Special holiday bakery items are promoted on the retailer's website in a monthly market report. Last month, the chain chose to highlight its King Cakes, including a list of ingredients: King Arthur Flour, real butter, sugar, water, whole eggs, yeast and sea salt. Varieties included plain, cream cheese, apple, apricot, raspberry and cherry in a 28-ounce size for $11.99.

While putting out a good product is essential, bakery directors and supervisors should also plan tie-ins, said Carl Richardson, former bakery director for Farmer Jack, Detroit, and Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y.

“Bakery ties in really well with floral, especially during holidays like Mother's Day when people are running into the store at the last minute to buy a dozen roses,” Richardson said. “Deli is another good department for cross-promotions and cross-merchandising.”

Penn Traffic Co., Syracuse, N.Y., cross-promotes its freshly baked rolls and pies with deli hams, side dishes and other meal items in weekly circulars. The chain even cross-samples products from other departments.

“During St. Patrick's Day, we will be sampling our Irish soda bread with Irish Kerrygold butter from the deli,” said Jeff Culhane, director of deli and in-store bakery merchandising for the 106-store chain. “We'll also be decorating our bakery departments with shamrocks and other green decorations, as we do every year.”

Seasonal and holiday items like soda bread, iced shamrock cookies and bunny cakes will be promoted on 22-by-28-inch signs hung in each store's bakery.

Easter and St. Patrick's Day are the biggest spring holidays for Penn Traffic, Culhane said.

“This year, Easter promotions will begin on March 18, and [the holiday] will be the biggest in sales dollars because of the duration of time,” he said. “St. Patrick's Day also does well because it has 30-plus days of promotion and because we sell a lot of different items.”

Mother's Day is another big bakery holiday for Penn Traffic. The chain plans to open its stores on May 13, the day before Mother's Day, to children who want to decorate a cake for mom or grandma.

Dahl's Food Markets, Des Moines, Iowa, plans to run a similar program.

“This year during Easter, we're going to invite kids to come in and decorate cookies on a Saturday afternoon,” said Charlie Thyberg, bakery supervisor for the chain. “We will provide the already-baked cookies and the kids can add the icing, candies and sprinkles.”

Dahl's typically promotes its spring holiday baked goods, such as bouquet cakes that are iced to look like a bouquet of roses for Mother's Day, in weekly circulars.

Irish soda bread is merchandised on racks or tables next to cabbage around St. Patrick's Day, and the chain's bakery departments are decked out with balloons, streamers and holiday-inspired tablecloths adorned with shamrocks, flowers, Easter eggs and other festive patterns.

Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., also has an interactive bakery program for children, but the focus is on school fund-raising events, spokeswoman Maria Brous said.

Each year, several weeks before Mother's Day, local schools place orders with Publix for pre-baked cakes. Once the cakes arrive at each school, the chain's bakery managers personally deliver icing, sprinkles and candy, and demonstrate basic cake-decorating techniques for the students. The finished cakes are then sold and a portion of the profits goes directly to the schools.

Mother's Day and Easter are the biggest spring holidays for Publix's bakery departments.

“During Easter, we will have a large assortment of Easter cakes and the traditional hot cross buns and Easter bread,” Brous said. “For Mother's Day, it is all about sweets for mom — cakes, cakes and more cakes.”

Parisian Pastry Party

For the past three years, Dorothy Lane Market has hosted a Springtime in Paris Pastry Show, featuring several dessert wines from the chain's own wine shop and an array of gourmet desserts made by renowned French pastry chef Ghyslain. The event coincides with “French month” and this year will be held on April 19 at the Dayton, Ohio, chain's Springboro location.

“We have the show at our Springboro store because it is our largest venue. We take over the entire mezzanine level from 7 to 9 p.m. and decorate it with flowers, and have a pianist who plays music all evening,” said Jennifer Dahm, retail bakery manager for the chain. “We've had over 120 participants each year.”

Guests pay $30 per ticket in advance or $35 at the door. Each year, the show has attracted more than 120 shoppers. With such a great response, Dorothy Lane Market plans to add to the selection of foods this year.

Like years past, there will be a 30-foot table with miniature cheesecakes, fruit tarts and other desserts made by Ghyslain. This year the table will also hold savory items like baguette sandwiches, croissants and antipastos.

Ghyslain and his team of chefs will also demonstrate various pastry-making techniques at four separate stations around the mezzanine.

“Last year, Ghyslain created a chocolate sculpture, so it will be interesting to see what he does this year,” Dahm said. “We also use the show to introduce all of the new flavors for the spring — lighter, fruitier flavors compared to the heavier pastries we sell during the winter months.”

Along with a selection of dessert wines, this year's Springtime in Paris Pastry Show will also feature several non-dessert wines and beers that match well with the savory bakery products sampled by the guests.
— K.G.