Turducken has migrated to the North, and “the ultimate in pies” highlights a Southern chain's preparation for Thanksgiving week. All across the country, supermarkets' prepared food departments and in-store bakeries are set to ring up sales they hope will top last year's.
Bronx, N.Y.-based Morton Williams Supermarkets has put turducken — a Southern-born creation consisting of a turkey stuffed with a duck, which is stuffed with a chicken, which is stuffed with a traditional stuffing — high on its Thanksgiving menu this year, after a trial run last year.
“Based on sales last year, and a lot of postings on our website and inquiries from customers in the store, we've doubled our order this year and have the option to buy more from our supplier as orders come in,” said Laurie Warner, the 12-unit independent's catering and prepared food director.
“We buy them already assembled, and then cook them in-store. We sold just 12 last year, but they really caught people's attention.”
The retail is $89.99 just for the bird-within-a-bird-within-a-bird. Sides are extra. Naturally, traditional turkey dinners are also available.
Meanwhile, at Piggly Wiggly Carolina, headquartered in Charleston, S.C., a locally revered, brand name, deep-dish pecan pie is the Thanksgiving star this year. The chain just took on the Young Plantation brand pies last week. A huge sign right up front in its stores tells customers this year they can get their Young's pecan pie right at Piggly Wiggly. The sign is headlined, “The Holidays Just Got Sweeter.”
That pie and another signature item — a three-layer sponge cake with real whipped cream and raspberries, offered only at Thanksgiving and Christmas, are expected to draw customers in, said Craig Inabinett, the 99-unit chain's director of deli/bakery operations.
At Kowalski's Markets, St. Paul, Minn., an oven-ready, all-natural turkey slathered in herb butter and set in a foil pan will make its official debut this year.
“We tried it last year, and were pleased with the sales we got considering we were late to market with it. It had practically no marketing,” said Terri Bennis, the nine-unit independent's vice president of fresh food operations.
“This year, we have it prominently on our website, in our holiday brochure, and on signage in the stores. That turkey is really something,” Bennis added. “We're talking about 2 pounds of melted, herbed butter slathered onto a 12-pound bird, and ready to pop into the oven.”
Demoing that new-on-the-scene product was a planned highlight of Kowalski's companywide, day-long “Taste of the Season” event on Saturday, Nov. 12. Customers also were to be given tastes of a pre-brined, roasted turkey available for Thanksgiving.
“Our aim with our Taste of the Season Days is to educate customers on our points of difference. We want them to see, and taste, what they can't get at the big-box stores,” Bennis told SN. Kowalski's has been holding Taste of the Season Days for years, but every year they tweak their offerings to meet what customers want and need.
“We know that this year, our customers are particularly looking for easy-to-make appetizers, so we have lots of them for them to try. One example is one of our imported blue cheeses on an artisan flat bread with walnuts and dates, drizzled with honey. Just that, with a glass of wine, is a great appetizer or even a light meal.”
Such appetizers, easy but elegant, were there in large numbers on Saturday. Also, all the stores had a large variety of cheese and sausage balls on display.
Open houses with lots of demo tables were on schedule at supermarkets in different regions of the country. For the second year in a row, United Supermarkets, Lubbock, Texas, orchestrated a two-day “Entertaining Made Easy Expo” the first weekend of this month at its 10 upscale-format Market Street stores. Honey glazed ham and jalapeno-injected turkey were customer favorites during the two-day event.
“Last year, it [the expo] definitely drove sales through the holidays, and we expect it to again,” said Wes Jackson, chief merchandising officer for United Supermarkets.
Market Street stores stage five expos a year, and officials find that the three-month preparation for them pays off in sales following the events. Market Street, like Kowalski's, listens closely to what customers comment on at the expos so tweaks can be made the following year.
This year, Market Street's line-up of seasoned turkeys got a new companion — one with a milder Cajun seasoning.
“People liked the Cajun taste but some didn't want it so spicy,” Jackson said, “so this year we had both, the spicy and the less spicy, as well as other flavors.”
At Market Street stores, Jackson gives the departments guidance for the expos, but also allows each store some autonomy, and some go all out.
“One of our Lubbock area stores this year presented a formal dining table and chairs, and had the table set for dinner, even with a centerpiece from our floral department.”
SN found that supermarkets throughout the country have scheduled one-day or half-day tasting events since the beginning of the month.
Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., was one that scheduled for all its stores a “Thanksgiving and More” event on Saturday, Nov. 12. The company's website invited the public to “come and try samples and get tips and suggestions for planning your holiday dinner.”
Some retailers, however, said all the planning and coordination that goes into such “tasting days” or “expos” just doesn't pay off. Warner at Morton Williams Supermarkets, with most of its stores situated in Manhattan, gave up on the concept a couple of years ago.
“We just found that the turnout wasn't good enough. That's not to say we don't sample. We offer tastes of whatever the customer sees in our cases.”
And that soon will include store-roasted turkey, and at one of its stores a turducken, as well as an expanded variety of fresh, made-in-store side dishes.
“We just emphasize that all our turkeys, and all the side dishes are made from scratch right in the stores. We make a point of that on our website and in our fliers. We cook everything fresh. We're working here all night on Tuesday [because some people pick up their dinners on Wednesday] and then all night again on Wednesday.”
Very tuned into the fact that people are keeping a tight hold on their wallets, Morton Williams and Piggly Wiggly Carolina are maintaining the same retail prices for Thanksgiving dinner that they had last year.
“Even though turkey prices are up, we're keeping the same retails we had last year, just taking less margin,” Inabinett told SN. “For our turkey dinners, we'll have the best price in the market, and we've for the first time introduced a smaller dinner, just for four people. It includes 2½ pounds of sliced, store-roasted turkey, and a choice of sides, just like the bigger dinners do. Its retail is $24.99.”
The grocer also has begun offering an “old-fashioned ham dinner” made with a butt or shank portion, in addition to its spiral ham dinner.
“The variety we have and the signature cakes and side dishes we offer set us apart from the competition. We prepare and season all our sides at store level.”
It's always a last minute rush, so Inabinett, like some other retailers, is encouraging early ordering this year so he'll have a better idea of what to expect as the holiday approaches. For the first time, he ran a coupon this year for $5 off any Thanksgiving dinner ordered before Nov. 15.