Cakes shaped like machine guns, topless, dancing sandwiches, and Ma Barker's Breakfast & Dance Studio gave retailers a taste of the Roaring '20s at this year's Show & Sell Center at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association's seminar and expo in Minneapolis.
As it prepares to showcase creative merchandising ideas, IDDBA each year chooses a theme that's related to the town or region where its annual show takes place. This year, Show & Sell Center planners uncovered the fact that the Twin Cities area was quite a playground during Prohibition, and gangsters were part of the scene.
"People came up from Chicago. Gangsters, too. It was the Jazz Era, the 1920s and wild," said Carol Christison, IDDBA executive director. "We tried to think how we could incorporate some of that history into our displays. We figure if retailers take just one or two ideas home with them, not necessarily related to our particular theme, but if it just gets their creative juices flowing, then Show & Sell has done its job."
Judging from comments heard on the floor, attendees picked up a lot of ideas. Several retailers told SN they liked the display cases themselves and the way products were set in them.
"We're looking for ways to upscale the way we display our pastries, and these marble-look risers would work. They look good, especially the way they're using them," said Nelson Benz, deli/bakery manager, Matthews Thriftway, Bellevue, Wash.
Bowls and baskets of cookies were set on the risers at different levels.
Benz also pointed to huge cinnamon rolls sitting on top of colorful mugs. "That's novel," he said. "It caught my attention."
Other retailers commented on the use of risers. "I like the slatted wood look on different levels," said Tony Tamburro, deli director at 16-unit Heinen's, Warrensville Heights, Ohio.
One industry veteran pointed to an elegant-looking pastry case that displayed items on one level.
"That single-deck Barker case is dynamite. Very cool. It's similar to the ones Wegmans uses in its patisserie," said Terry Roberts, president, Merchandising by Design/The Design Associates, a Carrollton, Texas, firm that provides consulting and contracting services to the supermarket industry. Until recently, Roberts was vice president, brand management, for EatZi's, Dallas.
"With its simplicity, that case is really more like a refrigerated tabletop than a conventional display case. It's not meant for mass display but to show off just a few high-end pastries, maybe tarts or tartlets."
Creativity reigned at Show & Sell, but so did convenience for the customer. In fact, a sub-theme that struck a constant chord was "Eat Easy."
"I liked some of the grab-and-go deli packages with healthy things in them, like the lunch pack with cheese spread, an apple and a stack of crackers, each in a separate compartment of the pack. It's a nice concept," one retailer said. He was referring to clam-shell packaging that featured three wells.
Another "Eat Easy" display presented a quick way to put together a stir-fry for dinner. In a single-deck case, all the elements of a stir-fry dinner were laid out left to right with the choice of meat, vegetables, sauce and rice left up to the customer.
Starting from the left, over-wrapped trays of thinly sliced beef, pork and chicken filled about a quarter of the case. Then came several facings of trays of different stir-fry vegetables such as fresh broccoli, snap peas and multicolored strips of peppers. Next were three facings of sauces designated for beef, pork or chicken. Next was a row of containers of fully cooked white rice and another row of containers of yellow rice.
"That is real convenience. It's quick and easy to pick up, and the end result will actually be homemade. Customers like that sort of thing," said Sheri Hogenson, bakery/deli specialist at Supervalu's Fargo, N.D., division.
"I like the way they're showing cheese cubed up, too, and presented nicely. You know people are having smaller house parties these days. Those would be perfect, as a house gift or just an easy thing to serve."
One attractive item consisted of a handful of Saga Baby Blue rounds stacked on a cobalt-blue, glass plate, which was covered with a tent of gift-wrap cellophane tied at the top with a ribbon.
A refrigerated case of the type usually used for floral arrangements displayed a large variety of gift baskets featuring fresh foods. One held chips, six-packs of beer and containers of fresh salsa. Another offered a six-pack, a spray of beef sticks and blocks of cheese, and a box of crackers. Single Edam balls, gift wrapped, looked good enough to take to a party.
All the merchandising displays had sub-themes that fit within the main theme. For example, one pastry case displayed "Dillinger's Delights" and "Houdini's Hand-Helds," which showed off upscale pastries. One tempting item that stood out as a creative endeavor included a stack of fruit and cake kabobs, each dipped in sugar glaze.
A nearby case with a tall display of artisan breads on the top shelf featured sandwiches made from the breads on the shelves below. The banner over that case designated it as "The Fermentation Factory," referring to sourdough bread-making -- not moonshine stills.
"We showed a bakery department making sandwiches. How many bakeries in the United States make sandwiches? They do in Europe, but not here. A bakery, or other department, doesn't have to stick with what it traditionally does. We wanted to show it can go beyond that," Christison said.
Since the Mall of America is one of the major attractions in the Twin Cities, the Show & Sell team did some takeoffs on typical mall stores with their signs. For instance, there was the Discovery Cheese Store, The MOOseum Store and Blue-mingdales. The latter showed off a variety of blue cheeses.
The Show & Sell Center always drives home the fact that theme merchandising -- using any relevant theme -- can attract attention that results in more bakery and deli sales. "We feel that the retailer needs to get the customers' attention, let them in on the joke, and then [while they're laughing] sell them," Christison said.
Christison designs the signs, rich with puns, that have become a hallmark of the merchandising center, and her sense of humor shines through in other areas as well.
In keeping with this year's theme, one display case presented a cake in the shape of a horse's head a la "The Godfather" movie. Another cake was shaped like a machine gun nestled in a viola case. A "Gettin' Out of Jail" cake had metal files sticking out of it.
"There may not be much call for that cake -- at least, I hope not -- but it gave me a chuckle," one show attendee said.
Christison emphasized that months of planning go into creating each year's Show & Sell Center. A committee made up of retailers, manufacturers and other industry leaders met for the first time in February and decided on a theme.
"Choosing a theme early gives them a hook to hang their creativity on. The committee members meet several times after that to decide what they're going to do and what they'll need for their merchandising. Then, they begin setting up Thursday before the show opens. At that time, we always have a dozen or so volunteers, not committee members, who just show up on-site to help us get ready," Christison said.
IDDBA urges visitors to the Show & Sell Center to take photographs as well as notes about what they see so they can more readily replicate whatever they want to in their own stores.
"That's the whole idea. We want people to use what they see here," Christison said.
Visitors to Show & Sell are given a bound booklet that includes a map of the center, the dimensions and model numbers of all the cases and equipment used, and even planograms of all the displays.