COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Big Bear Stores sponsored Balloon Fest -- a local hot air balloon event -- for the second year in a row and featured product demos where a newly rolled-out line of crusty breads got a top spot.
The chain had rolled out Ecce Panis bake-off, crusty breads to all its stores late this spring, and the timing of the Fest here provided a perfect lift-off for them, officials said.
"Balloon Fest gave us an opportunity to get the bread in more people's mouths, and it turned out to be a big hit," said Steve Schulte, bakery merchandiser, for the 70-unit Big Bear.
All five of the varieties the chain offers -- Tuscan boule, potato dill, roasted garlic, semolina and sourdough -- were demoed for the entire three days of the Balloon Fest, June 22 to 24. A large table displayed facings of all the varieties in their branded, windowed bags, and at an adjacent table, a Big Bear associate cut pieces from loaves.
"We had four different kinds of dipping oils there, too. Red pepper, basil, garlic and then just a plain olive oil," Schulte said.
More than 90,000 people attended the three-day, fair-like event, which featured 70 colorful hot air balloons for rides. There were also on-the-ground kiddy rides and refreshment concessions and concerts by the likes of the Beach Boys and The Village People.
"There's a lot to draw people. And those fired-up balloons coming back at night were really impressive. The whole balloon was illuminated," Schulte said.
Big Bear, one of Syracuse, N.Y.-based Penn Traffic's operating companies, is the main sponsor of the event, created to showcase brands and organized by the Caldwell, N.J.-based Balloon Festival Group. The huge balloons themselves show off images of brand mascots like the Energizer Bunny and, of course, the Big Bear grizzly. The supermarket chain doesn't sell merchandise at the event, but samples hundreds of branded food products it carries in its stores.
Big Bear chose five varieties that it could retail for $2.99. Having a limited number of varieties, at the same price, is purposeful to keep things simple for the customer, Schulte said.
"You don't want to have too many varieties. That confuses people. I would imagine we'll add some different kinds but we'll rotate them in and out," he said.
The best seller at Big Bear -- roasted garlic -- will probably stay through any rotation. The runner-up is sourdough.
In Big Bear stores, the Ecce Panis breads are baked off two and three and four times a day. It's very much in keeping with Penn Traffic's recent unveiling of its proprietary "Bakery Fresh" umbrella [see "Penn Traffic Completes Branding of Perishables," SN, 07/02/01].
"What we're promoting is freshness. We just keep replenishing the shelves. It shows customers that the loaves are fresh. This is a one-day, shelf-life product."
The loaves are merchandised on a three-shelf, light-colored wood rack with the Ecce Panis logo at the top. There, a self-sampler offers little squares of a different variety of bread each day.
"We're still looking for the best place to position the rack. Some of the stores have it near the crusty bread set, others put it right in front of the deli, or even up near the front of the store. But we're finding that right between the deli and the bakery is best. Just beyond the slicing meats and cheeses where the bakery begins," Schulte said.
Ecce Panis (Latin for "behold the bread") had its beginnings in the 1980s in New York at the renowned Sign of the Dove Restaurant. The operation was sold to private investors, who set up wholesale facilities for food service and retail sales.