ALLIANCE, Ohio -- Buckeye Village Market here kicked off the fall selling season with a marathon of demos, one of which sent brownie sales zooming up tenfold, officials said.
Brownies were featured first, on the day after Labor Day, and were touted in signs as a good addition to a school lunch box. Then each day of that week, a different product category was featured at a staffed demo station from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"It's the first time we've ever done a series of demos like that. We wanted to see how it would work, and so far we've been pleased with the results," said Kathy Porter, bakery manager at the 5-unit independent's flagship store. "Brownies were first in line because school had just started and it seemed to be a good product to start off with for lunches," she added.
"We sampled four varieties -- rocky road, German chocolate, peanut butter and our regular double fudge. It was the first time we had ever sampled more than one kind at a time," Porter said.
The retailer hired a professional demonstrator to offer customers samples. A display of the brownies in 8-inch pans was situated next to the demo station in the aisle in front of the bakery service counter.
Each pan yielded about a dozen brownies, which were set at the everyday price of $2.99. The brownies were baked in an almond-colored ovenable plastic pan, rather than a conventional black one "to show the product off better," Porter said.
Rocky road was the best-selling variety on the first day, outscoring the usual customer favorite, double fudge. "That's probably because a lot of people hadn't tasted rocky road before, and they liked it when they did," Porter said.
Buckeye's rocky road brownies have a cream filling, walnuts and a drizzle of fudge icing, Porter explained.
Products sampled the next day included low-fat, fruit-filled coffee cake and sugar-free angel food cake. Mirroring the success with brownies, sales of the angel food cakes soared to about 10 times normal volume, but the coffee cakes didn't do as well as expected, Porter said.
The retailer chose to feature healthy items on Wednesday because many senior citizens shop on that day, according to Porter. "Our bakeries offer a discount every day for seniors, but several stores give seniors a price break on Wednesdays, so that's when they do their shopping," Porter said.
On Thursday, the third day of the promotion, snack cakes in four varieties were scheduled for the demo station. Friday was muffin day and on Saturday, the retailer planned to demo four varieties of its "chop breads." Made with a white bread mix and a variety of fresh ingredients, the varieties of chop breads to be sampled were pepperoni/cheese, bacon/cheddar, taco, and broccoli/cheese.
"We chose the chop breads for Saturday sampling because they're almost like pizza. They're good for eating in front of the TV or the video," Porter said.
From the sales of the products that were featured, Porter said, it was worth hiring a professional demo person for five days in a row.
"But that's not even the whole story. We expect that people may have tried items that they liked, but didn't necessarily want to buy them that day. They'll remember the bakery next time they're in the store," Porter said.