CINCINNATI - For the first time, Kroger Co. here is pushing paczki - the Polish pastries usually consumed just before Lent - with billboard advertising.
Kroger has promoted paczki (pronounced "poonch-key") some years in selected markets, but never in such a big way, industry sources told SN. They expect the billboards to raise consumers' awareness and lift sales in the area.
"I think it's great, such a large chain doing this," said bakery consultant Carl Richardson. "It indicates Kroger has recognized the value of promoting paczki, and it's bound to increase everybody's paczki sales."
A former supermarket retailer, Richardson, aka "Mr. Paczki," is credited with putting the pastries on the map, far beyond the borders of Polish neighborhoods, and creating a popular winter product for in-store bakeries. A few years ago, he launched the Paczki Promotion Committee, under the sponsorship of the Retailer's Bakery Association, Laurel, Md. Now, through his consulting firm, CR & Associates, Rochester, Mich., Richardson is helping retailers warm up winter sales with paczki.
Kroger's billboards make reference to Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins, which this year falls on February 28. The message on the billboards, which feature a huge photograph of jelly-filled paczki, say, "They don't call it slim Tuesday. 6 paczki, $3.99." Kroger's logo appears under the message.
It may be no coincidence that some of the billboards have been erected in the same area in which Riesbeck's Markets operates. In recent years, St. Clairsville, Ohio-based Riesbeck's has promoted paczki aggressively, and enjoyed hefty sales as a result. Last year, the 10-store chain broke with tradition by continuing to offer paczki on Fridays and Saturdays during Lent. By extending the availability of the pastries, the retailer managed to sell 548,000 individual paczki by Easter Sunday.
At Kroger, Riesbeck's and other area supermarkets, the pastries are packed in distinctive red and white boxes with "paczki" in large letters on the sides. Stacked high on Fat Tuesday and the week leading up to it, the boxes make eye-catching displays.
While SN is aware of just six Kroger billboards touting paczki - three in Ohio and three in West Virginia - there may be more in other Kroger marketing areas. Kroger's corporate offices did not return SN's calls seeking comment.
It's obvious, though, that the promotion is not carried out throughout the Kroger chain, or at least not with enthusiasm. Though a Kroger ad circular distributed in Athens, Ohio, spotlighted paczki in six flavors - lemon, apple, raspberry, prune, blueberry and Bavarian - at six for $3.99 and 12 for $6.99, SN noted the display in a store there was small and easy to miss. In Clarksburg, W.Va., a Kroger bakery associate told SN she didn't know anything about paczki.
"What are they?" she asked.
Paczki look like extra-large, filled doughnuts, but they're much richer. In fact, the story goes that years ago in Poland, it became a tradition to use up all the butter, sugar, and other baking supplies in the house to make paczki right before Lent, thus holding temptation at bay during the season of fasting. Strict observers deny themselves any sweets during the weeks leading up to Easter, but many indulge themselves on Fat Tuesday.