EAGLE RIVER, Wis. -- Two retailers have found that tying in to local festivals can create a groundswell of consumer support, particularly if the event centers around food.
In this case, the operators participated in the town's 22nd Annual Cranberry Fest by making its local fruit the focal point of store fresh departments.
Bonson's Pick 'n Save sells about two tons of bulk cranberries during the event, according to Elmer Jensen, the independent store's produce manager. Del Robish, an associate from the produce department at Trig's, Minocqua, Wis., said his store moves more than four tons.
"The fest draws about 25,000 people to a little town," Robish told SN. "It's probably the best single promotion we have."
Even though the cranfest technically lasts just one weekend, the stores celebrate the bounty of the local bogs with an array of cranberry-related cross merchandising before and after, stretching their window of opportunity for revenue to a total of about four weeks. Both men say Bonson's and Trig's -- two of the largest and newest supermarkets in this lake-filled, year-round tourist locale with a core population of about 1,800 -- benefit from advertising. The Cranberry Country Crier, a newspaper published once a year by the Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, heralds and promotes the retailers' participation in the event. Bonson's, through its distributor, Roundy's, Pewaukee, Wis., also includes a store circular in the local newspaper.
"There's increased competition and increased goodwill" during this time, Robish said of the two supermarkets located about five miles from each other.
Although the local fairgrounds are dotted with tents of vendors and craftspeople, the supermarkets generally set up their own tents in proximity to their stores. Customers can generally find the same cranberry-related products in the appropriate departments. Visitors to the retailer's tent wishing to buy cranberries selling at about $1.30 per pound use scoops to dig into the bulk containers -- 500-pound bins at Bonson's and 45-pound cartons at Trig's. The cranberries are also sold in one-pound packages, but extra-large purchases of about 20 pounds for upcoming holidays are not uncommon, Jensen said.
"Most people take them home to bag and freeze," Robish said. "It's not surprising to see someone go out with a 45-pound carton, or two or three 10-pound bags."
For the event, Trig's also orders up 25-pound cartons of craisins -- also known as dried cranberries -- from an outside vendor, which the store packages in 8-ounce containers for sale at about $1.30 per pound.
Trig's gets a lot of cranberry mileage in the deli, where manager Laura Perket uses a food processor to turn out about 50 pounds of the store's traditional and popular cranberry orange relish daily during the festival period. The relish is available in 8-ounce containers at the store's various "grab and go" areas, as well as fresh in the full-service deli case.
Many customers stock up and freeze the product at home, she said. The deli also sells cranberry bread pudding.
Despite the success of Trig's deli as a destination, nothing beats these stores' baked goods departments for sheer variety of product and the potential to fire up sales.
"For the bakery, it's a real shot in the arm," bakery manager and co-owner Jim Bonson told SN, noting that during the fest's key week, category revenue increases between 20% and 25%. Bonson attributes the movement not only to variety, but to the fact that "it's not your normal cranberry product."
Paula Slizewski, in-house bakery supervisor, added that although the store's cranberry pound cake is one of its most popular items, "anything we put cranberries in customers buy like crazy."
Some items are available year-round, including cranberry-orange bagels, cranberry-cashew cookies and craisin chewbilees priced at 8 for $3.29, and the store's highly lauded, 24-ounce flat oval danish pastry cranberry kringles priced at $5.08, an item that Bonson's ships by direct-mail order throughout the United States. Tourists, it seems, want cranberry sweets all four seasons, according to Bonson. Other products, however, are festival-only treats.
Among the special-event items are cran-apple tea bread, cranberry muffins, cranberry bread, cranberry pecan bread, cranberry orange scones, cranberry cream cakes and cranberry bars with cream cheese frosting, in addition to the daily-made cranberry fritters and cranberry cake doughnuts.
Slizewski explained that, while most cranberry items are baked daily, some products are immediately frozen and then thawed when needed.
"Customers fill their baskets," Slizewski said. "And if we don't have the products, they start asking for them because they know this is the only time they can get them."
The bakery, which is filled with cranberry signage, samples a different item every day in a covered tray near the area housing these prewrapped baked items. The adjacent, in-store cafe, with seating for about 25, also makes it easy for customers to take a cranberry dessert break.
At Trig's, baked goods are produced at the company's central baking facility in Rhinelander, said Kevin Rietveld, director of bakery operations. Although the cranberry fest is technically an Eagle River event, he distributes all varieties of the special cranberry products to the three-store chain's other locations in Rhinelander and Minocqua.
Among Trig's' festival offerings are cranberry loaves, cranberry pudding cakes, cranberry doughnuts, cranberry coffee cakes, cranberry walnut bread, craisin cookies and two different sized cranberry walnut muffins.
"This is the biggest weekend of the year in our town because it draws so many people, and the spillovers are great for retailers," said Conrad Heeg, the local Chamber of Commerce's executive director, whose organization also sells ample quantities of the fruit under its own tent. But the end of the fest does not mean the end of cranberry mania.
Trig's Robish said he still needs to order cranberries to satisfy demand even after the celebrations are over.