Paczki activity is huge this year, as word keeps spreading about the pre-Lenten treats that can give in-store bakeries a needed boost in winter sales.
The pastries, which look like over-sized Bismarcks, and their solid sales potential, are hovering over new parts of the United States this year, venturing further from the Midwest markets where paczki (pronounced poonch-key) first made their mark. Interest this winter is reaching a new pitch as more supermarkets get on board.
In addition, those who began offering paczki last year or the year before have revved up their promotional efforts this year.
Paczki are "not just another doughnut," their promoters point out. They are super-rich, filled, sometimes double-fried, pastries that had their origins in Poland, where they were the ultimate, and last, sweet treat that Lent observers would allow themselves before Lent began.
The custom has been picked up by retail bakers in areas of the United States -- especially Detroit, Cincinnati and other parts of the Midwest -- where people of Polish descent are concentrated. And in recent years, paczki fever has spread to supermarkets in those areas and to other parts of the country.
Now, up and down the East Coast, and as far west as Texas and Oregon, supermarkets are looking to paczki to liven up their bakery sales in February.
Among the new paczki converts this year is Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., a retailer-owned cooperative, which is the wholesale/merchandising/distribution arm for ShopRite Supermarkets. The company is making the pastries available to its network of 190 ShopRite units in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Delaware.
"It's an item that has gained popularity in other parts of the country. They're tasty and fun," said Laura McCafferty, Wakefern spokeswoman, explaining why the company had jumped on the paczki bandwagon. "This move is in line with our bringing in more variety of product, and new items, for various holidays."
McCafferty said paczki would be offered to member retailers in various forms, i.e., frozen dough, thaw-and-sell and mixes, and that a host of promotional materials including signs, banners and stickers is also being made available to them.
Another East Coast retailer that will offer paczki for the first time this year is Demoulas/Market Basket, Tewksbury, Mass. That 57-unit chain is also making signs and other point-of-purchase materials available to its 37 units that have in-store bakeries, a company source told SN.
Randalls Food Markets, Houston, and its Tom Thumb division, Dallas, have plans to turn up the volume of paczki promotion, said John Griffin, bakery category manager for 60-unit Randalls and 50-unit Tom Thumb. This is the third year the company has offered the products.
The chain's packzi ads broke early this year compared with past seasons, Griffin said. "With Fat Tuesday [the day before Lent begins] falling on the 24th this year, it gives us extra selling days. Last year Fat Tuesday was quite a bit earlier," he added.
"We're not even as aggressive as we'd like to be this year. Next year, we hope to have some billboards in the area," Griffin said.
ShopRite ad circulars pushing paczki are being distributed this week and the products will be available from Feb. 15 through 24, McCafferty told SN. While some chains are looking to stretch the selling period from at least as early as Valentine's Day on, others offer the treats only on Fat Tuesday.
At West Linn Thriftway, West Linn, Ore., John Smolders, bakery director for the seven-unit retailer, prefers to concentrate the paczki excitement on Fat Tuesday. He told SN that's primarily because he makes the treats from scratch, and a prolonged selling period would interfere with production of his other bakery items. Indeed, he said he's considering sourcing premade paczki from now on, in order to alleviate such a jam-up.
"We started offering them two years ago and I was amazed. On just Fat Tuesday we sold 500 dozen at this one store," Smolders said.
And although he offers them on just one day, it doesn't mean he isn't promoting them way ahead of time. He told SN that by the first week of February he would have "signs plastered all over the stores." In the flagship store, for example, Smolders is hanging a 5-foot by 2-foot banner with white lettering on a red background that says, "Fat Tuesday Is Paczki Day."
Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., began offering paczki the first of this month, said Joanne Gage, vice president of consumer services at the 94-unit chain. This is the chain's second year offering the treats.
Other large supermarket chains that are offering paczki in all their stores this year include Stop & Shop Cos., Quincy, Mass., and Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla. There are some stores in each of the marketing divisions of Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. that are carrying the sweet treats this season.
In all, the total number of individual supermarket units that have joined the paczki campaign has doubled since just last year, bringing the total to more than 4,000, said Carl Richardson, chairman of the National Paczki Promotional Board.
The geographical spread of paczki fever can be credited to Richardson and the National Paczki Promotion Committee that he founded. A former bakery executive at Farmer Jack, a Detroit division of Montvale, N.J.-based A&P, Richardson heads the group, which is now under the umbrella of the Retailer's Bakery Association, Laurel, Md., and has been renamed the RBA National Paczki Promotional Board.
Long an advocate of bakery merchandising based on a theme, Richardson believes paczki and other bakery products that have ethnic origins present a good opportunity for supermarkets to offer something different, and to create excitement at particular times of the year when sales could use a boost.
Griffin at Randalls/Tom Thumb believes paczki, and for that matter other specialty items such as king cakes and kringles, transcend ethnicity. The latter two are products with ethnic origins that are popular in particular regions of the United States.
"You don't have to be Polish to polish off a paczki," he said, using one of the phrases Richardson has made popular with a paczki promotion kit he assembled for the RBA.
A paczki promotional kit that Richardson assembled for the RBA includes tips on promoting the products at store level, supply sources and facts about the product. And, this year, for the first time, the promotional kit also includes information about king cakes, which are associated with Mardi Gras, and kringles, a Danish-type pastry that had its origins in Denmark.