DETROIT -- Paczki may be popping up next year in markets all across the United States, thanks to the efforts of the newly formed National Paczki Committee here.
"In terms of exposure, we accomplished in just a few weeks what we thought might take three or four years," said Carl Richardson, chairman of the new group and vice president of Hearth Oven Bakeries, Farmer Jack Supermarkets here, a division of A&P, Montvale, N.J. The committee solicited funding this year from the baking industry to pay for 108 billboards in Michigan and for other tools that promoted the super-rich specialty doughnuts, which are a traditional pre-Lenten treat in some areas -- such as Detroit -- heavily populated with residents of Polish descent.
The billboards, which supplied the phonetic pronunciation (poonch-key), were designed to arouse paczki curiosity Michigan-wide this year, but interest spread beyond state borders.
The Associated Press wire service interviewed Richardson on paczki, and the consumer press in wide-ranging areas apparently gave the items attention.
Richardson said the committee received calls from retailers in several other states, inquiring how they could get into the paczki business. "We connected them up with distributors that could help them quickly. For instance, there is a supplier that offers frozen paczki."
The next step in the national push will be taken at the deli-bakery conference of the Retail Bakers of America this spring in St. Louis. Richardson will give a presentation on paczki and their promotion there at the RBA Industry Leaders Breakfast.
"The purpose of the breakfast this year is to plan the rollout of the paczki promotion nationally," Peter Houstle, RBA executive vice president, told SN last week.
"A lot of people are making money with paczki, and we do whatever we can to help our members make more money. These could be successful nationally," he said.
"The fact that it's just a once-a-year presentation gives it high potential. I wouldn't say the paczki is going to be another bagel, but I think it could do very well in some places." The once-a-year promotion comes just at the right time, too, when bakery business is relatively slow.
"The neat thing about Fat Tuesday, or Paczki Day [the day before Lent begins], is that it falls right in the dead of winter," said Dan Courser, vice president of perishables at Busch's Valu Land, Ann Arbor, Mich.
"The margin is good, too, nearly 80%," Courser said. "Since it's a specialty item available for just a short period of time, it can command the higher price."
Busch's makes its paczki from scratch at store level, and sells them for 60 cents each or $2.99 for a pack of six. By comparison, the retailer prices its Bismarcks, the filled doughnuts nearest in description to paczki, at 35 cents each.
"This year was particularly great. Paczki popularity has been growing here, but the committee's promotion helped us increase sales nearly 100% over last year. We wouldn't have had that success without what they did," he added.
The six-unit Busch's sold 73, 700 paczki this year, compared with 40,000 last year.
"We didn't quite make the 80,000 we'd predicted, but we're very happy with the results," Courser said.