The paczki, a Polish doughnut-like pre-Lenten bakery treat, is breaking out of traditional markets and making more in-store bakery operators take notice.
The super-rich Fat Tuesday treat was a surprise sales success this year, said retailers contacted by SN outside the paczki's traditional Michigan marketing enclaves. They said they are already plotting paczki (pronounced poonch-key) production and promotion strategies for next year's Fat Tuesday celebration.
The double-filled paczki, which look like over-stuffed Bismarcks, traditionally have had their big day on the day before Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins.
Contacted several weeks after that peak, the enthusiasm for paczki among some supermarket bakery executives was still high, however. At least one supermarket chain is still selling the product and will continue doing so at least through spring.
Originating in Poland, paczki have been sold primarily in areas that have a heavy concentration of people of Polish descent. This year, however, paczki were a hit well beyond Michigan's borders.
That's in large part due to the efforts of the Detroit-based National Paczki Committee, chaired by Carl Richardson, vice president of Hearth Oven Bakeries of Farmer Jack Supermarkets, Detroit, a division of A&P, Montvale, N.J.
"The aim of the committee is to make Fat Tuesday-Paczki Day a selling holiday nationwide," said Richardson, who addressed trade groups throughout the year on the benefits of paczki promotion.
Richardson also pointed out that major suppliers have recently begun to offer frozen dough, mixes and thaw-and-sell paczki, which makes it easier for retailers to carry the seasonal treats.
Supermarkets from western Michigan to northern Kentucky got into the act for the first time this year.
"I didn't even know what paczki were this time last year, but we sold more than 400 dozen of them in four stores the week before Lent began," said Dan Heidrich, bakery production manager for Remke's Markets, a four-unit independent based in Covington, Ky. "On Fat Tuesday alone, we sold 110 dozen. We'll certainly buy more next year, and maybe start promoting them earlier."
This was the first year also for Seaway Food Town, Maumee, Ohio. "And we couldn't be happier with sales," said Pat Nowak, director of public relations and consumer affairs for the 44-unit chain.
"We started promoting paczki in-store Wednesday before Lent and by Saturday afternoon we were 65% sold out. We had to pace ourselves so we'd have them to sell on Fat Tuesday. Even so, we had some stores that were sold out by noon," she said, adding that the chain will plan carefully for the holiday next year in order to make the most of it.
A Paczki Day celebration in downtown Cincinnati helped heat up activity in Ohio. Dennis Smith, a director of the National Paczki Committee, and president of Cincinnati-based
Paper Products, a packaging firm, helped orchestrate events designed to attract the attention of the consumer media.
Ohio-based chains, including 40-unit Finast, Maple Heights, Ohio, and 25-unit Thriftway, Cincinnati, got involved for the first time this year, Smith said.
Officials at Finast and Thriftway could not be reached for comment at press time.
Smith also said large multiregional chains showed interest in getting involved next year. This year, A&P gave all its divisions the option of carrying thaw-and-sell paczki, said William Vitulli, A&P's director of consumer and governmental affairs.
Meanwhile, back in Michigan, paczki sales soared. "Everybody sold out early," said Richardson. And not just in Detroit. D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, sold 47,200 individual paczki in the two weeks prior to Fat Tuesday, said Ed DeYoung, bakery director for the 25-unit chain. That's up from 18,000 sold in the same period a year earlier.
"Customers keep asking for them," DeYoung said. Selected stores are continuing to make them available at the service counter.
"We'll offer them self-service also in four- or six-packs eventually," DeYoung said. "The challenge is to make them distinctly separate from our doughnuts, all of which are priced at 35 cents each." The chain sells paczki for 50 cents each.
In Ann Arbor, Busch's Valu Land did its best ever this year. "Our overall bakery sales for the week prior to Fat Tuesday hit an all-time record. Now, we're looking forward to next year. It's a great week here," said Dan Courser, vice president of perishables for the four-unit independent.