HOUSTON -- Rice Epicurean Markets here is hoping to turn a storewide Italian food and wine promotion into a massive boon for its deli, cheese and prepared food departments.
Scott Silverman, specialty buyer for Rice Epicurean, told SN that a similar event last year yielded sales 400% to 1000% above average on some deli items.
That performance last year took Silverman by surprise, but this September, the buyer is ready.
"Instead of running out of things this time, I made sure to get enough. We brought in 30 wheels, 75 pounds each, of parmigiano reggiano for our stores, far more than we normally carry," he said.
The second annual promotion, called "Ciao Chow Italian Food & Wine Festival," began last week and will run from Sept. 1 through mid-October at six Rice Epicurean Markets in the Houston area.
Supported by airline tickets and other give-aways, a pasta cook-off with local restaurant chefs, appearances by wine makers and increased advertising, the promotion is aimed at duplicating last year's success, Silverman said.
"All areas of the deli, from prepared foods to the cheese counter to the sliced meat and deli meat counters, are big participants," he said.
For the festival, Rice Epicurean's chefs developed 15 different entrees, to be made available on a rotating basis on the stores' menus for the promotion's duration and featured in four weekly ads.
The items that sell well will return to Rice's menus during the course of the year, he said.
During a different themed promotion last month, the August "Garlic and Goat Cheese Festival," Rice Epicurean uncovered one such winning prepared product. Whole roasted heads of elephant garlic at $2 each, usually modest sellers at about 15 heads per day per store, have since zoomed to almost 100 daily in one store.
"Long after the festival, we'll keep that item on the menu," Silverman said.
During "Ciao Chow," the stores are promoting pesto-grilled chicken breasts, spinach risotto with wild mushrooms, Tuscan-style shrimp and canellini beans and other entrees in the current ad circular.
Roasted red and yellow peppers, baked mushrooms and other antipasti will also be touted in the ad section, called "Epicurean Trattoria."
Although unusual and high-quality products, like handmade pastas, may draw the curious, Rice will do some price cutting as well. Parmigiano reggiano and Parma prosciutto, both regularly about $14.99 per pound at Rice, will drop to $9.99 a pound during the festival. Silverman said he was able to lower prices by bypassing food brokers and acting as his own importer.
The deli department will organize tastings of imported meats, cheeses, olive oils and other products. Silverman has planned to carry up to 20 Italian cheeses.
Rice will also stock up on imported Italian soppresata, Genoa salami, mortadella and two types of prosciutto, Silverman said. Judging by last year's festival, he said he expects to sell five times the average amount of prosciutto.
Rice's bakeries will carry Kalamata olive bread, a number of focaccias, crusty Italian country-style white bread and other specialties. Some of the items are being baked in-house; others are provided by an outside contractor.
The fresh pasta section will be bolstered with an imported selection of fresh frozen tortellini filled with meat, cheese, porcini mushrooms or pumpkin, as well as potato gnocchi.
Silverman even found vegetables marinated and grilled in Italy, and shipped in food-service packages, that will be unpacked and displayed in the deli department.
And in the meat department, butchers will be stocking extra portions of such popular Italian cuts as veal scallopine, osso bucco and veal chops.