Fried chicken wings displayed on end in a vase of rice, wedges of cheese rising vertically into the air, cookies on sticks and cupcakes stacked in pretty cups.
Such twists in visual landscaping characterized this year's Show & Sell Center at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association's Dairy-Deli-Bake 2007 seminar and expo in Anaheim, Calif.
Annual planning for the Show & Sell Center begins early in the year, when volunteers, retailers and suppliers, who make up the merchandising team, meet with IDDBA Executive Director Carol Christison to select a theme and decide what props and ingredients will be needed.
Meatloaf kabobs and bread kabobs reaching skyward alongside fondue pots were presented in a “Trading Cases” display that was devoted to showing ways to reduce shrink.
In another case, color codes paired particular varieties of cheese with appropriate companion wines.
Given such visual cues, retailers who spoke with SN said they saw a lot of ideas they'd be able to implement pretty quickly and pretty easily.
“I was interested in the presentation of cupcakes in those cups. They look great like that, something we could do,” said Paul Chapman, bakery director at Bashas', Chandler, Ariz.
“We're looking into analyzing categories, and we know cupcakes are becoming hot.”
Retailer Ellen Bianchi, Marketplace Foods, Rice Lake, Wis., a member of the merchandising team, guided SN to the Trading Cases display, which she deemed particularly important because it showed creative ways to minimize shrink in the prepared foods department. For instance, meatloaf left over from the day before was cut into squares and impaled with vegetables on kabob sticks. A meatloaf panini with a spinach side salad starred in that case, too. And from yesterday's steak dinners came fajitas served with guacamole and black beans.
“That case got a lot of attention,” said Christison. “We picked a renovation theme to show retailers how they could take extra product and remake it into another new item or meal selection. We used plastic paint liners for trays, wooden paint stirrers for signage, a paint drop-cloth as the case liner, and bought clear plastic paint cans to show off some of the product. This theme could be used for a party, a grand opening, a remodel. Many of the props we use were originally designed for something else. The majority of the bowls and trays come from the Hubert Co., but we also shop dollar stores and other outlets for some of the accent pieces.”
Retailers visiting the Show & Sell Center told SN they're surprised that every year they get some brand-new, usable ideas to take back home.
“Every year, one of our challenges is to ‘kick it up a notch’ and give retailers new actionable ideas,” Christison said.
“While most of our sponsors return each year, they bring new items, thus opening up new areas to explore.”
Over the years, the merchandising team has been spurred onward by questions and suggestions from retailers. Some are executed the very next year.
“For instance, it was us observing the retailers who were making paper and pencil drawings of planograms that gave us the idea of actually printing them in the resource book,” Christison said. “Now, they have the case designs, the layout, the product lists and the creative concepts in that book, which we give to anyone who visits Show & Sell. For the retailers, this means they save time and can get right to the idea process.”
Also, every year retailers and others take lots of photographs. SN even observed people taking photos with their cell phones and apparently sending them back to their headquarters on the spot.
But Christison said photos often don't come out right, or the picture-taker runs out of film or a battery dies. So this year, IDDBA offered to send a CD filled with Show & Sell photographs to anyone who visited the center.
One of the biggest attention-getters this year was a white trellis arbor over a table that displayed a very intricately designed wedding cake sitting on a pedestal. Instead of the traditional figurines on top of the cake, stylized figures had spaces at their tops for the insertion of actual photos of the bride and groom. Strings of white lights were entwined through the trellis, pulling attention from quite a distance away. A dramatic touch for little cost, Christison said.
“People kept asking me how much that [the arbor] cost, and I told them $20 at a discount store. They were surprised.”
She pointed out that with a little creativity, any retailer can make a display like that to draw shoppers' attention from across the store. Wedding cakes are a profitable business, and it's worth it to let people know you're in that business in any way you can, she told SN.
“If you're not doing wedding cakes, you're losing out.”
Another concept that got much attention in the bakery merchandising area was the “Cupcake Bar.” It was a takeoff on the traditional do-it-yourself concept where the customer could pick and choose the ingredients.
“We had the frosting “pre-scooped” to look like ice cream cones and had lots of toppings to choose from. Pick your favorite cake, your favorite frosting, your favorite toppings and everyone's happy,” Christison said. “It's also a great idea for a birthday party or store promotion.”
For the first time, the Hubert Co., Harrison, Ohio, had its own display in the Show & Sell Center, and representatives talked to attendees about the five essential elements of visual merchandising: landscaping, color, texture, communication and decor.
The 10,000-square-foot Show & Sell Center was crowded most of the time.
“Since show attendance was the second-highest ever, we had heavy traffic through the center,” said Christison.
While the square footage has remained about the same over the years, the Show & Sell Center has been reconfigured to make it more inviting.
“We did get feedback [in previous years] that some attendees thought they needed an extra ‘ticket’ to get into the Show & Sell, and we wanted to ensure that it was obvious to all attendees that they could, and should, come into it,” said Jeremy Johnson, IDDBA's education/sales and marketing coordinator.
“Instead of a single entrance, we decided to leave two sides of the center open. The area was marked by overhead marquees, so it was obvious where the center started. With the two sides on major aisles open, that really brought attendees in. In fact, we had so much traffic that it was ‘standing room only’ for a while and people had to wait for others to move out of their way so they could get close to the cases.”
The Cake Decorating Challenge was given a more prominent spot this year, making it easier for people to watch the finalists at work. Some show attendees were drawn into the center, seeing the decorators at work, airbrushing graphic designs on their sheet cakes and adding delicate decorations to specialty cakes.