MINNEAPOLIS -- Retailers agree that the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association's space-themed Show & Sell Center this year launched tons of down-to-earth ideas, even if some of the displays seemed a bit far out.
The Show & Sell Center was positioned prominently on the show floor at IDDBA's Dairy-Deli-Bake 2001 Seminar & Expo here last month and show attendees gravitated to it again and again, said Carol Christison, IDDBA executive director.
"We had incredible crowds in the Show & Sell Center. Many kept coming back and they brought other people with them."
Retailers especially talked about the cross-merchandising efforts and the presentation of products in the display cases. A whole meatloaf plated with a ring of fluffy mashed potatoes encircling it got particular attention. So did chili served in bread bowls and bread displays partnered with rotisserie items and with cheeses. And cheese wedges packaged with fresh-cut apple slices.
SN saw visitors taking notes and shooting photos. They said they wanted to remember exactly how things looked so they could duplicate some of them.
"There are a lot of ideas, a hundred things you could walk away with, and all this triggers your interest in being creative," said Bob Langdon, deli/food service category manager at Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y.
In a take-off on the movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey," the Show & Sell Center was called "2001: A Taste Odyssey." It featured a "Lunar Cheese Center," "Rocket Roastisserie & Satellite Dishes," "Sandwich Encounters of the Deli Kind" and "Bake Shop Galactica." The fanciful doings definitely got him to think differently, said Darius Boone, Rusk Food & Fuel, who operates three convenience stores in Afton, Iowa. He took note of the deli cases where everyday products were tagged as Pluto potato puffs, moon beans and Saturn jelly rings. He also pointed to cream puffs in the bakery case that were made to look like two-headed swans.
"Some of the things are outlandish but I can pare them down and make them work for me. More shows should do something like this," Boone said.
"If you can take half of the ideas or half a great idea away from here, isn't that what this is all about?"
The space theme even sent the retailer volunteers themselves to new heights, said Jammie Paulson, a category manager at SuperValu, Hopkins, Minn.
"The theme was a good one, and there aren't any boundaries. I like the challenge, too, of working with what we've got here. For instance, I was to work with Mickey McKee [chef at Solganik & Associates, a Dayton, Ohio, consulting firm] on pasta salads but the pasta wasn't here so we improvised and used orzo. It turned out fine, maybe even more interesting than what we planned," Paulson said.
"I've seen a lot of simple things here that we could do without adding labor or investing in equipment, like putting chili in a bread bowl and merchandising baked potatoes with grated or shredded cheese," said one deli manager from an upstate New York supermarket chain.
That simplicity melded with creativity characterizes the Show & Sell Center every year, and that's no surprise since the team that puts the stations together is made up of retailers themselves, and they know what will work.
The displays this year were created by real-life, hard-working volunteers from these stores: Dorothy Lane Markets, Kroger Co., Wegmans Food Markets, Tom Thumb, Supervalu, Rainbow Foods and Scolari's Food & Drug.
"The retailers on the team do this year after year after year because they love doing it. We no longer worry about matching up team members with their normal job duties because truth be told it just doesn't matter. When you have talent this deep, they feed off each other. They give up nights and weekends during the year to plan this and then they arrive here early to create it on-site," said IDDBA's Christison.
A West Coast retailer who visited Show & Sell this year told SN she looks forward to visiting the center each year to gather up workable ideas.
"It's one of the best parts of the show because you get to see the products in their natural setting. Not only have I seen some new products, but it's easy to see how to integrate products in the case. The merchandising ideas are great," said Michelle Grandy, bakery/deli analyst at Brown & Cole Stores, Bellingham, Wash.
She added that the use of silver pedestals in the hot foods case maximized space as well as gave it an upscale look, and she commented on all the different items, in addition to chickens, on the rotisserie. A rack of lamb and a brace of ducks twirled in the oven as she spoke.
Product signs designated platters of the items as "lunar lamb" and "alien duck." And then there were "stratosphere-stuffed peppers" in the case, too.
But what was really inspiring was the cross merchandising, said Lindsay Headrick, also from Brown & Cole.
"The way they have mashed potatoes mounded around the meatloaf. Putting them together like that is great, and then look at the wedges of brie packaged together with slices of apple."
Another West Coast retailer, Shauna Howell, director of fresh foods at Larry's Markets, Seattle, said she had returned to Show & Sell several times during the show particularly to note how cases and fixtures were being used.
"These Barker cases are so functional. The combination of self-service and service case really works well in the deli. And there are merchandising ideas you can use, modified, without changing who you are. I've filled up my notebook," Howell said.
Christison said Barker contributes most of the cases every year and the Hubert Co. "just opens their huge catalog and invites us to order whatever we're going to need."
The Sandwich Encounters of the Deli Kind section offered up a selection any one of which looked like it could become a signature sandwich for an enterprising retailer.
Attention-getters included prime rib slices garnished with slices of red onion and a horseradish sauce atop a halved loaf of multigrain bread. The new-look sandwiches were fanned out on a crockery platter. Alongside that platter, another showed off halved baguettes with a line-up of garnished pork tenderloin medallions, creating another unusual, open-face sandwich. The muffaletta, a New Orleans-style sandwich built of cold cuts, olive spread, onions and other condiments, on a round loaf of bread that is then cut into wedges, made a comeback this year.
The fusion cuisine counter starred Meteor Mango Curried Chicken and Jumpin' Jupiter Jamaican Jerked Pork with Wisconsin Feta. The Lunar Cheese Center sported Sonic Snack Rockets -- baguette vessels filled with cheese and meat cubes -- poised for takeoff. In between them, Bake Shop Galactica got its share of attention with Filled Saturn Ring Bagels, Scone Clones, Morning Stars, Winged Mercury Muffins, no-gravity pound cakes, a cake shaped like an alien, and the like.
In that area, too, the cake decorators were competing on-site in IDDBA's sixth annual Cake Decorating Challenge.
Indeed, Price Chopper's Langdon said he was particularly impressed that the cake-decorating contestants were set up to show their stuff right there.
"It made me think we [at Price Chopper] ought to be participating in that decorating competition," he said.
From all accounts, IDDBA appears to have completed its stated mission: "To demonstrate how to create visual and taste excitement by using existing equipment, cases and products. No capital investment, just leveraging what you already have to capture the customer with excitement and adventure in every department."
As it did last year, the Madison, Wis.-based IDDBA offered a free booklet to Show & Sell Center visitors that shows planograms, lists products and their manufacturers, and even the model numbers of display cases. The booklet also summarizes merchandising ideas spotlighted at the center and offers ideas for themes and holiday events.