Managers at several chains reported above-average sales of traditional Irish foods, including Irish butter, soda bread and corned beef brisket.
"With Friday as St. Patrick's Day, consumers planned events and that increased our Irish soda bread and rye bread sales," said John Colabello, bakery category manager for Quincy, Mass.-based Stop & Shop and Giant of Landover, Md. Both banners are units of Ahold USA.
A number of factors contributed to rosy sales during the week leading up to the holiday. Retailers said they displayed a larger variety of holiday-themed items, and even added some new products. The day fell on a Friday, a good traffic day. What's more, St. Patrick's Day celebrations are growing in popularity, putting people in the mood to buy food for entertaining, retailers said.
The Washington-based National Retail Federation alluded to the holiday's growing popularity when it projected consumer spending for St. Patrick's Day would hit $2.69 billion, well above last year's $1.94 billion. The forecast was based on an extensive survey of consumers in February.
"More and more people see it as a fun day they want to be part of," said Michel Bray, category manager for specialty cheese, at Price Chopper Supermarkets, a Schenectady, N.Y.-based chain of 113 stores.
At Price Chopper, sales of Kerrygold butter and Kerrygold Swiss cheese easily topped last year's sales.
"It was our best sales week ever for Kerrygold butter and we've been carrying it for four or five years. The Swiss did fantastic, too," Bray said. "I sold half a truckload of it in a week and a half."
Stop & Shop's soda bread sales shot up 20% over last year's. An official at the 376-unit chain said its St. Patrick's sales are usually strongest in its Massachusetts and Connecticut markets.
Stauffers of Kissel Hill, a three-unit independent based in Lititz, Pa., doubled its sales of Boar's Head-brand corned beef. In fact, all its fresh corned beef brisket sales were way up, said John Gerlach, the chain's meat buyer.
"We had nothing on featured price," he said. "Just a picture of a delicious-looking plate of corned beef and cabbage taking up a whole half page on the front of our circular."
Competitors in the area seemed to be vying for having the lowest price on corned beef, but Stauffers of Kissel Hill had no intention of setting giveaway prices, he said. In fact, Boar's Head corned beef retailed between $6 and $7 a pound.
"We did give away potatoes with one brand of corned beef, but we had built the cost into the margin," Gerlach said.
"You couldn't do that with fresh rib roasts, but we figure if you can set the stage with a product like this, then do it," Gerlach said.
A brand new product was introduced at Riesbeck's Food Markets, St. Clairsville, Ohio. Known for its store-fried doughnuts, Riesbeck's attempted to leverage ethnicity with its own Irish doughnut, dubbed a "spudnut." A rectangular doughnut, the spudnut is made with potato flour.
Signs throughout the store promoted the product two weeks ahead of time. Consumers purchased 806 of the "Irish doughnuts" at $3.49 a dozen, not an earthshaking number, but John Chickery, the chain's bakery director, was not discouraged.
"Five or six years ago, for instance, I would have had only two Kerrygold products, a cheddar and a Swiss," said Price Chopper's Bray. "Now I have a whole lineup, including three different butters, two Dubliners, a vintage cheddar, even a reduced-fat cheddar, and we had banners and recipes and coupons from the Irish Dairy Board."