Valentine’s Day is a cake holiday, and retailers are trying new versions like rose-shaped red velvet cakes and red-iced cake pops.
Valentine’s Day falling on Tuesday could affect sales in a good way or a bad way. Depending on a retailer’s location, opinions tend to differ.
No matter, their sales will probably climb. A National Retail Federation survey shows Americans will spend more on Valentine items — up 8.5% from last year — than they have in a decade.
Bakery directors got ready early, some running ads and building displays two weeks out.
“The day after Super Bowl, we put up a table with everything red velvet — cakes, cupcakes, mini cupcakes,” Robert Breault, bakery director for Pennington Quality Market, Pennington, N.J., told SN last week.
“We’ll also have a lot of heart-shaped cakes … mini, half-ounce cupcakes in different flavors and a lot of things with strawberries.”
Meanwhile, Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets is promoting a “Southern-style red velvet cake” this year for Valentine’s Day.
It’s not that retailers haven’t been selling red velvet cake — in fact many have been doing so year-round — what’s new is that some like Publix are featuring a premium version (left) for Valentine’s Day.
Kowalski’s Markets, in its February newsletter, recommends trying its “stunning” red velvet cake, which has become a staple there.
“It has stood the test of time and is especially popular for Valentine’s Day,” said Terri Bennis, vice president of fresh foods at the St. Paul, Minn.-based independent.
Joseph’s Classic Italian Market in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., confirming red velvet’s staying power, is trying something new with the flavor.
“Up to now, it had been mostly red velvet cupcakes, but for Valentine’s Day, we’ve made a red velvet cake shaped like a long stem rose,” owner Joseph Acierno said.
“It’s packaged in a long box just like you would package real long stem roses. We tried a few of those last year, and they did well, so we’re making more and promoting them this year.”
Red velvet cake is said to be a Southern creation, but in recent years its popularity has spread.
Ironically, Southern chain Piggly Wiggly Carolina, based in Charleston, S.C., is not promoting red velvet for Valentine’s Day. It’s probably not a big deal because it’s available year-round at the chain.
“It is a flavor that’s popular,” said Craig Inabinett, the chain’s director of deli and bakery.
One researcher said consumers’ attention to red velvet cake could be attributed to general interest in Southern comfort food.
“The declaration from Bon Appetit that Charleston, S.C.’s Husk [restaurant], who pays considerable homage to re-imagined Southern comfort food, was 2011’s best restaurant of the year” could be a factor, said Melissa Abbott, director of culinary insights, at The Hartman Group, a Bellevue, Wash.-based consumer research firm.
In cupcakes, red velvet has already become mainstream like chocolate and vanilla, Abbott said.
Inabinett, this Valentine’s season, is using the sheer variety of items Piggly Wiggly Carolina’s bakeries make as a selling tool.
“We have so many things for Valentine’s Day. This year, we have new Ghirardelli chocolate cookies and brownies. We’re featuring those, and then our cupcakes, decorated with whipped icing and sprinkles, in several different counts,” Inabinett said. “We’re also making up little trays with different things like mini cupcakes and heart-shaped cookies. And, of course, we have 8-inch round cakes iced in white, pink and red with Valentine messages.”
He has asked store managers to display the variety on a table right up front, preferably in the lobby area.
“The stores are also adding balloons and flowers and chocolates on the tables. That table and that variety will catch customers’ attention.”
Bennis at Kowalski’s also is counting on variety to punch up sales. The big items at Kowalski’s this Valentine’s Day are a new chocolate truffle cake and chocolate truffle cupcakes. Those will be the focal point on a table that will include a chocolate ganache strawberry “celebration” cake, a premium red velvet cake, and iced cupcakes. Nearby in a refrigerated case are specially decorated cheesecakes.
“Just the variety of items will make customers stop and look. It’ll be hard not to buy something,” Bennis said.
At Publix, the Southern-style red velvet cake got its debut last month but is promoted now in the chain’s ads and POS materials.
“Whether our customers are hosting a Valentine’s Day party or having an intimate dinner ... this cake is a perfect fit,” said Publix spokesperson Shannon Patten.
Publix, known for the quality of its in-store bakery products, has seen two of its creations top its best seller list at Valentine’s Day every year: “Chocolate Ganache Supreme” and “Raspberry Elegance,” a cake comprised of four layers of vanilla cake with a raspberry filling, and covered with cream cheese icing.
Paczki decorated for Valentine’s Day will be the attention-getter at Riesbeck’s Food Markets, St. Clairsville, Ohio, and they’ll also help kick off annual paczki season at Riesbeck’s.
“Our Valentine paczki were very successful last year. We ice them in white and use string icing in red and pink over them,” said John Chickery, bakery director for the 16-unit independent.
Chickery doesn’t particularly like that Valentine’s Day falls on a Tuesday this year, but he said he’d make the best of it by stretching sales through the weekend.
“People will celebrate on Feb. 12, 13, 14, even on the 15th. ... It’s the only holiday I can stretch out like that.”
An 8-inch, heart-shaped cake on special at $7.99 is the best seller, but Chickery expects good sales from a 4-inch heart, too.
“Grandma might buy each grandchild a $4.99 heart-shaped cake.”
When sales die down after Valentine’s Day, retailers try to think of ways to keep sales going.
Riesbeck’s will get heavy into paczki production.
Paczki are very rich, doughnut-like pastries that had their origins in Poland. They’re usually eaten before Lent begins, but Riesbeck’s sells the treats on weekends right up to Easter Sunday. The biggest sales day is the day before Lent begins.
Last year, Riesbeck’s sold nearly a half million individual paczki between mid-January and Easter.
The paczki season was actually kicked off this year in mid-January when a new flavor with peanut butter filling was sampled on weekends.
“Most paczki fillings like prune and apricot appeal to adults but not to many children. So we were looking for a filling that kids would like,” Chickery said. “It’s a cream filling with peanut butter in it. Kids do like it and so do adults.”
Celebrations around paczki already have been going strong every weekend at Riesbeck’s. Accordion players at selected stores, and the annual Paczki Ball, featuring a polka band, the Saturday before the start of Lent has become an event Riesbeck’s customers look forward to. When they’re not polka-ing, customers sample paczki and other Polish food.
In Minot, N.D., cake manager Nyla Stromberg and her team of 10 at Marketplace Food & Drug have been working around the clock to get Valentine’s Day items ready and, separately, to gear up for a bridal show on Feb. 19. At the show, Stromberg’s team will show off what they can do with wedding cakes, and they’ll pick up orders for the spring.
Meanwhile, they were busy doing many things including making cake pops (right), dipped in red, white or pink icing and tossing tiny heart-shaped sprinkles on them. This is the first Valentine’s Day that Marketplace’s cake department has sold cake pops. They’re put in boxes of eight for $24.99.
“We can’t sell them individually — not at this busy time — because of the labor involved,” Stromberg said.
Jumbo cupcakes, iced in red and white and sold for $2.99 each, will make up a big volume of sales, Stromberg added. She points to another best-seller: a cookie bouquet. They’re made with XXL heart-shaped sugar cookies with each cookie wrapped in crisp plastic. The six cookies are then set in a bouquet sleeve.
One of the store’s most elegant-looking Valentine cakes is a simple round cheesecake with only a rose as decoration.
Business for Marketplace’s cake department has been through the roof recently, Stromberg told SN. A flood last year wiped out a sister store across town so this Marketplace is getting many of the customers who would have shopped there.
Stromberg expects Valentine’s Day sales to be terrific. V-Day falling on Tuesday doesn’t bother her.
“It just gives us more time to get ready.”