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The most popular fair on earth began with the wedding of Prince Ludwig and Princess Theresa of Bavaria in 1810. The royal nuptials just happened to coincide with the harvest and the tapping of the new brew, so the celebration was on -- ever after, as it turned out. Since 1818, Oktoberfest has been an official celebration in the beer capital of the world -- and what a celebration it is!
The festivities are opened annually by a parade of colorfully bedecked, horse-drawn beer wagons and marching bands, followed by men and women in traditional Bavarian garb -- lederhosen and dirndl skirts -- who rev up spectators as they go along. The party officially begins at the stroke of noon, when Munich’s mayor taps the first barrel of new beer.
If you can’t make it to Bavaria for the world’s biggest beer party, throw one of your own! With 16 percent of the U.S. population claiming German ancestry, you can just about bet there will be a celebration somewhere in your target market area; if not, you can encourage your customers to start their own celebration tradition. Encourage, educate and excite them about hosting a traditional Oktoberfest party, and then provide them with everything they’ll need for one-stop easy shopping.
As many people aren’t familiar with traditional German food, it’s a perfect time for product demos. Try offering Bavarian cheeses, Black Forest hams and Westphalian breads, along with some tangy mustards, pickles and sauerkraut.
Make sure your “taste team” is educated about the holiday, the products and their preparation, so they can help inform your customers while building enthusiasm.
Don’t forget the pretzels. This traditional culinary delight is yet another of Bavaria’s claims to fame, and soft pretzels easily merchandise in the beer department alongside stacks of German beers and German mustards. Bavarian sweet mustards or sharp, pungent Dusseldorf mustard, and brands such as Burkhardt and Hengstenberg are readily available through many distributors. Pretzels make great demos, and as pretzels are already enjoyed throughout the year, adding new flavors and toppings can entice yet another shopping segment to your Oktoberfest promotions.
Another easy and tasty item to demo is Currywurst. Although this spicy snack originated in Berlin, it’s become a staple at the Munich Oktoberfest. Simply grill a Bratwurst-style sausage and cut it into pieces. Then warm a little German curry ketchup, like Burkhardt, and pour it over the sausage pieces. Sprinkle with curry powder and serve with a genuine German Brotchen (bread roll). Be sure to have curry ketchup and curry powder in your display -- the easier you make it for your customers to purchase, the more sales you’ll make.
As with any holiday, displays are key, and effective displays begin with the basics. Obviously, German beer is an essential part of any genuine Oktoberfest celebration. More than 100 genuine German brands are imported into the United States -- including Bitburger, Warsteiner, Weilhenstephan, St. Pauli Girl, Avinger and Pinkus. If you don’t already carry German beers, check with your store’s beer distributor to see which brands are available.
Last but not least, consider using Oktoberfest as an opportunity to enthusiastically merchandise your entire store, including the paper goods aisle. Be sure to remind your customers they’ll need paper cups, napkins, streamers and plates in the official Oktoberfest colors -- cobalt blue and white -- also the official colors of the state of Bavaria. If you’re located in a state where it’s still warm in the fall, encourage your customers to pick up some cobalt-blue and white votive candles so they can have an Oktoberfest-themed garden party.
Bottoms up for a terrific Oktoberfest!
“O’zapft is!” ("The barrel is tapped!") exclaims Munich’s Lord Mayor after broaching the first cask of beer at noon, thus officially opening Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival. The 16-day party attracts over 6 million people every year who consume more than 1.72 million gallons of beer, 200,000 pairs of pork sausage, 104 roasted steers and 480,000 spit-roasted chickens during the extravaganza. While the event reinforces stereotypical images of beer- and meat-loving Germans dressed in dirndls and lederhosen, visitors to the annual event come from all over the world. The folk festival has given its name to similar long-form parties worldwide that are at least in part modeled after the original Bavarian Oktoberfest. The largest Oktoberfest held in the United States is Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati (Cincinnati) in Ohio, which boasts a half-million visitors each year.
Kimberly Wallace is national category director -- ethnic for St. Augustine, Fla.-based Tree of Life, Inc. and currently oversees the wholesaler’s ethnic product initiatives and strategy. She has more than 15 years of experience in ethnic marketing and merchandising. Wallace began her retail career with Sam’s Club as an editor and marketing manager. Prior to joining Tree of Life, she was the category manager for specialty and ethnic foods for Supervalu’s Cub East Region, based in Chicago. She can be reached at [email protected].