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The turkey is still on

Customers buying, cooking big birds despite economy

POSTED: January 13, 2008 5:04 a.m.
Darrell Wiley has seen it happen many times. Folks who don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen will find their way to one of his supermarkets.

"People who bake only once a year will show up and are wandering around the aisles, asking ‘Where do we find sage?’ and ‘What do you do with this turkey?’" Wiley said.

The aisle where most of the baking goods are shelved is a busy place in the store and he staffs it with associates who are knowledgeable cooks to answer questions about everything from nuts to nutmeg.

"The three days before Thanksgiving are probably our three largest days in a row," Wiley said. "We have larger days during the year, such as Christmas Eve or before the Fourth of July, but these are the three biggest consecutive days."

Beginning Monday, his staff will caution customers about buying frozen turkeys, because there is not enough time to allow the birds to safely thaw.

"We tell them not to buy frozen, but buy fresh," he said.

Wiley said there has been no indication that customers are scaling back on their purchases due to the economy.

"We’re seeing just as many people buying all the ingredients to assemble the meal as they have in past years," he said, adding that a growing segment of his business is for customers who want a completely prepared meal.

"Folks will call and say ‘Just do my Thanksgiving for me,’" he said. "We provide everything."

Wiley said that the stores now prepare hundreds of turkeys with selected trimmings such as dressing, vegetables and desserts.

Wiley, who is president of the Georgia Food Industry Association, which is made up primarily of supermarkets in the state, said his colleagues in the industry are also optimistic of a robust holiday season in their industry.

He said the only downside for grocers is related to corn prices."We’re trying to grow ourselves out of an energy crisis with corn," he said. "That is affecting everything in the grocery business to some degree. The first place is in bread products."

With two stores in Gainesville and one in Dahlonega, Wiley has to compete with major chains and feels his stores are doing well.

"Since 2005, it has been a good time to be an independent, just because there are so many large chains that have made mistakes along the way. We make mistakes, but fortunately at our size, we can react to a mistake or if there is an opportunity, we can react to the opportunity."



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