Eating turns into stream of holidays

Posted: Sunday, November 14, 2004

Feeling festive? Stock up on mustard, vinegar and oregano, and plan to give away some zucchini.

That's because the food industry's marketing wizards have deemed August time to celebrate National Mustard Day, Vinegar Day, Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor's Porch Night and More Herbs, Less Salt Day.

And that's just a warmup for September, which is National Biscuit-Chicken-Mushroom-Potato-Rice Month, and home to Hug a Texas Chef Month, National Waffle Week and Fortune Cookie Day. It's not your imagination. The calendar is increasingly crowded with manufactured holidays aimed at getting consumers to eat more of a surprising and sometimes oddly paired variety of foods.

Vegetarians and pork lovers both claim October. But that's not the half of it. Take note that it's also cookie and popcorn month as well as National Dental Hygiene Month.

''In the last 10 years there's been kind of an explosion,'' said Holly McGuire, editor of ''Chase's Calendar of Events,'' an annual directory of holidays and special promotions.

That's partly because it's so easy to create these holidays. Love a food enough to celebrate it? You've got a holiday. Unlike federal or state holidays, events such as Peanut Butter Lovers' Month (November), National I Want Butterscotch Day (Feb. 15) and Eat Dessert First Month (May) are unregulated.

''There's just as much amateur sponsorship as there is professional. July is blueberries month. Of course, the blueberry board sponsors that,'' McGuire said. ''If you want to sponsor hot tamales day, no one's going to stop you.''

Sinkie Day, celebrated the day after Thanksgiving, was created by a California man who likes to eat leftovers over the sink and wants others to do the same.

Droves of food industry groups have declared days, weeks and months in honor of the edibles they sell. Originality and efforts to celebrate the events are the only requirements for getting them listed in ''Chase's.''

It's not as silly as it sounds, said Michael Mazis, a marketing professor at American University. There is a long tradition of successfully pairing products with holidays think candy and flowers on Valentine's Day.

And though National Fig Week (Nov. 1-7) is unlikely to become the next Thanksgiving or Halloween, Mazis said that for most of these industries the chance for even a little publicity is worth the effort.

''After all, if you're a fig producer, how much publicity can you get (the rest of the year),'' he said.

''This might be the one time of the year when you can get a little bit of PR.''

Joseph Simrany, president of The Tea Council of the USA, acknowledges that few people know January is National Hot Tea Month or June is National Iced Tea Month, but says awareness has grown since they were created 10 years ago.

His group spends nothing promoting the events beyond mailing out press releases. The goal is to get media organizations to use the promotions as hooks for stories on the featured foods.

National Seafood Month (October) is a bigger deal for the National Fisheries Institute, which spends more than $20,000 a year promoting the event to restaurants and retailers.

Linda Candler, the group's spokeswoman, said the payoff is worth it. Though she, too, says most people don't know about the month, seafood sales generally go up in October.

And she doesn't mind sharing. October also happens to celebrate sun-dried tomatoes, country ham, chili, cookies, popcorn, pork, spinach, vegetarian food and no salt week.

''They all sound good,'' Candler said. ''Maybe we could do a co-promotion event.''



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