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Madison wafer maker on roll with 1,700-store Walmart deal

By TED CARTER

The Madison-made Pirouline Swirl has landed a sweet spot on the shelves of 1,700 Walmart stores nationwide.

Those stores may only be a start for the chocolate-cream-filled rolled wafer with the signature chocolate swirl. Strong sales could convince the Bentonville, Ark., retailer to put the DeBeukelaer Cookie Co.’s Pirouline Swirl in some or all of its additional 2,800 U.S. stores, the company says.

Placement at those 1,700 stores reflects Walmart’s high expectations for the cookie born in Belgium 150 years ago and made in Madison since 1984.

“Seventeen-hundred is a big first run,” Walmart spokesman Scott Markley said of the placements the retailer makes for merchandise it selects as part of an initiative to buy an additional $250 billion of American-made products over the next 10 years.

The family-owned DeBeukelaer Cookie Co., or DBC, already has 40 percent of the U.S. rolled wafer market and worldwide sales that Hoover’s estimates at about $22.2 million. Its Pirouline Swirl, the company says, can lay claim to being the only U.S. made rolled wafer, with main competitor Pepperidge Farm’s Pirouette Rolled Wafer coming from Indonesia. A call and email to Pepperidge Farm were not returned.

Stephan Brink, DBC’s VP of sales, did the pitching at the Walmart open call this summer. He emphasized that DeBeukelaer Cookie Co., which originated in Belgium in 1860 as the 1st Biscuit and Wafer Co., invented the rolled wafer and today prepares the baked cookie from products bought entirely in the United States.

Along with quality, value had much to do with the Pirouline Swirl’s selection, according to Brink, who said DBC sells a 10-ounce tin of its wafers for $2.98 while Pepperidge Farm’s 13.5-ounce tin sells for $5.

“It is a better value for the Walmart customer,” he said, and noted that today’s shoppers have a greater awareness of where a product is made. “They do read that message of ‘Made in the U.S.A.’,” he said.

DBC’s 100,000-square-foot factory and warehouse opened in 2007, moving from a nearby plant. It employs about 200 workers and runs 24/7, according to Brink.

Freshness also helped the wafer’s cause in the Walmart selection competition, Brink said.

DBC’s Central Mississippi location helps ensure the wafers hit store shelves within four weeks of coming out of one of the plant’s 10 giant ovens, he said. “We don’t hold stocks.”

Products of other wafer makers take six to eight weeks to arrive in the United States and are warehoused before arriving on store shelves, he added.

The Pirouline wafer is well known across Europe, where the De Beukelaer brand is made and sold by a large company that acquired owner Peter de Beukelaer’s European operations. De Beukelaer decided to move operations to the United States in the early 1980s. After visiting several states, de Beukelaer settled on Mississippi. “He liked the people in Mississippi,” Brink said. “He found them the best to work with.”

The growth occurring in the state at the time and Madison’s central location to other regions contributed to the decision to set up shop in Mississippi, Brink noted.

DBC’s wafers are in most supermarkets across the United States, with the exception of Kroger, according to Brink. Sales are strongest in the South and Northeast and are growing in California, he said.

The wafers also are sold by phone orders and on the Web.

Walmart will review sales of the Pirouline Swirl in January to decide whether to put them in additional stores. That review will come just after the product’s typically strongest sales period – the Christmas holidays. “Yes, I expect us to make it into Walmart’s additional stores,” Brink said.

Next up: Kroger.

About Ted Carter

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