Aisle Style

By Michael Juliano

CTW Features

When Maria Brous needed flowers and a cake for her wedding she just turned to her current employer.

Brous doesn't work for a traditional bakery or florist, though. She's the director of media and community relations for Publix, the Lakeland, Fla.-based supermarket chain. She simply relied on common features of a supermarket - bakery and floral departments - to be among her go-to vendors.

Since 2007, the average spending on weddings has taken a considerable hit according to The Wedding Report, the Tucson, Ariz.-based wedding market researcher. After steadily climbing to $28,730 in 2007, the average cost of a wedding was $19,580 by 2009. Many brides-to-be are looking for ways to save money, and the grocery store presents a budget-friendly, easily accessible option. From cakes and flowers to catering and even wedding-planning consultation, many supermarkets have become an all-in-one planning stop.

"It's a good place to start, especially if you're on a budget," says Brous. It can be a launching point for grander plans, or a wallet-friendly way for putting together a celebration.

Wedding Central

When a couple relies on various supermarket services for their wedding needs, they get the advantage of having multiple vendors that work closely with each other all in one place.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Jody Stetzel designs flower arrangements ranging from bouquets to table decorations for brides who rely on the floral department at Hy-Vee, a Midwest supermarket chain, for their wedding. "We have quality flowers, and we really care," says Stetzel, the floral department manager. "We want every bride to have a unique experience."

Part of what makes that experience unique is the store's selections, says Stetzel. "I think we have more access to flowers. We have more access to wholesalers," she says.

Over in the bakery department of the same store, department manager Terrie Winslow crafts highly decorated cakes and hosts customer consultations. Winslow encourages brides and grooms to come in with ideas, choose from a variety of customizable flavors and styles and walk away with taste test cake samples. "I think people are unaware of the specialty type of cakes that a supermarket can provide," she says. "Whatever the customer wants, we can make it happen." The department also offers free delivery and setup services for orders over $100.

To top it off, the catering department can provide food and table service at a wedding reception. Don Mitchell, the kitchen manager, works with the other Hy-Vee departments to match his dish garnishes with the flowers and cake. Mitchell's main focus, though, is preparing something to leave the bride and groom and, just as importantly, the guests satisfied. "We're pretty simple - we do food," he says.

Special Service

When it comes to food, many supermarkets can meet alternative and special dietary requests. "Some brides and grooms prefer or require special diets, like vegan or gluten-free, and we can accommodate that," says Ashley Hawkins, a spokeswoman for Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market. Many of the natural and organic grocery store's locations offer local options, in addition to a robust selection of wine and cheese, for those thinking of a simple, classic cocktail hour. Many grocery stores offer bulk discounts when it comes to buying booze, so if you're stocking your own bar be sure to ask around about deals.

Planning Dept.

Some grocery chains, like Publix, are starting to think beyond the vendor role and offering planning services with on-site event planners. These specialty designers work with customers one-on-one to plan anything from decorations to food for the wedding. "We understand the importance of special gatherings," says Brous, who suggests that customers bring some magazine clippings and ideas along with them to craft their desired wedding motif when visiting with in-store bakers, florists and caterers.

Inevitably, a trip to the grocery store to plan a wedding may not sound like the most romantic idea for many people. But for many people, the fact that a single local store can offer all of these planning services at a budgeted price is enough of an incentive. Just remember that using the supermarket to plan a wedding doesn't necessarily mean exchanging vows in the frozen foods aisle - although if you check your local store, there's a chance they may offer that, too.

(c) CTW Features

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