DETROIT -- Farmer Jack's Supermarkets here became the first division of Montvale, N.J.-based A&P to begin selling Bakers Square signature pies, following an exclusive partnership agreement with Denver-based Vicorp Restaurants Inc.
A&P plans to roll out the pies to a majority of its divisions, including A&P Metro New York, Waldbum's, Super Fresh, Cole's, A&P Baltimore and A&P Atlanta. The retailer will merchandise eight to 10 varieties of Bakers Square's signature fruit and cream pies.
"We want to offer the best quality in our fresh-food department. We feel this partnership gets us one step further along that course," said Hillary Gray, vice president of deli and bakery sales for A&P. "We see it as an alternative to our 8-inch pies that we always sell. This is really a supplemental line.
"We want to get [our customers] to try something that's a cut above what is available in the supermarket. Particularly for those people that are looking for something more upscale to take to someone's home or for the holiday."
The partnership follows on the heels of an agreement A&P entered into last month with Ecce Panis, an upscale artisan bread manufacturer in Carlstadt, N.J. Gray said the margins in the deli and bakery departments have been very good, with the pies now adding to the sales. She said the signature product lines "clearly differentiate" them from their competitors.
"If we can bring [the pies] into our market and make it convenient for our customer to purchase -- they may not be able to purchase elsewhere -- it's a great customer value and it expands our offering to that customer," said Gray. "It's a win, win situation. It's not just another pie. Or, not just another loaf of bread."
The retail pies are identical to the ones sold at Bakers Square, a casual dining concept with 150 restaurants located throughout the Western part of the country. The restaurant is famous for its award-winning pies, with its French Silk pie being the top seller.
Originally owned by Pillsbury, the then 59-unit chain was acquired by Vicorp in 1983 and has since expanded to include the 150 restaurants, as well as three commissaries, located in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.; Oak Forest, Ill.; and Moundsville, Minn.
The commissaries supply about 35 varieties of pies on average, and have 300 recipes on file. They manufacture the award-winning desserts not only for the company's own two restaurant concepts -- Village Inn and Bakers Square -- but also for Steak & Ale, TGI Friday's, Boston Market and Sam's Club.
"We believe it's an opportunity to expand Bakers Square into more parts of the country than the areas that know us just because we have restaurants," said James Doneghan, vice president of sales and marketing for Vicorp/Bakers Square. "We believe that the Bakers Square name has a real special cache in the pie area -- it's what we're known for -- and, it can really develop into a retail brand name."
According to Doneghan, there will be a "minimal" effect on restaurant sales in markets where the new retail and food-service programs might cross over. He said the restaurants will probably experience an increase in customer traffic.
"Our anticipation is that the brand name, by being in more places, will add value back to the restaurants. It's almost like creating a giant demo program," he said.
He noted that business has remained steady at the Bakers Square locations in Michigan, where Farmer Jack stores operate.
Under the partnership agreement with A&P, Bakers Square will ship its fruit pies frozen to the retailer's units, where they will be baked off in their in-store bakeries. The cream varieties also arrive frozen, enabling the retailer to offer them as a thaw-and-serve product. Defrosted, the fruit pies are good for five days and the cream pies, four days. In their frozen state, both varieties stay fresh for six months, said Doneghan.
In addition, Bakers Square developed a new logo for the retail program that will adorn the scan labels, which the retailers can attach to dome tops and pie boxes.
The rollout is supported by an extensive amount of merchandising materials, including front-window banners, bakery-department banners, counter cards providing a history of the company and its pies, promotional buttons for employees to wear, posters showing slices and table-top displays.
The pies will be merchandised as both service and self-service items. Fresh pies will be displayed in glass service cases and the frozen pies inside separate refrigerated cases, said Doneghan.
Freestanding tables will also display the fresh pies in the front of the store, as well as in the bakery department, said A&P's Gray. She noted that each division will have demo companies on hand in the bakery department to provide customer sampling.
To further enhance promotion, Bakers Square provided divisional bakery managers with substantial informational literature, said Doneghan. A&P has also published a Bakers Square in-store training manual, which further outlines the program.
Presently, Farmer Jack's Michigan locations are offering Bakers Square's traditional 9-inch pies. Additionally, a 6-inch pie, specially developed for retailers, is presently being test-marketed in A&P's Atlanta division stores. Bakers Square plans to add these smaller pies to the product mix of other A&P units beginning Jan. 1, said Doneghan.
Doneghan said that the rollout was timed to coincide with the 1998 holiday entertaining season. During this time, the 9-inch pies will likely be more popular, while the 6-inch pies will sell better during the non-holiday periods because of their "everyday" size.
"People look to the large sizes for the holidays because they have more people to feed," said Doneghan. "A lot of people will not buy a full 9-inch pie because it looks like too much for them and they're afraid they're going to wind up throwing it away."
Sam's Club, Bentonville, Ark., sells only the 9-inch pies during the holidays, said Doneghan. He said the wholesale club began selling Bakers Square pumpkin pies two weeks ago, which is its best seller during Thanksgiving, as well as the apple and pecan pie lines.
For Thanksgiving, A&P will offer the Bakers Square pies in conjunction with its fresh-meals program. While some store groups chose to offer $1-off coupons good toward the pies, others have chosen to offer a free 9-inch pumpkin pie with the purchase of a turkey or ham meal, said Gray. She said the package will range from $29.95 to $39.95, depending on the marketing area.
Upcoming programs pairing the meals and the pies will include the 6-inch pies, she said.
"I don't think we'll do the single slices but will stay with the small pies because it makes a much better presentation," said Gray. "Pies are delicate and when you slice them, they don't hold up as well as a piece of cake might. It works better when you sell just a small pie."
According to Doneghan, Bakers Square's production facilities have the capability to preslice pies prior to delivery. But, he added, "the majority of your business is really whole pies."
Doneghan said the price points for the retail pies will range from $5.99 to $9.99, similar to Bakers Square's pricing structure, but noted his company has no direct control over A&P's pricing strategy.
"Most grocery stores have inexpensive pies that are 8 inches and usually sell anywhere from 'Two for $5' to $2.99," said Doneghan. "This [new program marks] a new price point for dessert products."