ORLAND PARK, Ill. -- The bakery in Jewel Food's newest Jewel Osco combination store here reflects the chain's state of the art in fresh-baked-goods merchandising.
"This is our No. 1 volume store in bakery," Nancy Chagares, vice president of bakery/deli/floral merchandising at Jewel Food Stores, Melrose Park, Ill., told SN. "Bakery is very important to the store. It gives it a fresh and service image. Customers tell us we have better variety and high quality standards.
"It is also where we have everything new. It serves as our test environment. It is state of the art for the chain." The unit showcases the finer points of Jewel's in-store bakery strategy, which includes:
The flexibility of cycle baking to allow production to respond to immediate needs.
The efficiency of a primarily serviced self-service presentation.
And signature programs, such as a crusty bread line that is strong enough to stand on its own as a satellite display.
With such a strategy behind it, the chain feels it holds its own in competition with the Chicago metropolitan area's large number of independent and specialty bakeries, including niche operators that specialize in bagels, doughnuts or breads.
The Orland Park store, at about 100,000 square feet in total size with a 66,000 square-foot sales area, is also the largest in the chain, said Karen Ramos, manager of public relations for Jewel Food Stores.
As in the chain's other 179 stores with in-store bakeries, this unit's bakeshop is a bake-off operation with a few thaw-and-sell items added, Chagares said.
The conversion to all bake-off operations has been going on for years, while selected thaw-and-sell items, such as muffins, have been added in just the last two years, she said.
About 70% to 75% of the bakery mix is baked on site. Still, as the quality of thaw-and-sell products has continued to improve, that product format has become a more viable option. Thaw-and-sell products enable the chain to ensure consistent quality on selected items at all 180 stores with bakeries, Chagares said.
"Many of our customers cross shop. With the thaw-and-sell program, these customers can find the same items in different Jewel locations," Chagares said.
Jewel practices cycle baking. The bake shop is checked every hour, and if it looks like the French bread is running low, for example, an employee can pop more loaves into the oven as the day progresses.
"Industry philosophy used to be that you bake in the morning and sell for the rest of the day. That is not what our customers want. They want to be able to buy a hot loaf of bread whenever they shop," said Ramos.
"Our bakeries are in business all day. At the Orland Park store we bake seven days a week, 24 hours a day. All of the stores bake on weekends and holidays," Ramos said.
As of last year, almost all Jewel bake shops are 100% self-service, with the exception of a few stores that have service counters for whipped-cream cakes and desserts, Chagares said. The Orland Park store is one of them.
"The self-service operation has actually improved our service image to customers, because now the employees face the customers as they work. It was a very pleasant surprise. Our employees are still one-on-one with customers,"she said.
A 6-foot service case for gourmet whipped-cream cakes and pastries was added to the Orland Park store in February. Currently, six stores in the chain have such service cases for gourmet whipped-cream cakes, Chagares said.
"This store does great business in whipped cream. All but a few items are made here," Chagares said. The whipped cream is still prepared from scratch, she added.
While declining to specify bakery department distribution for the chain, Ramos said the bakery's percentage of total store sales has grown over time, as more customers look for alternatives to baking at home.
The proofers, ovens and decorating table are all visible to customers to reinforce the image of freshness for the bakery, she said.
"Our cake program differentiates us from the rest of the market, both in terms of the cake itself and the icing. Most of our competitors do not have as large a cake program as we do. A customer can walk in and out of the store with a personalized cake in about one hour," Chagares said.
Jewel has a well-established cake-training program. Central training classes are conducted to teach new employees how to decorate. The chain is in the process of creating a cake-training video that will be broadcast to the stores, she said.
"We have some very high-quality decorators in all of our stores who love what they do," she said.
Jewel does substantial business in cakes, bread and rolls, particularly around holidays, Ramos said.
At graduation time, some stores have as many as 200 graduation-cake orders for one day, Chagares said.
But Jewel bakeries don't live on cake alone. Breads are equally important to the format, and are presented as such. The square footage allocated and number of items offered are about equal for bread products and sweet goods, Chagares said.
Indeed, the chain has enjoyed double-digit growth in bread over the last two years with its European Bread Company concept, a store-branded crusty bread program, according to Chagares.
In the Orland Park store, the European Bread Company rates a dedicated area for merchandising that includes a custom slicing service. It is housed within the Market Place fresh meals and deli power aisle.
Thus, at this store, the European Bread Company section serves as a satellite display, separated from the rest of the bakery by the produce department. Additional self-service satellite displays are adjacent to the bakery department.
"That is a branded identity for us," Chagares said of the crusty-bread program. "We use the label, but don't have a dedicated shop for the European Bread Company.
"One of the reasons we got into the European Bread Company concept was because we wanted to compete with some of the new bread companies. I think we do very well, when you look at our quality and price," she noted.
Jewel plans to roll out the branded bread-shop concept, with custom slicing service, wherever the opportunity presents itself, such as in remodels or new stores, Chagares said.
In another nod to store-brand equity, the chain uses the Jewel Bake Shop label on a line of gourmet and regular bagels.
The regular bagel varieties arrive parbaked, and are baked-off in store. The gourmet bagels are really a branded product from an outside supplier, but Jewel replaces that brand name with its own, Chagares said.
"We are considering opportunities to do more branded product in the bakery, such as Eli's cheesecake, which we currently carry. We have talked to some bagel companies. It is hard for a lot of suppliers to supply all 180 of our stores with bakeries. That can limit growth in some categories.
"We would consider a situation in bakery similar to what we are doing in the deli, with Home Run Inn pizza, which leases space within our Market Place department. We are open for any new ideas," she said.
Jewel is also a firm believer in cross merchandising and has intensified its efforts in that discipline over the last year, Ramos said.
Cross merchandising is done not only with other Jewel food departments, such as floral and grocery, but with Osco Drug nonfood departments such as greeting cards and cameras, Ramos said.
For example, for Easter, a representative sampling of holiday decorated cakes were on display in the floral department. For St. Patrick's Day, decorated cupcakes were displayed adjacent to greeting cards.