"Buy me." That's the message in-store bakery executives want their rolls, pudding cakes and cookies to communicate.
To make their goods call out to customers, retailers interviewed by SN about packaging trends said they're finding that, despite pressure to trim costs, pricey see-through containers have a valuable allure.
Traditional foam trays with overwrap are cheaper than the clamshell containers
and dome packages that have come into the market in recent years, but in the impulse-driven bakery department, their payoff is not always as high, retailers said.
In some cases, retailers told SN, domes and clamshells and other new packaging options have helped boost sales upwards of 20%.
Both dome packs and clamshell packs show off the product well, and they can be stacked easily for mass merchandising. They also keep the product fresh longer than overwrap or windowed boxes, and they protect it against damage while it's being carried home by the customer, retailers said.
They also said such packaging can enhance the store's image and set the product apart from rivals on the commercial rack, which typically are packed in boxes.
New foil pans with clear dome tops have done a good job of boosting sales of cinnamon buns at Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif., said Rick Piccinini, bakery merchandising manager for the 95-unit chain. The chain used to pack its buns on foam trays in poly bags.
"The pans have a much better appearance and keep the product fresher," Piccinini said, pointing out that since the rolls are baked in the pans, their sides are protected at all times. That helps retain their moisture.
"The packaging gives us a better image and we can mass-merchandise better, stacking the packages three to four high," he added.
In a test, one Save Mart store displayed the buns in dome-topped pans alongside cinnamon buns packed the old way. The domed pans sold out first, Piccinini said.
One of the larger independents supplied by Certified Grocers Midwest, Hodgkins, Ill., recently switched from regular plastic bags for its bread and rolls to more expensive "crystal clear" polypropylene bags, said Chuck Chiodo, vice president of bakery. Certified Midwest supplies some 200 stores with bakeries. "The polypropylene bags are like wrapping the bread in cellophane. They make the product sparkle," he said. Like Save Mart, the retailer did a side-by-side test, and the new packaging sparked better sales than the traditional bags, Chiodo said. Despite a big cost difference -- 3 cents each, compared with three-tenths of a cent for the previous packaging -- the payoff has been sales up by as much as 25% to 30%, Chiodo said.
A new dome container for angel food cakes at Parkway Pastries, the central bakery for Dierbergs Markets, Chesterfield, Mo., a 14-unit chain, is "significantly more expensive" than packaging the retailer had been using, but it has also helped sales, said Pete DeRum, director of operations for the central bakery. The dome has a small indentation at the top that nests within the hole in the center of the cake. "They display and get home to the customer better. They can be used in place of poly bags that get sticky [from the cake]. The dome makes the cakes more attractive," DeRum said, adding that the chain feels the payoff was worth the investment.
The bakery director of a large East Coast chain that operates more than 100 stores said high-visibility, clear-plastic packaging is "far and away superior" to other types of bakery packaging and is the best way to spur impulse sales. "This past year we have been much more aggressive with it. Now we are even putting 10-inch pies in clear plastic, which we used to put in window boxes. We saw a dramatic increase in pie movement on that size when we put it in clear plastic. "The same thing happened with butter cookies. We offered them prepackaged in family-size clear-plastic containers and had phenomenal sales this year. We think some of that has to be attributed to the packaging," said the executive. Higher visibility is the key, he said, adding that his company's bakeries used no boxes this past year, only see-through packages. "The window boxes, when stacked, do not afford much of a view of the product except for the top level. The clear dome packaging also helps to set off our bakery items from commercial baked goods. There is less chance of our bakery items being mistaken for something brought in from the outside."
Heinen's, Warrensville Heights, Ohio, is using more expensive packaging for its cakes, and the independent's bakery director, Roxane Johnson, said she believes it's been worth it. "We are using an upscale board box and dome for the cakes. We want to make them look like they are worth a lot more. We feel we are selling more cakes," she said. Seessel's, Memphis, Tenn., also has found clear packaging a boon to sales.
"Over the last two years we have switched from boxes to plastic packaging and that has made a big impact on sales. The products seem to sell better in plastic than in boxes," said John Barnard, director of bakery operations for the 10-unit retailer. Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., has invested in more expensive packaging for quarter-sheet cakes, which are considered the backbone of its bakery, said Dan Kallesen, director of bakery for the 26-store chain. "We invested in cake domes for them so people can see the whole cake. They also stack better than in boxes. We don't worry about the cost of packaging if it helps sales of gourmet or signature-type items," Kallesen said. Like Kallesen, Save Mart's Piccinini said the retail price of the product is an important ingredient in deciding to upgrade packaging.
"Our family-pack of cinnamon rolls sells for $3.29. This [the dome] packaging costs about 10% more than I like to spend, but it is well worth it to get increased sales of an item that sells for more than $3. It may not make sense to do this for a 99-cent bakery item, but in this case we feel the sales increase paid for the increased cost of packaging," Piccinini said.
Damage control provided by improved packaging was cited as another plus.
While a package may cost a little more money, it might also literally save the product, as well as selling more of it, said Barnard of Seessel's. Seessel's learned this after an experience with a pie container that was less expensive but did not hold up, he said. "We only tried it on a limited basis, but we got complaints from customers and also from associates at store level because it would not package well for them," he said. A sturdier or clearer package may cost a quarter-cent or half-cent more than another package, but if the less expensive package falls apart or does not present the product well to consumers, lost sales may exceed the higher cost of the alternative packaging, Barnard said. "If it is not that big an added expense, we will pick up the clearer package or one that does not break or tear. Appearance has to be the No. 1 issue. If the packaging doesn't present the item properly or enhance the image of the product, it does not justify buying it," he added. "If you buy a plastic pie container that will split when the customer opens it, it doesn't matter if you have saved 5 cents or 2 or 3 cents on packaging. You want a container the customer will like. If the customer has trouble with the container, it won't help you." Some packaging is particularly designed to preserve the integrity of the product. Chiodo said some of the independents supplied by Certified Midwest, for example, have chosen to use a clear plastic clamshell with pockets for cupcakes so the cupcakes will not overturn in the package. Dierbergs is looking at 3-ounce glazed fried pies for which new packaging is available that "nests" the pies, DeRum said. Several retailers pointed out that bakery items in clear plastic packaging may also receive better attention from baggers at the front end because they can see what they are handling and how fragile it may be. "Packaging decisions have to do with image and customer satisfaction," said Chiodo of Certified Midwest. Bearing those factors in mind, there are still some instances when a less expensive package actually is the better choice, he said. "Some of our independents have switched from paperboard window boxes to clear-plastic clamshell packaging for pies, cakes, hoagies and cupcakes. The clear-plastic containers cost less than the boxes and merchandise the product better, because it is fully visible to the consumer," said Chiodo. And Harp's has switched from two-piece dome and base packages to hinged, clear packs for its angel food cakes and pudding cakes, said Kallesen. "Packaging is quicker in terms of labor when working with one piece that is hinged. The hinged dome is also a little less expensive. We have been trying it in a couple of stores and now plan to go companywide with it," he said. "A few stores were still using plastic overwrap on those cakes, but now that has been done away with as a matter of company policy," Kallesen said. "Consumer reaction has been positive and there's a positive impact on sales. With the hinged dome we can stack the cakes and they really sell better. And employees like it because it's just one piece. They don't have to get a top and bottom." Sometimes, too, it is possible to make less expensive packaging look better than something more expensive, depending on the product, said Bob Matteson, bakery supervisor at Food Circus Supermarkets, Middletown, N.J., a 12-unit chain. "For example, you can overwrap an item. You can put foam under a pie and overwrap it. That is not costly at all and it looks nice. Or put a plastic dome under the pie and overwrap it with the wrapping machine. That makes it look more like a pie made in-store vs. a pie in a box that could be commercial," he said. Price is only one factor to be considered when making a packaging decision for a bakery item, and it is never the No. 1 factor, retailers said. The foil pan and clear dome packaging that Save Mart is using for its cinnamon buns costs a full 21 cents more than its previous poly bag packs. "But the price difference is worth it," Piccinini said.
"You are out there to sell your product against everyone else's. Price is No. 2. Packaging itself has to be No. 1," said Barnard. And there are ways to compensate for the increased cost of higher-grade packaging, retailers pointed out.
Making a product look better with new packaging could justify a boost in retail price, some said.
"If it looks better than what I have right now, I would make the change, and if the packaging price is higher, I could make an adjustment in the retail price" if the package is going to increase sales, said Matteson of Food Circus. While Save Mart chose to not pass the increase in its cinnamon bun packaging along to customers, the chain cut total packaging costs by standardizing.
About a year ago, the chain standardized its entire packaging program so particular packages would be good for a number of products, Piccinini said. "In the past, we would have one container good for only one product," but now standardization has brought costs down because the stores have less inventory on hand and now there is greater uniformity throughout the company, Piccinini said. Price is the No. 2 consideration when deciding upon a bakery package, Piccinini said. "No. 1 is the quality of the packaging and how it will present the product."