Doing it right is no longer enough.
At a time when stores across the country are ripping out grocery shelves to make room for bountiful presentations of perishables, the mantras of food retailing -- quality, variety and freshness -- are now merely a starting point.
This year, for the second year in a row, the Retail Bakers of America, Laurel, Md., has sponsored awards to recognize those supermarket bakery and deli departments
that are developing new ideas for products, presentation and services and executing them with vigilant attention to detail and cost.
The operators singled out for excellence in bakery are Harry's Farmer's Market, Atlanta, and Tom Thumb, Dallas, a division of Randall's Food Markets, Houston. Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., and Larry's Markets, Seattle, are being recognized for their deli/food service departments.
These Leading Edge awards are co-sponsored by Supermarket News. They were judged by McMillan/Doolittle, Chicago, a retail consulting firm, from ballots sent in from supermarket bakery and deli executives and suppliers across the country. The purpose of the awards, according to Peter Houstle, executive vice president of RBA, is to present to the industry operations that are taking bakery and deli retailing a step further.
And that is an especially tall order in these penny-pinching 1990s, when staying even is often ahead of the game. For those retailers who are not only trying but succeeding at changing how America sells its food, special notice is warranted.
"The key here is bringing both the innovators and their innovations to the attention of the rest of the industry," Houstle said.
"In essence, what we're trying to do is to raise the level of everybody. This gives new ideas to everybody about how to sell more food, and, after all, that is the job of a trade association, to provide members of the industry with every opportunity to sell more food."
The awards were presented Saturday in St. Louis at RBA's 25th-annual bakery-deli conference. In their first year, last year, the awards were called Pacesetter awards. The name was changed this year because another food industry trade association uses the Pacesetter name for its awards, and requested RBA change the name.
Whatever the name, the purpose is the same, Houstle said. Except for Harry's Farmer's Market, which operates three fresh-format food stores and two specialty takeout stores called Harry's in a Hurry, this year's winners are all privately held companies. Some retailers might say, with a wistful tone in their voice, that these stores have a chance to take more risks than those with shareholders to answer to in this competitive climate. Houstle's answer? "You always have to watch the bottom line. But if we all watch the bottom line, we're all going to end up at the bottom. You have to be willing to take a chance. Consumers have come to expect that quality will be there at a value price. You have to take it a step further," he said.
"If retailers look at the award winners and say, 'I can't do that,' then they are probably missing the point. They say, 'I can't do exactly the same thing that Larry's or Harry's is doing.' But they can look at the idea and what they can take away and use," Houstle said. Prior winners are ineligible to win the same award for a two-year period. Last year's winners were, for deli, Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y.; Dominick's Finer Foods, Northlake, Ill., and Bristol Farms, Torrance, Calif. Bakery winners were Gooding's Super Markets, Altamonte Springs, Fla., Marsh Supermarkets, Indianapolis, and Abco Markets, Phoenix.
"All these retailers continue to do an outstanding job, and were often included by their peers as nominees," said Neil Stern, partner at McMillan/Doolittle, who coordinated the award process. On the following deli/food service and bakery pages this week, SN presents the 1994 winners of the Leading Edge awards.