Convenience and freshness top the list of reasons shoppers visit in-store bakeries. With that in mind, operators with successful bakeries are using easy-to-see, low-profile displays and bake-off programs that underscore the perception of "just made," according to retailers interviewed by SN.
nvenience is the No. 1 reason consumers shop the ISB. The second reason is freshness. Rustic-looking Barcelona carts piled high with low-carb products and luscious-looking pies and cakes, flat-top tables, overhead banners, fresh-baked bread programs that attract shoppers with separate racks and lights -- and enticing aromas -- all play a part. They're providing convenience in their own way, showing the customer the product they want is there. A hunting expedition is not necessary.
"We're making sure we highlight and have ample space for the items our customers seem to want. For example, with a large segment of the population counting carbs, it's important that we make prominent space for items such as multi-grain or whole-wheat breads and rolls. But what's interesting is our customers also tell us when they eat carbs, they want them to be indulgent carbs," said Kevin Cronin, vice president of deli sales at Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass., who also oversees bakery operations for the 345-unit chain, a division of Ahold USA.
Taking that "indulgence" comment to heart, Stop & Shop makes sure it trains a spotlight on its pies and layer cakes, including its premium pastry line and artisan breads.
"Positioning within the store also is important. In the new prototype Stop & Shops -- our newest and largest -- the bakeries are at the entrance. That's an indication of how seriously we take our customers' bakery needs," Cronin said.
When it comes to display fixtures, there's a trend toward retro rather than techno or Euro, sources noted.
"We're using a lot of flat-top tables. We've even down-sized those recently. Stacking product high on them makes the display look more massive. We just added new, flat, nesting tables in all our stores that have bakeries. You're able to easily control the configuration of them [because they're easy to move]. The largest are only about 48 inches by 32," said Carl Richardson, vice president of bakery operations at 100-unit Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y.
Richardson said he also uses wagon-wheel carts.
"They create a good visual aspect and they're versatile, easy to move around," he said. "In the last six or seven years, these types of things, I think, have improved the visual image of the bakery, giving it more personality."
Retailer after retailer told SN they're putting a priority on small-footprint fixtures they can load up with product, vs. long, island, multi-deck cases, which they said can overwhelm the customer and are difficult to keep looking good as product sells down.
"We're down-sizing fixturing, going to more flat tables. You have to refill them more often, but they're not ever sitting there looking empty or half-empty. We're getting away from too much over-exposure. From back-to-back tilt tables, we've probably reduced display capacity by a third with the use of tables and a Barcelona cart. It presents the product better," said Bill Mihu, bakery director at 100-unit-unit Schnuck Markets, St. Louis. John Chickery, bakery director at 13-unit Riesbeck's Markets, a St. Clairsville, Ohio-based independent, also favors flat tables. He said they're the right height to quickly show off what's available. Good, large signs help, too.
"We like flat tabletops," Chickery said. "They create a wide-open effect that puts the whole bakery in sight at once. That makes it easier for Mrs. Consumer to make a quick buying decision. Even in the big chains around here, I've recently noticed more low-profile fixtures. It's not all that tall shelving anymore or huge island cases with too many things in them. We're using tables that look like big picnic tables, and the wings [the picnic tables' 'benches'] can be folded down as products sells. We had them custom made."
At its newest store, a 60,000-square-foot unit opened in June, Riesbeck's is using four of those tables up front at the entrance. Two are piled high with packs of homemade cookies. The other two each present a weekly, freshly baked ISB special.
That sales of sweets in the ISB are maintaining a decent pace in this diet-conscious era may be attributed to the fact that retailers are putting massive displays in the right place at the right time.
"We're putting a lot of energy into the sweets because that's where the impulse buy comes in," said Brad Kochenour, director of operations at four-unit Kennie's Markets, Gettysburg, Pa. "Timing is important, too. People watching their diet can pass up a bin of rolls or a loaf of bread, but near the weekend, a tableful of our 'mile-high' lemon meringue pies gets them."
"We've found that a four-foot, round table is perfect for that," he added. "With a high display on them, you're sort of leading the customer to them. Multi-shelves, on the other hand, can present too big a selection. It can be overwhelming. People [retailers] have put so much money into beautiful fixtures, but it's the product and the packaging that count."
One consultant, who has had decades of experience working with supermarkets and the baking industry, commented on the difference in fixtures being used today.
"When the in-store bakery was in its early days and everybody was trying to look more upscale than the next, curved-glass, European-style cases with beautiful wood were the thing. Bakeries are not so case-crazy anymore," said Ed Weller, founder and president of The Weller Co., a Tucson, Ariz.-based consulting firm. "I guess because beautiful cases became the norm. If I've noticed a difference in look recently, it's that the case line has gotten a lot shorter."
Retailers confirmed that service case lines have been trimmed and that self-service displays are increasingly placed out on the sales floor where they are often moved about.
"For Stop & Shop, it has been less about new fixtures or lighting than about positioning within the store and display plans," Cronin told SN. "We've realigned shelves to allow for changes in buying patterns [i.e., making the displays of whole-grain bread more visible]. Where necessary, we've added supplemental display tables. In some stores, near the meat section, for example, we have tables with whole-wheat rolls for burgers and dogs."
A FRESH APPROACH
Essential to hot-bread programs, cycle baking has proved its worth, but operating a steady system day in and day out is easier said than done.
Retailers told SN they're going to renew their efforts to offer hot bread several times during the day because they know that fresh-baked aroma draws customers in and it certainly underscores freshness. The labor situation, however, makes it difficult to maintain a consistent program, sources said. So ISB directors continually are looking for foolproof technology to help them out.
Even with bake-off programs that require no proofing of loaves before they hit the oven, there can be glitches in timing.
"Cycle baking has always been a good strategy. Now, with better computerization, we know more about the consumer's [buying] habits. An operator is better off baking the product closer to the time the consumer will be purchasing it," said Carl Richardson, vice president, bakery operations, at 100-unit Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y.
Technological help may be on the way via new equipment that sounds downright robotic, as described by Carol Christison, executive director of the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, Madison, Wis., who has often pointed out that bake-off programs can sell a lot of bread.
"That's one reason we're seeing more and more products and new equipment that will drive the purchase decision. One new piece of equipment with a small footprint uses a convection oven to automatically bake par-baked rolls and dispense them into self-serve bins. As the bin is depleted, the associate is alerted [by the equipment] to add more to the oven," Christison said.
The equipment Christison described is distributed in this country by Kemper Bakery Systems, Shelton, Conn. SN learned from KBS President Patricia Kennedy that the new system, called Baky, is so automated that the oven need only be filled once a day. A total of 480 rolls, 60 to a tray, can be loaded into the oven at once. The oven bakes a tray at a time and automatically dumps the rolls directly into a self-service bin. As product sells down to a certain point, a sensor tells the oven to start baking another tray, which, when done, will be dumped into the bin. No associate intervention is required.
The automated system tested with what Kennedy said was tremendous success at selected Aldi stores in Germany. This week, the equipment is making its debut in this country at booth No. 4351 at the International Baking Industry Exposition 2004 in Las Vegas.
"I'm going to be there and I'll definitely look at the system," said Price Chopper's Richardson. "It sounds great, like something new and different for the industry.