Which cakes and pies to feature during the holidays isn't the only decision bakery managers face as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah approach. Retailers surveyed by SN said the holiday season is the trickiest time of year in terms of operational challenges such as staffing, increased production and selective outsourcing. Bakery managers said their regular staff will be working overtime, and several said they will hire temporary help or college students home for the holidays.
While several retailers said they will definitely outsource certain specialty items, others said they won't need to or don't want to. Pat Oliva, deli and bakery buyer for Kash n' Karry Food Stores, Tampa, Fla., said she already relies on some "good quality" thaw-and-sell products to round out her holiday offerings. She said as the season approaches, more bakers will work during the third, late-night, shift, "to get everything ready and have the shelves nice and full early in the morning." Bob Beaudoin, bakery specialist for Copps Corp., Stevens Point, Wis., said he relies on premade cookies and cakes to get through the holidays. "We plan a lot of it ahead, and freeze the product so it's available when we need it," he said. "We produce it at off-beat times." He said shelf-stable products are also a boon during the holiday season, because they don't tie up precious refrigerated space. Beaudoin said he does not plan on introducing many new products during the holidays this year. "We have been in the business long enough so we have a lot of things we have a reputation for, fruit cake being one," he said. Dan Kallesen, director of bakery for Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., said an annual decorating contest encourages his staff to be creative. "The decorators come out with a lot of new ideas," he said. Harp's Food Stores concentrates on popular traditional items, rather than introducing new ones during the holidays, he said.
Kallesen said he sells shelf-stable pumpkin pies but stays away from thaw-and-sell products. "It would be tough to have the refrigerated space for the amount of pumpkin pies we sell," he said. "We want to be unique, though. If we were to use thaw-and-sell, we would be just like any other bakery in town."
Ed DeYoung, director of bakery operations at D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, Mich., said he plans to expand his variety of baked goods about 10% during the holiday season, with holiday cakes and bread wreaths and candy canes, among other products. Matt Hieb, director of human resources at Dorothy Lane Market, Dayton, Ohio, said the two-unit upscale chain will not bring in any outside items. Hieb said a great deal of production will be done at night. "In those kinds of situations, we'll be baking about 24 hours a day," he said. Tim Kean, buyer for bakery and deli at Pay Less Supermarkets, Anderson, Ind., said his chain will concentrate on traditional items. "We sell a tremendous amount of pumpkin pies," he said. Several of the chains will be hiring temporary help. Kash n' Karry's Oliva said the chain often hires back retired workers through the holidays. Some temporary employees come to work in October and stay until Easter, she said.
Despite the additional help, Oliva said she plans to have a baker in each store whenever possible, so customers can smell fresh-baked goods. "It will draw them over to the bakery," she said. DeYoung said D&W will hire temporary help. "We do bring in some temps to help us with packaging and so forth. But obviously, when it comes to the baking and production, we have to use existing bakers," he said. "We try to understand scheduling and make it as efficient as possible during that period of time."
Hieb said Dorothy Lane will hire back college students who are home on vacation. He said current part-time employees, particularly high-school and college students, usually want more hours when they're out of school. Hieb said his regular staff would also work some overtime. "Everybody kicks it about three gears into high speed and gets it done," he said. Kean of Pay Less said he would be adding more help, on top of increasing the hours of regular employees.
Beaudoin of Copps Corp. said he does not plan to hire temporary help. "We usually try to get through it with what we have," he said. Kallesen of Harp's Food Stores said he does not hire temporary help and tries to minimize overtime as much as possible. "We make sure we're fully staffed," he said. "We'll definitely do third shift [production]," he said.
DeYoung said D&W Food Centers holds a holiday show every year, which all bakery managers and store directors are asked to attend. At that show, all the holiday products the chain will feature will be shown. DeYoung said this holiday season presents a special challenge, because Christmas falls on a Sunday. "Understanding how business is going to run Monday through Saturday based on best estimates as to when people are going to shop is an operational challenge."