LAUREL, Md. -- With the increasingly visible role that supermarket bakeries play in today's fresh-food and supermarket fresh concepts, the Retailer's Bakery Association, based here, has announced it is bringing back the In-store Bakery Conference, after a four-year hiatus.
The conference will be held immediately before the organization's annual bakery convention and exhibition in Minneapolis next year. The one-and-a-half day event, examining best practices in baking, will be held April 23 and 24.
Conference attendees also will be invited to visit the retail bakery convention's exhibit floor, which formally opens on the afternoon of April 24, where they will be able to access a variety of bakery suppliers.
"Even though in-store bakers are part of the retail bakery industry, the players are different," said Peter Houstle, RBA executive vice president, in explaining why the conference was brought back. "They operate under different constraints, and have to emphasize merchandising more heavily."
Currently, planned conference topics include the role of the in-store bakery in fresh meals and solution selling. "In a full-scale HMR environment, such as those operated by Ukrop's and Wegmans, the bakery is an intergral part of the overall HMR program," said Houstle. "In a non-HMR environment, bakery managers must identify opportunities to deliver profitable stand-alone HMR solutions, such as pizza, calzone and other bakery-based foods."
The conference will also examine the in-store bakery's role in "category vs. customer management," Houstle said. The planned session will examine how supermarket operators are developing the most profitable bakery product mix. "The question is should the in-store bakery compete with or complement the total store's bakery offerings? And does the consumer care?"
Other sessions will include a look at trends in consumer preferences, industry distribution and sales, new-product development, product sourcing, new merchandising strategies, and computer use in managing sales, labor and purchasing.
The conference was initiated in 1970 by the Associated Retail Bakers of America to meet the fledgling in-store bakery industry's growing need for operational information about the finer points of on-premise baking. The ARBA, headquartered in Chicago at the time, teamed up with supermarket bakery figures, such as Chuck Austin and Miller Lavengood of Supervalu, to share the association's baking knowledge base in a format most useful to supermarket executives.
At the time, the conferences focused on practical topics, such as the relative merits of scratch bakeries vs. bake-offs or central plants. The programs also included sessions on bakery merchandising and processing individual bakery products for maximum efficiency and profit.
The organization continued to offer the In-store Bakery Conference through 1994 in conjunction with the association's annual bakery convention-exhibition. During that period, the association refined the one-and-a-half-day format to a presentation that consisted of seminars and intensive sessions targeted specifically at supermarket bakery executives.
For example, the programs started to address computerized accounting and ordering, practical costing procedures, packaging and nutrition-labeling questions, and employee recruitment and retention strategies.
Meanwhile, the ARBA became the Retail Bakers of America after a move to Hyattsville, Md., in 1979. Another change to its present name, the Retailer's Bakery Association, occurred after the organization moved to its present headquarters in Laurel, Md.
In 1995, the In-store Bakery Conference folded into the larger trade show. "The RBA had made a conscious effort to integrate the needs of independent and in-store bakery members into one program," said Houstle. "As a result, we discontinued the In-store Bakery Conference as a separate entity."
According to Houstle, the goal was to integrate in-store and independent offerings, and expose bakers from each segment to the full spectrum of retail baking, with everyone benefiting from the shared knowledge. Although in-store bakery sessions continued to be offered as a distinctly separate track, all the convention attendees had the opportunity to attend any of the sessions.
A reassessment of the consolidation was made after bakers who attended the combined conferences indicated that constraints in both time and physical space resulted in a reduced number of sessions that could be targeted to in-store baking.
Impetus for reviving the in-store program also came when the RBA recently completed a change in the organizational structure of its board of directors. The number of supermarket bakery representatives was increased from two to seven, giving in-store bakeries 25% of the directors' seats.
"Our new in-store directors emphasized the need for a more-extensive in-store bakery program than we'd been offering recently," Houstle said. "Although there are some other avenues to acquiring information on operating an on-premise bakery, none is specifically designed to meet the needs of today's supermarket bakeries."
Houstle said the in-store directors have been very influential in helping the RBA do a better job of identifying in-store bakers' needs. "Their presence will help in-store retailers participate more fully in RBA activities. And, as a result, we'll be able to develop programs that better address their needs," he said.
Demand continues for specific operational, marketing and merchandising information aimed at developing and maintaining profitable in-store bakeries. In addition, supermarket bakery executives have to take into account new factors, such as the bakery's role in meal-solution departments, he added.
Although the In-store Bakery Conference started addressing the question of hot foods, pizza programs and other bakery/deli combinations as long ago as the late 1970s, the upcoming conference will take a closer look at the bakery's role based on today's fresh-meals trends.