LAUREL, Md. -- The Retailer's Bakery Association here is dealing with fallout from an apparent misinterpretation that developed when results of a consumer survey referred to "attractive displays" as "the least important" factor influencing impulse shopping.
"RBA members have mixed reactions to the finding," Executive Director Peter Houstle told SN. "Some members say that displays are vital merchandising tools and that consumers just don't realize that displays affect their buying decisions on a subconscious level, while others say the results mean they need to work on sprucing up their displays so they become more of a factor."
Houstle said the association plans to release information next month on the correlation between results of its national consumer survey and other data.
He explained that RBA's purpose in asking consumers to rate factors that influence them to do impulse shopping at a bakery was to see how they ranked different aspects of the business.
"The survey found not that displays are unimportant, but simply that they are less important than quality, price, convenience, selection and service," he said.
"The key is to look at the hierarchy of needs that consumers have about the bakery environment, and attractive displays are ranked sixth highest. A bakery can have wonderful displays, but if the product is unappealing or priced incorrectly, then there's a problem that has to be addressed."
Barbara Harner, bakery director for Steele's Markets, Fort Collins, Colo., told SN she doubted that consumers are not influenced by product displays. "It's hard for me to swallow the idea that if you put products on display, it doesn't matter to the consumer," she said.
Harner feels that displays do make a difference. "It's that first impression that determines how much further into the bakery the shopper will go, and good displays give the department a warm, soft, fuzzy feeling that draws you and pulls you in," she added.
"And I've been in enough bakeries to know that there's a definite difference in buying strategies when a store offers good displays rather than products stacked in a shopping cart or on a stainless steel commercial rack, which are more of a garage sale kind of thing."
Harner said she uses oak fixtures or tables covered with attractive tablecloths at the in-store bakeries in the four Steele's stores she oversees.
John Smolders, bakery director for five Thriftway stores in Oregon, said, "It was the poor choice of words that led to the misinterpretation [in the survey]."
As a member of RBA's In-Store Merchandising Committee -- which is designated to suggest ways to market and merchandise products based on the survey data -- Smolders said he isn't sure what RBA will do to correct the misimpression.
For his own part, Smolders said, he doesn't like large displays, "because if you have a display that's so many feet high and so many feet wide that sells only half the products, you gain very little from it compared with a smaller display that sells through."
On the subject of product pricing, Houstle said, "To a certain extent, the survey confirmed the feeling we've had that to be successful in a retail bakery, whether in-store or independent, you need to build the business around quality, service and variety, not around price.
"We're looking at the survey data in the context of how retailers should price and cost their products. Our concern among in-store bakeries is that product tends to be priced for a loss, not for a profit.
"The attitude among in-store bakeries is that they need to get more of the store's traffic coming into the bakery but they keep hitting a wall of 25%. However, the answer may be to focus on profit instead of sales -- to focus on customers willing to pay the freight for a profitable product rather than competing with commercial racks or a Wal-Mart-type of store.
"Maybe bakeries need to appeal only to 15% of a store's shoppers who aren't coupon clippers."
One of the consumer concerns addressed in the survey was product packaging -- an area of ongoing concern to retailers, Harner said.
Steele's replaced foil pans with ultra-pack bake-in pans for its angel food cakes early in the summer "because we had some complaints that the foil taste was transferring to the cake."
The bakery also stopped using foil to bake brownies in, even though there had not been any complaints, Harner said. "The foil seemed to affect the angel food batter only, maybe because that is more delicate so the taste comes through easier."
Eliminating the use of foil for both products was also cost-effective. "The products travel better without getting hurt," she explained.
Smolders also said he prefers plastic containers for baked goods. "We used to display half the products in shrink-wrap and half in plastic, and we found that plastic offered better product protection and sold better.