SHARON, Mass. -- Shaw's Supermarkets has opened its second kosher bakery just months after the debut of its first, which has been posting impressive sales, officials said.
Indeed, that first kosher bakery, at a new store in Canton, Mass., has beat projections by far, chalking up at least 1% more of total-store sales than Shaw's traditional ISB, said Cheryl Schondek, bakery category manager for the chain.
Its newest kosher bakery, part of the grand re-opening of a remodeled unit, is also exceeding expectations.
"Customers are delighted. We had one woman tell us that her husband used to drive to New York twice a week to buy [kosher] bread. Now, she said, they'll buy it from us."
Both stores sit in residential/small business areas that have a heavy population of Jewish residents.
"Clearly the demographics warrant our working with the rabinnical council in Boston to do this. We've met with the council on many occasions, and then with local rabbis," Schondek said.
"And now we have a kosher supervisor who visits our stores often along with rabbis from local synagogues."
While a high percentage of items in all Shaw's bakeries are produced under kosher conditions, what's different at these two stores is that the whole bakery, including the in-store production area, is kosher supervised, said Bernie Rogan, director of corporate communications for the chain that has more than 165 units in New England.
"The entire bakery is kosher and is supervised by the rabbinical council of New England. We have documents displayed that tell the customers that," Rogan said.
Rabbis must sign off on each and every product after verifying that it's manufactured and displayed properly. Items with dairy ingredients and pareve products, which contain no dairy ingredients, are kept separate and color-coded, respectively, with blue and red stickers and signs.
The changeover has required the chain to almost double production space at the two stores since keeping the bakery kosher requires having two production areas as well as separate displays -- one for products that contain dairy products and one for those that don't.
"We made tremendous changes in the backroom. You can't prepare a pareve [nondairy] item on the same equipment you used to prepare an item with dairy ingredients. There are separate proofers, ovens, coolers -- even down to the cleaning equipment," Schondek said.
She pointed out that it took at least six months' preparation just to make sure all procedures and equipment met with the rabbinical council's approval. A kosher supervisor, or mashkiach, employed by Shaw's, and rabbis from three local synagogues, regularly visit the stores.
Most of Shaw's 500 to 800 bakery items, including its private-label Breads of Distinction, meet kosher specifications, but some recipes had to be revised or ingredients substituted -- cannoli, for example. The shells were made by a certified kosher plant but the filling wasn't, so the retailer had to change suppliers of cannoli filling. And kosher cheese had to be sourced for focaccia.
In addition to items produced on-site, which account for about 80% of the mix, other products are sourced from outside.
"Local mom-and-pop, traditional kosher bakeries supply us with many of the products, delivered directly to our stores six days a week," said Schondek.
The layout of the bakery, which is situated in the left front corner of the store, doesn't look different than any other Shaw's bakery, "but the signage tells the story," Rogan said. Also, a grand re-opening wraparound used all month on the chain's circular distributed at the remodel spotlights kosher products. One shows a photo of "kosher Pareve Challah bread," and features two 16-ounce loaves for $3.
A blurb alongside the picture says, "Our bakery is now under strict kosher supervision of the Vaad Rabbinical Council of New England. All bread, rolls, bagels and challah bread are kosher pareve. All other products must be considered kosher dairy unless specifically marked as pareve."
Another ad zeroes in on "kosher Pareve Chocolate Chip Cookies, $1.99 for 10 ounces."
All mainstream items in the two bakeries are kosher and some items like mandel bread have been added to the mix. It all dovetails with Shaw's goal to make "variety, fresh and quality" the chain's hallmarks [see "Supermarket Sense-Sations," SN, Oct. 23, 2000].
"We've stepped up another rung, and we're trying anyway to get our SKUs up to 800 in all our bakeries. We're in a very competitive environment," Schondek said.
The variety and the kosher certification, as well as other features -- like a muffin cart and a cookie hut -- launched at the Canton store and rolled out here, are expected to draw new customers, Rogan said.
"Word gets out in the community fast via the rabbinical council. We have customers shopping Canton that live quite some distance away. There's also a connotation of quality and freshness in a kosher product that non-Jewish people appreciate," he said.