LANHAM, Md. -- In a first step toward incorporating organic products chainwide, Shopper's Food Warehouse has begun test marketing organic sandwich bread that is baked off in each store's bakery, sliced and wrapped.
The program was quietly inaugurated less than a month ago at two "high-volume" Shopper's Food Warehouse stores in Germantown and Olney, both in Maryland, according to Lou Davis, senior vice president of store operations for the 37-unit chain.
Given the chain's tradition of selling all-natural bakery products, "we felt it was a natural line addition to try [organic bread] and see how it works," he said.
The items are manufactured by Loafin' Around, which was acquired by and incorporated into La Parisienne Bakery, Rockville, Md., April 1. La Parisienne already supplied Shopper's Food Warehouse with other bakery items when it bought the organic-bread business.
"We thought [Loafin' Around] had great products that we could develop and take further, with better economies of scale," said Mark Salman, president of La Parisienne Bakery. "Since we are in the business of marketing unique, upscale products, we felt it was a natural step for us to get into organic breads."
Besides Shopper's Food Warehouse, Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas; A&P subsidiary Super Fresh Food Markets, Florence, N.J.; and about 20 East Coast division units of Costco Cos., Kirkland, Wash., have begun selling items from the Loafin' Around line.
At Shopper's Food Warehouse, the only indications of the new arrival are small signs in the bakery department inviting shoppers to try the organic bread. The items, sporting the Loafin' Around label, are sold adjacent to other bakery goods. In one store, they can be found in a basket display; in the other, the bread occupies a portion of a bakery merchandising table.
After the six-week test period, sales of the organic bread will be analyzed to determine what other products should be added, and what stores should be included in the next round of rollouts.
La Parisienne hopes to entice retailers with the idea of adding organic breads to their bakery product mix by demonstrating to them that the organic label no longer means higher prices and lower profits.
"Because of the original Loafin' Around's limited production facilities, they had huge disadvantages in trying to competitively produce products that would be affordable at the consumer level," said Salman. "Using our competitive advantage, we'll be able to offer organic products at a lower cost to the retailers and thus to the consumer."
At Shopper's Food Warehouse, retail prices for the organic items being tested are "pennies higher" than the next most comparable bread, a multigrain loaf, said Davis.
La Parisienne is also dispatching a traveling road show to Mid-Atlantic region stores, in a parallel initiative aimed directly at shoppers. The in-store presentation will include rustic crates and baskets to merchandise the bread, tables dressed with product and informational brochures, and an experienced employee who can answer questions about the bread or eating organic in general.
The Loafin' Around line currently consists entirely of sliced sandwich breads in sourdough raisin, whole wheat sourdough, seven-grain sourdough, all-American white, sourdough rye, honey wheat, white sourdough, sesame sourdough and blue corn sourdough. It also includes spelt, a wheat-like cousin that does not contain gluten, and therefore can be tolerated by persons who are allergic to the substance.
The Germantown store currently stocks all of Loafin' Around's sandwich breads except for sesame sour dough and spelt; the Olney store has declined to sell only the spelt variety.
With the purchase of Loafin' Around, Salman said plans are in the works to expand the line to include organic "hearth-baked, crusty artisan breads to complement the sliced breads" that could be baked off in the store for sale directly in the bakery.
The renewed interest in organics stems in part from consumer demand, as well as improvements in manufacturing technology and price stabilization. As a result, retailers are being urged to take a fresh look at what was once considered a niche, low-volume seller.
"In general, the trends in the marketplace have been toward an appreciation of better quality foods on the part of the consumer," said Salman. "They welcome good food and don't necessarily expect to pay less for it."