The eye appeal, homestyle aromas and rich displays of the supermarket bakery are just not enough anymore to spur consumer loyalty. While some operators have fallen into a cookie-cutter trap and are boring customers with mundane and ordinary selections, more progressive retailers are seizing store-branded signature items as the ticket to boosted bakery sales.
Retailers across the country are taking stock in what restaurant operations have always practiced -- create a reputation for convenience, freshness and quality, and use it to create a hallmark that touts the department's personality traits and sets it apart from the competition.
"Private label is now perceived by customers as having better quality as graphics and positioning have been upgraded," said Russ Wolfe, senior vice president, perishables, Topco Associates, Skokie, Ill. "Retailers are discovering that private label brings opportunities and they don't have to give up margin."
How can retailers command consumer attention and make a bakery stand out? Bruce Axtman, president, The Perishables Group, a Chicago-based consulting and research firm, says the answer is in the potential for signature items.
"Signature items may well be the right strategy, rather than attempting to elevate the specialness of everything in the bakery," he said.
Creating a point of distinction can be as simple as good timing. For example Albertson's, Boise, Idaho, uses the aroma of freshly baked bread as a signature for the operator's bakery. The chain can successfully produce hot, just-out-of-the-oven bread during the peak traffic periods, like the dinner rush.
Other operators use a special single category or even a single item to institute a signature product. In this instance, consumers can only purchase the product at that particular store, which becomes a destination point. Save Mart, Modesto, Calif., has elevated their pie category to a must-have in their marketing area. Dayton, Ohio-based Dorothy Lane Market has positioned its Killer Brownie so that it has been able to expand into a successful mail-order business and offer licensing agreements to other non-competing retailers.
"The key is quality and how retailers implement a program," said Axtman. "If an operator delivers quality, there is low consumer sensitivity to price."
Artisan bread is just one popular option most operators have in seeking to leverage their store name with a signature bakery item.
While Minneapolis-based Nash Finch offers artisan bread under the Country Classics store brand, the real hallmark of the program is in the variety and selection of the 16 offerings.
"When you offer goods under controlled branding, you have to differentiate the line from the competition," said Mike Baker, vice president, perishables. "The competition has signature items, too. Our Country Classics [artisan breads] may appear to be similar, but the variety and freshness has proven itself able to build brand confidence. Plus, customers can't find these items anywhere else but at Nash Finch stores."
At Holiday Market, Canton, Mich., the ingredients and baking processes of their breads serve as the point of differentiation. The operator uses organic flour, filtered water and sea salt in its recipes, and then bakes the bread in a wood-burning oven. Loaves are priced at $1.99 to $5 depending upon the variety.
"You can't build a quality image selling 'three-for-a-dollar' bread," said John Pardington, owner. "I generally go against conventional retail wisdom. That is why I can retail $10,000 per week in bread. I wouldn't be in business using conventional wisdom. I'm surrounded by chains and we're surviving."
Nash Finch has also identified target markets, backed by creative marketing programs in the bakery as an ancillary opportunity to boost ISB sales. For example, children are one primary target. In this case, the wholesaler and retail operator has retooled the workhorse cookie category. Recipes were adjusted to present only the finest cookies and the wholesaler has instituted a "Kookie Cookie Tuesday," where youngsters can select a cookie for 10 cents a piece.
Some operators are repositioning signature items within the store, bringing bakery to where the customers are and using the nature of signature items to punctuate the uniqueness of their operations.
Nash Finch has created a Cinnfully Good cinnamon roll that is being positioned not only within the bakery department, but also in other areas of the store where cross merchandising and impulse sales can intercept shoppers. The freshly baked rolls are packaged in a box that has a window so that customers can see the sweet dough item with its thick layer of cream cheese frosting.
Besides the bakery department, Cinnfully Good cinnamon roll displays are located in the coffee aisle, adjacent to the milk in the dairy case and, if the unit has the volume to support it, at the front end.
The wholesaler additionally repositions French bread at the front end as part of its Fresh at Four campaign, similar to Albertson's strategy.
"French bread is baked so that some is ready for sale at 4 p.m.," said Baker.
As more and more operators seek to use signature items to command consumer attention and gain loyalty for the bakery, supermarkets are shifting the focus of the ISB from production-oriented to customer-friendly. Topco is among those working with manufacturers to develop signature bakery items.
"We are looking at quality items that give the perception of back-room preparation," according to Marc Kurkiewicz, director of perishables.