COLTON, Calif. -- Stater Bros. Markets here has begun to spotlight bakery more aggressively, by making it a priority to roll out in-store bakeries chainwide.
The chain, in its 60th year of operation, is giving the department star position at the beginning of the traffic pattern in all its new stores.
It is also retrofitting existing stores to include an in-store bakery where each unit's structure and space permit. Where it's impossible to add a full bakery, the company will supply fresh products from in-store operations in nearby units, as a way to cement a chainwide bakery reputation.
Five years ago, the chain had only 15 in-store bakeries. Now, it has 65 and will put in five more before the end of this calendar year, according to Jack Brown, president, chairman and chief executive officer of the 110-unit chain.
Brown said store-baked products, on average, presently make up 3 percent of stores sales; he added that the department's performance varies from store to store.
As reported in the Sept. 2 issue of SN, Stater Bros. came into its 60th year of operation with $1.7 billion in total store sales.
Meanwhile, Stater Bros. is trying to make changes in all its stores to reflect its increased commitment to the in-store bakery.
The company has upped its product variety in the high-margin decorated-cake category; is baking bread several times a day to snag customers with the fresh-baked-bread aroma; and has suited up its bakery personnel in colorful uniforms, he said.
All this bakery activity is in response to an increase in the customers' demands for products baked in-store, which Brown learned of from his store managers.
"As merchants, our responsibility is to listen to our customers to find out what they want to buy. We heard them when they kept asking about baked products," Brown said.
Weekly reports to Brown from each store manager in the chain alerted him to the customers' growing desires for an in-store bakery.
"In the weekly sales report, there's a column for managers to add comments from customers. And, over and over, that column had questions from customers about when we're going to put bakeries in," Brown said.
When the chain did put bakeries in some stores, customers at those stores were quick to ask if the company planned to put them in others, he added.
The most recently added bakery is in a new 36,200-square-foot unit in Rialto, Calif. This unit, like all newly constructed Stater Bros. stores, situates the bakery and deli side by side at the head of the fresh food aisle, which begins on the right side of the store.
"The presentation up front and the aroma from baking tempts customers from the moment they enter the store. That aroma is very important. If I could put it in a spray can, I'd spray it throughout my stores," Brown said.
Stater Bros. stores bake bread from frozen dough at least three times a day and make announcements over the public address system when particular items are coming out of the oven, he noted.
In older stores, most of which are 30,000 to 35,000 square feet, the bakery was located further in or against the back wall, again alongside the deli. But in stores built in the last 10 years, both bakery and deli have been brought forward.
"It's important to have [deli and bakery] together. We believe there's a synergy between them. A customer coming in for a meal from the deli can get a doughnut or chocolate eclair to round out the meal. Or maybe they just want a doughnut or roll and want to get out quickly," Brown said.
There is not a separate cash register, but the departments are no more than 12 feet from a "speed lane check-out, which has the same effect as having a separate register," Brown said.
The chain has been building on a base of bakery expertise to make sure the strategy is realized.
"We made a decision two years ago to get aggressively into the bakery business and committed ourselves to that position soon afterward by hiring a bakery/deli director. Since then, we've promoted three individuals to bakery supervisor and have put them on the road to ensure quality and that operational procedures are consistent. The most recent promotion to bakery supervisor was just two months ago," Brown said.
In fact, the executive told SN that one of the most important elements in the chain's new bakery strategy is to have consistency throughout the system.
"It needs to be carried out from store to store. The same products should have the same quality and value in every one of our bakeries. That's our aim," Brown said.
Another important element in the strategy is to decisively set off the bakery from the commercial aisle, he said, and one way to do that is to put special emphasis on custom-decorated cakes. That category is also an effective vehicle for good word-of-mouth advertising, Brown said.
"About a year and half ago, we had only about a dozen personalized cakes to choose from. Now there are more than 40. Whenever you get people together for an event and they like the cake, they're apt to ask where you got it. It makes a strong impression," he explained.
"We're a family-oriented store," he added, "and we consider it an honor when customers come to us to help them celebrate grandma's 80th birthday or the baby's first birthday."