SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The in-store bakery sits right up front in Big Y's World Class store format, and it holds a prominent position in the 42-unit chain's strategy for fresh-foods marketing as well.
At the chain's flagship 65,000-square-foot store in Manchester, Conn., bakery is perched to the right of the entrance, alongside the premium coffee shop, and aromas wafting from one of its scratch production operations are likely to greet shoppers as they enter.
According to Scott Ruth, director of meat and specialty departments, bakery is integral to Big Y's positioning as a retailer with a big commitment to freshness. It also helps to convey Big Y's emphasis on signature items and high levels of service.
The department is committed to specializing in certain important categories, Ruth said, and to clobbering competitors in those categories as a way to make the in-store bakery a destination.
The cream pie category is a case in point. "No one can touch us in cream pies, with our level of quality, and the taste," he said. At the Manchester store where SN interviewed him, Ruth pointed out that cream pies are granted their own refrigerated case in the bakery line-up; five varieties were on display at the time, along with creamy specialties such as cannoli, sfogliatelle and pasticiotti.
The program even features a Cream Pie of the Month, he said.
Doughnuts are chosen as another standout, with a program that used Dunkin Donuts as a target in terms of product quality; then Big Y pushed its own quality levels beyond that benchmark, Ruth said.
To gain such a "best of the best" positioning, Big Y in many cases has to rely on scratch baking, he added, and it does so with the cream pies and doughnuts, as well as cakes and bagels.
Beyond products, the chain, based here, aims high for service in the in-store bakery, Ruth said. While there is a strong component of self-service -- featuring slant tables filled with sweet goods, bread racks in abundance, doughnuts and bagels stored in self-service bins -- the bakery is staffed with "people trained to answer questions and serve special needs," he told SN.
"We offer service as much as possible," he said. For example, the in-store cake decorator works at a large station facing front, making her very accessible to customers, with her work in full view. She is encouraged to talk with shoppers.
Bread is sold by the pound and custom-sliced to order, as well as available prepackaged. Ruth said he considers the by-the-pound merchandising an important aspect of the department's service orientation.
All the 10 bread varieties are offered everyday, and breads are always being sampled as well. The crusty bread is a parbaked program, called Our Daily Bread. Varieties of note include sourdough rye, cinnamon raisin walnut, pesto bread and Kornelius bread.
The cake program is a winner, he added, particularly with specialty items such as an 8-inch "fruit basket" for $10.99, featuring strawberry and peach filling, and with quarter- and half-sheet decorated cakes.
Emphasizing service again, Big Y runs a program offering a complimentary cake for first birthdays; and all birthday cakes are accompanied by free candles.
All the bagels, about 15 varieties worth, are made from scratch. To accompany the bagels, all World Class in-store bakeries include a refrigerated display of cream cheeses in 8-ounce containers, either merchandised in-line or in freestanding fixtures. Having the cream cheese handy in the department has increased the bagel business, Ruth noted.
Another service: the department offers hot Italian bread every day at noon and 4 p.m., and if it is not hot, it is free, he boasted.
The service coffee shop is modeled after Starbuck's in the same way the doughnut program keyed off Dunkin Donuts, Ruth added. The operation is rolled out either as shop or as a smaller bar, depending on the size of the World Calls store in question; the Manchester unit received the first, a full-size operation right beside the bakery and offering a selection of cross-merchandised bakery items.
The coffee shop in Manchester offered a "World Class Combo" of a doughnut and 12-ounce cup of coffee for 99 cents. Another special available was a free bagel with a 16-ounce coffee, which cost $1.25 if purchased with a Big Y express shoppers card.
Signage in the in-store bakery is well-used, as it is in other fresh departments in the World Class format. The signs tout the department's strengths, such as "Fresh Bagels Made From Scratch," "We Boil and Bake Them Throughout the Day!" Signs even sell the staff, calling attention to the "Special Occasions Pastry Chef" and the advent of a custom cake decorator.