RICHMOND, Va. -- Ukrop's Super Markets is seeking to take a bigger slice of the wholesale bakery pie by launching an initiative to place some of its better-known products in noncompeting supermarkets.
Numbered among its customers right now are Harris-Teeter, Mathews, N.C., and Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, as well as 11 other chains and independents in the Mid-Atlantic states and in the Southeast, which are served by three brokers.
The 28-unit independent has long enjoyed a quiet reputation for supplying select bakery items from its central production facility to other retailers, but the all-out push to get more wholesale business just started this year. Ukrop's Bakery, which made its official debut during the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association's Dairy-Deli-Bake 2004 convention in Washington last week, has been cultivating retailer-customers for its best-known bakery products over the past year.
The outreach is key in a larger plan to fill the growing operation's excess capacity as one-half of the Ukrop's Food Group. The division also includes the retailer's fresh-meals/deli commissary, though items manufactured there are not distributed wholesale.
"We're targeting customers who are looking to make their bakeries unique with upscale products that have great taste," said Gary Larson, Ukrop's managing director of manufacturing. Helping to build the Ukrop's wholesale business are Cindy Hamner, the chain's manager of external sales, and its executive chef, Tom Pearce.
Indeed, an SN observer reported in-store bakery products bearing the "Bakery at Cedar Springs Mill" label and mill wheel logo in an Atlanta unit of Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets last week. Two flavors of pie, chocolate and chocolate-pecan, with a Cedar Springs Mill wrap-around label were offered there self-service. Pound cakes in clam-shell containers with the same labeling were also offered.
"Now we have a solid foundation to take off from and we can grow from there," Larson told SN. "A lot of retailers visit us and there's certainly an aura of 'great bakery' in our stores, but people don't necessary think of us as a supplier."
Products available frozen to wholesale customers include five stockkeeping units of chess pies, five SKUs of 3.5-inch tarts in the same flavors as the pies, several SKUs of tea breads and cake layers, and 6 SKUs of 17-ounce pound cake loaves. The pound cake flavors include plain, lemon, marble and strawberry swirl, the latter of which was developed at the request of a retailer-customer. Corn bread, biscuits, homestyle rolls and 27 flavors of New York-style, boiled bagels are on the wholesale roster, too.
Indeed, just three weeks ago, bowing to the low-carb trend, Ukrop's added low-carb bagels in three flavors -- sun-dried tomato, multi-grain and pesto -- to the product list.
The line is produced under private label for individual retailers, or can be sold using Ukrop's own "Bakery at Cedar Springs Mill" label. Supervalu-supplied operators in the East currently use the latter in their stores, according to the head of the wholesale operation.
As it prepared to formally pursue wholesale accounts, Ukrop's spent time ironing out packaging concerns and confirming the shelf life of each product, Larson said.
"We have to rely on packaging and quick-freezing to protect the quality once the product is made," he said, noting frozen shelf life of the products range from four to six months.
Signature "White House" rolls and another of the company's customer favorites, buttery pound cakes in 17-ounce loaves, are the products most in demand by its wholesale customers at this time, Larson said. The products are fully baked and shipped frozen for thaw-and-sell. Some, like the bulk White House rolls, need to be repackaged by the retailer, but most can be thawed in their original packages and put on the shelf.