MONTVALE, N.J. -- A&P here has added a New York City-renowned brand of upscale, fresh artisan breads -- Ecce Panis -- in selected units of A&P and in two of its divisions.
After their launch early this month in a new unit of Food Emporium, a Bronx, N.Y.-based division of A&P, the branded breads have been added at eight additional Food Emporium sites, four in Manhattan and four in suburbs north of the city.
Meanwhile, Super Fresh Food Markets, Florence, N.J., a 67-unit A&P division, has put the breads into 10 units in the Philadelphia area. And, after an initial test at two stores in September, A&P has rolled the breads out to 12 of its A&P-banner stores in New Jersey.
Ecce Panis breads, which made a name for themselves at Ecce Panis' five high-end retail bake shops in New York, are produced at the company's 54,000-square-foot production facility in Carlstadt, N.J. A fleet of trucks leaves there in the early-morning hours each day to make deliveries of the fresh-baked bread to the company's retail customers, including its supermarket accounts, Ecce Panis officials said. At Food Emporium, the Ecce Panis breads are merchandised at a service counter dedicated to the brand. At A&P and Super Fresh units, however, they are displayed in self-service cases across the aisle from the in-store bakery's service counter.
"We've upscaled our bakery at the 86th Street store and Ecce Panis breads fit into our quality image," said Robert Damato, director of deli-bakery operations for the 36-unit Food Emporium.
On a recent visit to the new Food Emporium unit on 86th Street, SN noted that the 6-foot Ecce Panis service counter was set in-line alongside a lighted display case that showed off fancy fruit tarts and gourmet chocolates.
The breads, which were being sampled at the service counter, were displayed unwrapped behind glass. Retail prices ranged from $1.79 for olive herb ficelle, a loaf shaped like a baguette, to $5.99 for a 24-ounce, round loaf of raisin-pecan bread. Other varieties included a 16-ounce focaccia for $3.99 and a 24-ounce multigrain for $5.59.
The day SN visited the Food Emporium unit, the store's chef was experimenting using slices of Ecce Panis herb bread for panini sandwiches grilled in the deli.
Damato, commenting on the upscaleness of Ecce Panis products, explained that the breads got their start at The Sign of the Dove, a top Manhattan restaurant. The all-natural, fresh-baked breads gathered a following there and, after the restaurant closed, its owners set up an Ecce Panis retail bakery in the same spot.
Later, four more Ecce Panis retail locations were added in Manhattan. As business exploded and establishments such as New York's Waldorf-Astoria and Saks sought the breads for their restaurants' menus, the company moved its production to a central facility in Carlstadt, N.J.
The bakery company's entry into the supermarket arena is recent. The first chain in the industry to test market Ecce Panis products was Kings Super Markets, West Caldwell, N.J., in the spring of 1997. Now, the chain has the artisan breads in about 12 varieties in all 22 of its stores, according to Barbara Bacci, director of trade marketing for Ecce Panis.
Kings, like Food Emporium, has service Ecce Panis stations in most of its stores.
In each of the supermarkets it serves, Ecce Panis has found that its baguette at $1.99 is the best-seller, Bacci said. She relates that to its price.
"Some of our breads that sell great in our [Ecce Panis] retail stores would probably not be a big success in the supermarket -- like our chocolate bread, which is wonderful but more than $8 a loaf," Bacci said.
Even the raisin-pecan variety, which is a top seller companywide, may undergo a trimming in size to make it more palatable to the supermarket customer's pocketbook, she said.
"It's 24 ounces now. We're thinking about bringing the size down and reducing the suggested retail to $4.99," she added.
The company produces a total of 60 varieties of artisan breads from all-natural ingredients and uses natural starters rather than commercial yeasts in its recipes, the marketing director pointed out. She added that one of the ways her department works closely with supermarkets is to help them decide which varieties to carry.
"We help them develop their initial orders. We work with them to keep shrink down. We also help with sampling," Bacci said. She added that her department is currently exploring ways to help supermarkets drive demand.
Buying branded, fresh-made breads such as Ecce Panis and having them delivered store-direct everyday is a win-win situation for the supermarket, said one bakery consultant. He listed some of the benefits he sees in sourcing such a product.
"First, store-door delivery each morning is great. You know the bread is fresh, you don't have to worry about production. Also, with that type of bread it's OK to run out. If you run out of olive bread or sun-dried tomato bread, the customer doesn't mind because it's not a staple," said Ed Weller, president of Weller Co., a North Hollywood, Calif., consulting company that works with supermarkets.
"You have a product that differentiates you and you don't have to worry about shrink, and it adds an aura, a high-end feeling to the department. Diamond Bakery bread here in L.A. is an example. Ralphs [Grocery Co., Compton, Calif.] has been successful with it," Weller added.
Asked if it's because the breads have a brand -- any brand -- that breeds success, Weller said that does make a difference but the products have to be top quality, and have great taste and fair pricing to begin with.
"In a particular area, the brand itself may sell the product [in the supermarket] because customers are already familiar with it and know they like the products. But in stores further out, away from the area where people already know the brand, the product's quality and freshness can actually sell the brand. So it's a good deal for both the retailer and the bakery," Weller said.
Ecce Panis also produces five varieties of biscotti, presliced packaged artisan breads, and gourmet bread crumbs packaged in canisters. Those products are also supplied to its supermarket accounts.