AKRON, Ohio -- Change is good. That's the thought behind West Point Market's recent introduction of six new varieties to its focaccia bread line.
The upscale, one-store independent, located here, has revamped its focaccia bread line -- which it sells under the West Point Market Bread Co. label -- by replacing all but one of the six existing varieties and adding a new choice to reinvigorate customer interest, according to Janet Kreiner, bakery manager.
So far, the new varieties, which were introduced in late August, have met with a "very positive" response from customers, according to Kreiner, who says the store has sampled the products on a daily basis since their introduction.
The focaccia breads, which Kreiner calls "very important" to the private-label bread program, generate about 30% of program sales, behind a group of breads that she describes as "everyday, staple" items.
Kreiner says customers "love" the breads, which are made from scratch at store level, where they're baked fresh on a daily basis.
"They're very popular -- not too expensive and ideal for taking home and warming up in the oven," she said.
Five of the seven varieties are available in three sizes: single-serve, medium and large, which retail for $4.49, $6.25 and $7.99, respectively.
They feature traditional, thicker focaccia crusts. The remaining two varieties are available in medium and large sizes only and feature thinner crusts.
Like the previous choices, each of the new varieties is made from one of three dough bases -- plain, herb or garlic.
Out of the six varieties previously sold, the retailer elected to keep its top seller -- an herb-dough based focaccia topped with a marinade of artichokes, Italian dressing, spinach, red peppers and feta and Gouda cheeses -- that accounts for about 25% of focaccia sales, according to Kreiner.
The other, newly introduced herb-dough varieties include one with a topping of mashed potatoes, ricotta, cheddar and chives; and a thinner-crusted one that features a topping of balsamic vinegar, caramelized onions and fresh Parmesan.
The three plain-dough varieties feature toppings of Parmesan-peppercorn dressing, Parmesan cheese and olive oil; fresh garden vegetables, olive oil, lemon juice and seasonings; and a thin-crusted loaf that includes a mixture of chunked green olives, red line vinegar, green onions, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil.
The one garlic-dough variety offered features a topping of honey and whole-grain mustard, Gouda and fresh tarragon.
The new varieties, available through the holidays before they are re-evaluated, differ from their predecessors in that they are both "more exotic" and "homey," said Kreiner.
For example, she said, the garlic-dough variety featuring a topping of honey and whole-grain mustard creates an "exotic" flavor that customers many not have encountered before, while the herb-dough variety topped with mashed potatoes, among other things, provides a great meal option for individuals or families.
In addition to "sampling, sampling, sampling," which Kreiner said is the key to introducing a new product, the bakery department is helping build sales by educating customers on the product's many culinary possibilities.
"We give customers a lot of suggestions -- such as what they can serve with the product," she said.
"We might tell them that it's ideal with soups, can be eaten as a meal in itself, or can be cut up in small squares or pieces [for appetizers or snacks]."
The new breads are also being promoted with in-store signage. Chalk boards are kept in the bakery department and maintained by an artist who regularly changes the message.
The retailer first introduced the private-label line bearing the name of The West Point Bread Co. in 1994.
At that time, there were two or three varieties of focaccia bread -- a number that has since grown to about six, according to Kreiner.
"We decided to revamp the program because we wanted to revitalize it by doing something new and different," she said, adding that the retailer would definitely be bringing previous varieties back at some point in the future.
In-store bakeries in general have seen their specialty bread category offerings like focaccia become more of a staple item in recent years.
According to industry observers, these types of breads will continue to become more and more popular as consumers look for flavors and textures they perceive as exotic or unusual.