Kings Super Markets has been partnering with independent bakeries, spotlighting their brands and building sales for both
Once upon a time, supermarket in-store bakeries and surrounding retail bakeries were rivals, even enemies. Not any more.
Kings Super Markets, Parsippany, N.J., epitomizes recent trends in the industry. Adding a new wrinkle to the local foods trend, some supermarket in-store bakeries have made independent retail bakeries their business partners.
David's Cookies and Zabar's sourdough bread, in full-branded dress, are top sellers in Kings' in-store bakeries, and that's no accident.
“In the past five years, it has turned from hate-hate to love-love, and now the relationship [with independent retail bakeries] is stronger than it ever has been,” Kenneth Downey Sr., director of bakery sales and merchandising for 24-unit Kings, told SN.
“There are retail bakers opening up 50,000-square-foot wholesale facilities now just to sell the product they're famous for to supermarkets.”
There's no doubt it's a win-win situation for both parties. Obviously, it means additional sales for the retail bakery. Then, for the supermarket's ISB, sourcing items that are already known and revered by its customers is an undisputed plus.
“Generally, I wouldn't put a [retail] bakery's name on something unless they were famous, or my customers already knew them and liked them,” Downey said.
“Kings' customers are known for telling us what's on their mind. We cater to a very savvy clientele,” he added. “A while back, they started asking for bread from New York City, so I started investigating.”
Downey said he found out he could do it, and do it profitably, so he's now dealing with six of the big bread bakeries in New York, and he makes it clear in ads and in-store whose bread it is.
“They deliver it warm every morning, and our customers love it.”
It all started with sourcing bread from well-known New York bakeries, then the relationships expanded to sweet goods.
“From the bread category, it snowballed,” he said. Next was cheesecakes from Junior's in Brooklyn — considered by many locals to be the best in the city.
“Five years ago, we dealt with maybe three or four outside bakeries. Now it's 15.”
Downey looks for the best of the best. He sought out David's Cookies in nearby Fairfield, N.J.
“I think our David's Cookies, which we bake everyday from David's dough, are the best store-baked, gourmet cookies in the marketplace,” Downey said.
His customers certainly took note. Soon after Kings began selling David's Cookies a little over a year ago, overall cookie sales jumped 25% in its ISBs.
“David's is one of our best branded products, because of their quality, and also because people knew of them from the city, and from David's mail order business.”
Officials at David's Cookies had positive things to say about the arrangement.
“Kings is not just a regular supermarket. They've taken [their business] up to a higher level, and it's an honor to be part of that,” Luis Florencia, vice president of new business development at David's, told SN.
“We're two top-quality New Jersey companies working together … a good combination for success.”
David's sells its gourmet cookie dough to Kings frozen. Then Kings' ISBs bake the cookies fresh every day.
“The thing about dealing with retail bakeries is that the good ones are usually famous for something,” Downey said. “The key, the big key, is to bring in the best item each bakery makes. So we might buy one line each — their best — from 10 different bakeries, and, all of a sudden, Kings is selling the best things they could be selling.”
Most of the branded products touted by Kings in their in-store bakeries have either been requested by customers or they are at least a familiar entity. Take Junior's Cheesecake, for instance.
“A lot of people in our area know Junior's from Brooklyn,” Downey said, explaining that many New Jersey residents formerly lived in Brooklyn or one of New York City's other boroughs.
On a rare occasion, when Downey finds a super-quality product he likes and is almost certain his customers will like it, he's apt to use its brand to help market it, even if his customers are not familiar with the brand. In such a case, though, he sets about “romancing” the product, selling its panache.
Bindi-brand cakes are a case in point. They're very attractive, high-end cakes that now occupy a featured spot in Kings' pastry display cases, and they sell well, Downey said.
“We told the whole Bindi story in our circular and in-store, and talked about it — about the recipes, and the cakes being imported from Milan, Italy. We said that just shortly before, those cakes were pulled out of the oven in Italy. People love that. We've had that program for four years and it just gets better and better.”
On a visit to one of Kings' New Jersey stores, SN noted that Bindi cakes stood out in a 10-foot, brightly lit pastry case, which was the first element seen upon entering the traffic pattern.
Appealing-looking fruit tarts, too, and a variety of 3-inch, round cakes also were attention-getters.
“In 15 of our stores, we have a high-end pastry case, positioned exactly that way, and we'll do that in stores as we remodel them.”
And doubling down on brands that are near and dear to customers' hearts (and taste buds) has served Kings well. For one thing, the addition of retail bakery brands has helped boost variety.
“We have nearly doubled the selection we had five years ago,” Downey said, adding that products from outside retail bakeries have played an important role.
“It also offers customers convenience — the convenience of getting their favorite New York bread, for instance, in their own neighborhood.”
Downey added that the well-displayed brands known for their quality strengthen Kings' image as a high-end, gourmet, niche retailer.
“It makes us unique in our market.”
In addition to a tight focus on well-known brands, the company works at emphasizing the freshness of its products — not just that the products indeed are fresh, but also showing the customer how fresh they are.
“You have to have theater,” Downey said. “Yes, customers want to find their favorite bread from New York, and Junior's Cheesecake, but they also want to see some action in the store. They want to know that we're a working bakery.”
He pointed out that associates can be seen packing up boxes of freshly baked cookies and muffins. In fact, the day SN visited, an associate could be seen not only replenishing the David's display, but also carrying trays of fresh-baked product to a self-service case that held muffins and doughnuts.
Customers like it when you tell them just how fresh something is, Downey said.
“Take our Kings traditional baguette. When we began time-stamping them, our sales doubled, almost overnight. Same baguette, but now the customer knows — because of the stamp on its package — exactly when that baguette came out of the oven.”
Kings also bakes off Italian bread throughout the day, providing an enticing aroma that wafts through the front of the store.
The theater dovetails well with the prominently displayed brands and serves Kings well.
“Our cut-out [in the ISB] of store sales is well above the national average,” Downey said. “And, believe me, if it weren't profitable, I wouldn't be doing this.”
But Downey is constantly tweaking, he pointed out.
“Every eight weeks, we do an SKU rationalization for the whole department. If an item isn't bringing in what we want, it's out.”
Downey is constantly looking for new items, too. He goes to bakery shows to see what's new and brings in what he thinks will sell.
“Who knows, there may be something in the works that I don't even know about that will be the best in its category when it comes out. I'm looking all the time.”
Even though he offers several Italian breads that sell well, he's bringing together manufacturers from across the country for a cutting this month. “Just to stay on top of things.”
For back-to-school, Downey discovered a spectacular-looking cupcake that's now an exclusive at Kings. They're 6-ounces each, two-to-a-package, Sesame Street character cupcakes, complete with the characters' unique fur made of frosting.
“They're a little big for school lunch,” Downey said. “I think more for an after-school snack. I know they're going to be hot.”
While he's always looking, Downey was especially kept on his toes during the height of the recession.
He didn't reduce staff or product variety, but he checked the cost of every single item, he said, including packaging.
“We did OK during the economic downturn. At the worst, our sales were flat. I cut volume, made smaller displays, but we kept the same variety, and did everything we could do to keep on doing business like we had been.”
Downey said he sees evidence the economy is lightening up.
“For one thing, we're selling more high-end items now. High-end cake sales are coming back.”