MINNEAPOLIS -- Price Chopper Supermarkets calls off-site, standardized training the key to an in-store bakery success story that's based on offering the freshest of fresh and the best of customer service.
The Schenectady, N.Y.-based chain's bakery training specialist Linda Droege described the evolution of the direction-changing program to attendees at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association's annual seminar and expo here last week.
She said an accelerating employee turnover rate, the chain's expansion geographically, and lack of product consistency from store to store were major factors that drove Price Chopper to focus on standardized training for bakery managers and associates. At the same time, customers were demanding more variety and hot-from-the-oven freshness. Demographic diversity and emerging ethnic strongholds played into the picture, too.
"We had customers looking for products we weren't offering. You can't sell them what you want to sell them. And we did want to be perishables-dominant in our market area. We wanted our bakeries to be a destination," Droege added.
Toward that end, the company, over the last few years, developed artisan breads made from scratch, using all-natural ingredients, two other from-scratch programs -- doughnuts and bagels -- and a fancy pastry program to differentiate itself in a very competitive marketplace. Considering production was getting more complex, training associates was no easy task, Droege pointed out.
"After we had consulted with culinary schools and employments specialists from area colleges and universities, it became clear that nobody could offer solutions -- that Price Chopper itself would need to place greater emphasis on specialized training of its associates," Droege said.
The first piece to be put in place three years ago was a 6,200-square-foot, fully equipped training facility near the chain's corporate offices. There, associates get training in all phases of production but also in communicating with customers.
"Our customers have told us that they expect interaction and we didn't want to get away from the personal touch, especially since technology can be so dehumanizing," Droege told SN.
"In the training, we've put emphasis on cycle baking and expanded product categories, and associates develop an understanding of how to best match a customer to a purchase selection," Droege said.
She went on to explain that the systemized training has helped preserve the three programs that distinguish the 101-unit chain in its market area.
"For example, even though bagel sales have dropped generally around the country, our sales in our Bagel Factory Cafes have remained steady. And the artisan breads drive sales but they've also brought us customer loyalty," Droege said.
That program is so successful that the number of varieties of artisan breads has grown to about 40. Also an ambiance in the style of Starbucks in some of Price Chopper's bakeries not only gives customers the service they want, but also adds upscale panache, Droege explained.
What's more, employee turnover has been reduced from 89% to about 48%, she said, giving credit to the off-site facility for the successes.