CHICAGO -- Supermarket operators contemplating a reset, remodel or installation of an in-store bakery have a wide array of choices when it comes to fixtures.
Not only does the choice of display and merchandising platforms affect the presentation of the bakery products, it also can influence the number of customers who actually stop to make a purchase.
While supermarkets have featured all types of bakeries, from full-production, full-service departments to self-service cold spots, retailers report that the greatest influence is the nature of the local marketing area. Although shopping for fixtures in bulk may be the least expensive way to buy them, it may cost more in the long run if the local consumers don't want to shop that type of bakery.
Many supermarkets feature a mixture of mobile, freestanding tables and racks; stationary wall cases, self-service bins and coffin cases; and high- and low-volume service display cases. While the stationary fixtures define the in-store department, the judicious use of mobile merchandisers can increase the bakery's sales.
For example, John Smolders, bakery director of Danielson's Thriftway in Oregon City, Ore., noted that self-service tables can direct customers into the bakery. "In a bakery that's not too well laid out, it's too easy for customers to walk right past," he said. "So, I like to add self-service tables to make sure customers notice the bakery. Even if they don't buy anything from the tables, these kinds of displays force the customer to slow down and can direct traffic past the rest of the bakery."
Smolders said he believes in using both self-service displays and service cases to maximize the bakery's versatility. "What we carry on self-service tables is basically a selection of the staples a customer expects to see in a bakery," he said. "Regular layer cakes, production cookies, breads and so on.
"The service cases are reserved for products that are special or that require special handling. This includes decorated cakes that need to be boxed carefully, or the higher-priced items such as tortes, handmade cookies and specialty pastries. I try to create the perception that [service-case] items are worth a higher price because someone waited on the customer and gave that purchase personal attention."
Smolders likes to use both fixed and movable self-service displays. For example, he sells doughnuts and morning pastries from self-service wall displays. However, he noted, "keeping these displays full is a challenge. We have tried to fill the wall cases when the doughnuts have emptied out, but the lighting creates a warm atmosphere that doesn't work well with too many products. As a result, we just clean out the showcases as they empty."
Wall displays such as these can be configured to load from the front, giving customers a chance to interact with bakery personnel, or from the back, where trays can be conveniently refreshed from the production area. To give his bakeries a "homey" look, Smolders prefers to use knockdown tables dressed up with tablecloths. The number of tables, their configuration in the bakery department and their placement elsewhere in the store are endlessly flexible with these types of displays.
Two Chicago-area supermarket operators, Jewel Food Stores and Dominick's Supermarkets, use mobile displays to merchandise packaged in-store bakery products in other areas of the store.
Jewel in-store bakeries employ wheeled wood-slatted self-service tables to display packaged breads, doughnuts, pies and cookies, for example. While most of these displays are positioned near the bakery, several units often are placed at the store entrance to stock featured or sale-priced bakery specials.
Meanwhile, Dominick's bakeries use vertical wooden bread racks near store entrances to ensure customers see at least a part of the in-store bakery's selection.
While a majority of the Dominick's units have reset or remodeled their perishables sections to conform to the company's "Fresh Store" concept, some of its supermarkets retain a more traditional layout. In these stores, refrigerated island displays near the deli department offer a selection of cakes, tortes and pastries to customers who might otherwise bypass the bakery.
A strong feature of the Fresh Stores' bakery format is a selection of specialty pastries, such as fresh-fruit tarts and pastries. Dominick's bakeries added refrigerated low-volume European-style service showcases to highlight the added selections. And, while much of the company's bakery layouts are devoted to self-service bins, shelves and coffin cases, they also feature counters where customers can sample hearth-style breads before buying. Newer bakery units also feature European-style slicers, whose settings can be adjusted to yield very thin or very thick bread slices.
Choosing high- or low-volume showcases is a matter of presentation and of practicality. Draeger's Supermarkets, Menlo Park, Calif., has an extensive array of European-style low-volume showcases in which cakes and pastries are displayed. The bakeries also feature a large glassed-in bread tower, in which Draeger's sourdough and hearth breads can be displayed unwrapped.
Draeger's employs service showcases because "personal recognition of individual customers is a personal touch that most of them appreciate," said bakery director Rebecca Draeger. But the bakeries are set up so that the low-volume displays can still generate high-volume sales.
In the Menlo Park store, the production area is on the second floor. For convenience, the bakery sales area includes below-counter refrigerators that stock additional cakes and pastries, and above-counter cabinets fitted with racks for extra sheet pans of cookies, brownies and other products displayed in the dry cases.
Some specialty items, such as bagels provided by outside suppliers, are featured in freestanding self-service displays. For example, bagels are sold from stacked bins that surround a small refrigerated reach-in that stocks a variety of bagel spreads. Other self-service options also maximize the display area. For example, knee-knocker shelves in front of the showcases protect the case and allow additional varieties of self-service products to be displayed in wicker baskets, including hearth breads and rolls in paper wrappers.
Casino, a supermarket chain in Lyon, France, suggests an alternative display method for crusty breads. Combining wood-fronted wire-basket wall shelving with microperforated plastic wrap, Casino's in-store bakeries can offer self-service hearth breads to finicky French consumers. For traditionalists, the self-service display also uses large wicker baskets into which paper-wrapped baguettes can be placed.
Wood construction and wicker baskets like those used in Casino are popular choices for self-service displays. Meanwhile, service cases can be customized in an array of colors and materials. Showcases complemented by Formica-type panels can be updated to match a new decor by replacing the panels as necessary. Higher-end showcases that feature marble or marble-like materials also can enhance the service lineup.
Striking the right balance between service and self-service is an art, as well as a science. Copps Food Center stores, headquartered in Stevens Point, Wis., feature a range of bakery units, from 100% self-service to a mix of service and self-service displays.
"Where the clientele is a little older, customers still like to be waited on," said bakery director Tyrone Curry. "In some of our stores, products are displayed both packaged and in a showcase. If customers want, they can choose one item from the showcase. But, because everything is fast-paced, we also offer self-service so customers can be on their way quickly if they want to.
"Service cases belong in bakeries that sell more than just doughnuts. But we're careful about which stores will retain service," he said.
Copps units that are completely self-service combine wall and island units in a configuration that sets the bakery apart as a distinctive department. And customers aren't completely on their own, because bakery personnel do stock and reset the displays regularly, and are available to answer questions, take special orders and help with packaging.
An interesting feature of these departments is a cake-ordering station. The stand, located in the bakery area, features books of standardized cake designs. The stand also stocks a supply of self-carbon cake orders that the service personnel fill out for customers.
Often, bakery departments feature cake-decorating stations as part of the service lineup. To make it convenient for the decorators to work in front of the public, adequate storage and work space has to be built in. Smolders designed a cake-decorating area for a different chain of Thriftway stores that featured a walk-in retarder immediately behind the cake decorator's station.
"The cake decorators liked having the retarder there because it was convenient," Smolders said. "They kept both cake blanks and finished orders there. The walk-in also solved a problem on busy weekends, so the salespeople didn't have to run to the back to get cakes." Under-counter refrigeration also can provide convenience, albeit on a smaller scale.
Smolders pointed out that a cake-decorating station also should be equipped with a hand sink. While cash registers are not a prominent fixture in in-store bakeries, more operators are considering them as customers' need for speed and convenience increases. Indeed, Draeger's bakeries not only include cash registers but also have separate credit-card processors.
"We've always allowed the bakery and deli departments to check out customers separately," said Draeger. "Customers who want to get something for breakfast or lunch can be in and out quickly." Draeger's shoppers find the bakeries especially convenient, since they're located at entrances that encourage quick stops.