INDIANAPOLIS -- Introduction of a new signature product doesn't have to be fancy -- it just has to be good, according to an official with Supervalu.
In the case of Birmingham, Ala.-based Western Supermarkets, it was a simple -- but high-quality -- dinner roll that was promoted with sampling, said Fred Ruehl, the bakery operations manager for Supervalu's corporate wholesale division, which supplies the 10-unit independent operator.
"The item itself is pretty well accepted in the Southern market," he said. "It's a dinner roll market."
The retailer's goal was to develop a product that would make Western stand out among its competitors. A specialist from Supervalu's Southeast region worked with Western and the manufacturer of the frozen dough product to develop the product, and, one year ago, Mother Hubbard dinner rolls were launched at the Western stores, Ruehl said during an appearance at the recent Retailer's Bakery Association Marketplace 2001 show.
Rolls are sold in six-packs and 12-packs on self-serve display tables in the bakeries, and as part of the hot meals sold in the service delis. Bakery employees at each store bake off the rolls using the frozen dough.
When they introduced the new product, employees offered hot samples of the rolls at 4 p.m. each day, and made sure display tables were stocked at all times, Ruehl said. Mother Hubbard rolls quickly caught on, with Western reporting a 67% increase in wheat dinner roll sales in a year's time, Ruehl said.
Ruehl and fellow panelist John Helzer, the director of bakery and deli for the Nash-Finch Co., the Minneapolis-based retailer and food distributor, emphasized the importance of product consistency.
To ensure consistency, the Western stores posted step-by-step directions, with photos, to guide ISB employees, and minimize the need for specific training, he said.
Maintaining consistency is one of the biggest challenges to overcome when rolling out a new product, Helzer said, noting it is important from the start to choose a product that's easy to duplicate time and again.
"Boy, have I had problems with that," he said. "Bakers want to make it better, but I've got to have standardization. That's an area I've struggled with."
Sampling is another critical part of the rollout strategy. "A well-trained demo person can explain the product," Helzer said.
Sampling is important not only as a way to sell customers on the product, but to educate store associates about the item. The sales effort should extend beyond the bakery, Helzer said.
"Your people are your best salesmen," he said. "Even the back-door receiver should have tried the product."