In-store bakeries give their sales a push this holiday season with more of everything — variety, space, even more time
Extending the hours and days of holiday sales, bulking up displays, spotlighting gourmet pies, adding mini-cakes, store-made fudge and truffles, and initiating chainwide demos.
They're all a part of retailers' efforts to make the most of the busy holiday season that's getting under way.
While Thanksgiving pushes sales up for a little over a week, November is not the big sales time for bakery. It starts in December, some retailers said.
“After they've bought their pies and buns for Thanksgiving dinner, that's about it. October is bigger than November, but the last three weeks of December are the really big ones,” said Steve Beaird, manager of the central bakery facility at eight-unit Kowalski's Markets, St. Paul, Minn.
“Our bakery sales for those weeks in December easily go up 40% to 50% over any other three-week period in the year.”
Kowalski's has expanded its holiday offerings a little this year. Most notable is a line of six-inch mini-cakes dubbed Celebration Cakes in four varieties: turtle, raspberry mousse, hazelnut mocha and apricot nectar.
“I know they'll sell, because people want smaller cakes, and these are special, elegant-looking cakes. They're big enough to feed six to eight people,” Beaird said.
“I don't see the great big holiday parties happening anymore. They're more intimate kinds of gatherings with fewer people.”
Beaird added, though, that the new varieties are available, on order, in 8-inch and l0-inch, and quarter-sheet and half-sheet cakes.
At Marketplace Food & Drug in Minot, N.D., cake department manager Nyla Stromberg said she, too, sees a tendency for people to buy smaller cakes.
“Small, tiered cakes are doing very well for us, and we figure they will do particularly well during the holidays,” Stromberg said.
“Even for bigger parties, they'll buy a two-tier, 6 and 10 inches, and then a sheet cake [in the same variety], too. They want something that looks nice and classy, but why spend $3.50 a serving for the whole big crowd when you can have most of the servings [cut from the sheet] for about 50 cents?”
Even as they serve guests from the sheet cakes, party hosts can have the finely crafted, tiered cakes on the table, catching attention.
“They look very elegant. We use a lot of fondant and white chocolate for draping. That takes glitter and pearl dust very well,” Stromberg told SN.
Down South at Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co., Charleston, S.C., mini versions of elegant cakes and single servings are gaining in popularity, too, said Rita Postell, the 115-unit chain's spokeswoman.
“I think there are a lot of retirees in the area. They don't want to deal with a big cake. Gatherings are apt to be small, too,” Postell added.
At Marketplace Food & Drug, Stromberg is always, all year, looking to differentiate her department from other ISBs in a pretty competitive marketplace. This holiday season, one new item is a take-off on another holiday's popular item, caramel-dipped apples.
“We sold a ton of caramel apples this year during Halloween week. Now, we're going to be dipping apples in melted, white butter cream icing. Then, we'll dust them with edible glitter.”
The dipped and dusted apples, looking like a ball you'd hang on a Christmas tree, will be packaged individually in stiff cellophane bags, tied at the top with a red, green or gold ribbon.
“I think they'll be nice for the holidays,” Stromberg said. She's already planning on making trays with four of the apples standing on their heads at each corner of the tray, four individually wrapped stacks of cookies in different varieties in the middle, and six holiday cupcakes surrounding them.
She'll probably make room, too, for some blocks of fudge. The bakery sold a lot of its store-made chocolate fudge and walnut fudge last year — in fact, lots more than Stromberg had imagined, she said.
So this year, she has added varieties, including pecan, peanut and chocolate swirl. Turned out in loaves, it'll be easy to sell by the pound.
Across town — not very far in Minot, which has a population of fewer than 40,000 — Arrowhead Miracle Mart is expanding its Cookie Extravaganza. A one-day event last year, the Extravaganza has been spread out to three days, and Sunny Guraedy, the store's bakery manager and prize-winning cake decorator, is looking to at least double sales. “It was successful last year. Our theme is ‘Let us do your holiday baking,’ and people respond to that, but it was too short.
“I think we missed some people. We want the 25-to-50 crowd. The people inclined to take things to work with them. So we expanded to three days, and also expanded the hours into the evening. This year, it'll be Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6-8, and all three days from 11 to 6 o'clock. Last year it was just Friday from 10 to 4.”
The 18 varieties of traditional cookies are sourced from outside, but Guraedy stresses that they are top quality. “They're excellent, like you'd bake at home.”
The bakery showed off what else it can do the weekend of Nov. 10 at its annual Taste of the Holidays event.
“We reminded customers early this year about the event. Our store was completely remodeled in the spring, giving us an open-production bakery. People are able to look around and see more this year,” Guraedy said.
The in-store bakery always plays a big role in retailers' storewide holiday events.
“Our holiday open houses, with lots of sampling and demos, have become more popular each year,” said Postell at Piggly Wiggly Carolina.
“This is the first year we've done a holiday open house across the board on one specific day. Every store is involved.”
Previously, not all the stores held an open house, and those that did didn't do it on the same day. The purpose of coordinating the effort this year, Postell said, is to let Piggly Wiggly's customers “know we're ready, that this is the kickoff to a great holiday season.”
No matter what the ISB comes up with, it's Charleston cheesecake that usually takes the cake at the chain's holiday events, Postell told SN. And it's a safe bet that the local favorite, which boasts a brown sugar glaze on top, will command a prominent spot in a large gourmet cake section added to most stores just over a year ago. Cobbler, especially blackberry cobbler — a signature item that's very popular in the chain's market area — will continue to be a star, too. Whipped cream cake, too, with fresh raspberries, is an old favorite at Piggly Wiggly. Other than those standouts, Piggly Wiggly does a huge business with traditional pumpkin and pecan pies during the holidays, Postell said.
Since people treat themselves to their favorites this time of year, and they know where to get them, Piggly Wiggly doesn't look to add a whole lot of new items. Nor does Ferguson & Hassler, a full-line, family owned supermarket in Quarryville, Pa.
Even though the store is in Pennsylvania Dutch country, traditional baked goods like pumpkin pie, fresh dinner rolls and cookie trays are what customers are looking for during the holidays, co-owner Tim Hassler said.
“That's what people want, and they like the convenience of coming to us for them instead of having to make them at home.”
Another retailer told SN that rather than look for new items, he's deliberately trimming categories and even the varieties within the categories.
“We're cutting back on what we're bringing in so we can better control the gross,” said Robert Quintanilla, bakery-deli director at 19-unit Scolari Food & Drug, Sparks, Nev.
“We don't need a whole lot of things. We do need an item we can do different things with, like use different icings, but we have too much variety, some things that just don't sell. We're subtracting, not adding. It's our upscale apple and pumpkin pies our customers come to us for during the holidays.”
Kowalski's Beaird gave SN his own take on what customers are seeking at holiday time: a combination of upscale products and upscale service like that at Kowalski's.
Even some people who do some of their weekly shopping elsewhere will come to Kowalski's during the holidays, he said.
“We're known in the area to be upscale. Everybody know us for freshness and quality, and that's particularly what they want for the holidays.”