BAKERY AT NEW OMNI UNIT GIVES

WATERTOWN, Mass. -- Omni Foods has put bakery first here in a fresh-image presentation at a new store.And that has a lot to do with what customers said they wanted, said Suren Avedisian, vice president and general manager of the four-unit company, which has its headquarters in Meredith, N.H.In a survey just prior to opening the 32,000-square-foot store here March 22, the family-owned company found

WATERTOWN, Mass. -- Omni Foods has put bakery first here in a fresh-image presentation at a new store.

And that has a lot to do with what customers said they wanted, said Suren Avedisian, vice president and general manager of the four-unit company, which has its headquarters in Meredith, N.H.

In a survey just prior to opening the 32,000-square-foot store here March 22, the family-owned company found that area consumers put a fresh bakery high on their priority list.

"We did focus groups and had outside firms do telephone surveys. What we heard most often was consumers wanted quality and variety in fresh products and they wanted a bake shop," said Avedisian.

The store replaces a Stop & Shop unit that didn't have an in-store bakery.

With its placement just inside the store's entrance, its open production, and its proximity to a service coffee bar, the bakery in this Omni store draws attention to itself.

It is the first time that the department has been brought up front. In other Omni stores, the bakery is against the back wall at the end of the first aisle in the traffic pattern. The bakery here also is 40% bigger than Omni's next biggest.

"We also make sure we're baking throughout the day," said Bob Kelly, store manager. "People buy with their senses and the aroma of hot bread here sets the stage for the whole store."

The bakery's location in the store combines with a carefully planned product mix to account for sales that have exceeded expectations, Kelly said. In addition, the bakery here is contributing more to total store sales than those at other Omni stores, he said, although he declined to reveal what the bakery percentage of distribution is.

Kelly stressed the importance of the bakery to the store's ambiance as well as its total sales; it can make or break the fresh image, he said.

"The most important thing about any bakery is the freshness and quality of its products. If bread is overbaked or underproofed, it's going to disappoint customers and they won't forget it. You have to be careful about what you're putting out on the counter," he said.

Omni is trying to create an impression of quality with an elegant-looking, lighted, pastry case that's the first element in the bakery lineup.

On its top shelf, the case features cakes from two regionally well-known retail bakeries -- Rosie's and Alden Merrell. Signs inside the case identify them as coming from the two retail bakeries. Some of the items are Rosie's mocha and coconut multilayer cakes for $25.99 and Alden Merrell carrot cakes and Boston cream cakes for $22.79. Cannoli in two sizes and huge Napoleons have a prominent spot in the case.

Alden Merrell cakes have already known success at the company's Weston, Mass., store, but this is the first time for Rosie's in an Omni.

"We've had a lot of favorable comments about that case," Kelly said. "In addition to the cakes, we do very well with tiramasu. And during Easter week, we brought in ricotta pies and they flew out of here."

He said the bakery department rotates the products in the pastry case -- most of which are brought in from outside -- to keep customers' interest piqued.

The pastry case in combination with the adjacent coffee bar makes for a powerful magnet, the bakery manager, Rachel Merritt, told SN. On one recent afternoon visit, SN noted that nearly everyone who entered the store made a stop at the pastry case, at least to take a look.

"Our customers love it. They tell us they're happy they don't have to go somewhere else to get Rosie's or Alden Merrell cakes. But we also have people telling us they hate having that case right up front because they end up buying things they hadn't planned to buy," Merritt commented.

While the bakery has been selling up to 24 of the upscale cakes a week, the cannoli and Napoleons are the volume sellers from that case, she said.

Besides fancy goods, Omni offers a full complement of other items to draw customers from a neighborhood that Merritt described as a sweet goods market. It was once a factory town and now is home to small businesses and offices as well as residences; thus, the clientele represents a mix of incomes and a mix of tastes.

Omni sells "regular" layer and quarter-sheet cakes in a tiered self-service case that's set at an angle to the pastry case. They range from $9.99 to $13.99.

Muffins, scones and Danish, made from mixes or mixed dough, are big sellers here, too, Merritt said. A 12-foot, doored, self-service case shows them off.

Business is especially brisk from that case in the morning, when people run in to grab something and then buy a cup of coffee at the coffee bar. The best sellers from the self-service case are cappuccino muffins at 79 cents each, and raspberry-lemon, figure-eight Danishes for 89 cents each, she said.