BREAD WINNERS

For the holiday season, in-store bakeries will not live by cookie trays alone.across the country contacted by SN. Some operators said they will bring bread to the fore in coming weeks to capitalize on a product with popularity that is widespread and still growing.The bread plans range from judiciously timed introductions of gourmet breads and other new products to strong emphasis on specialties such

For the holiday season, in-store bakeries will not live by cookie trays alone.

across the country contacted by SN. Some operators said they will bring bread to the fore in coming weeks to capitalize on a product with popularity that is widespread and still growing.

The bread plans range from judiciously timed introductions of gourmet breads and other new products to strong emphasis on specialties such as pull-apart products, filled breads and traditional challah.

The Midwest division of Winn-Dixie Stores will shed more light on bread with new varieties and in-store signs. The breads also will be touted in the division's radio and television ads.

"It's a good category for us. People are attracted to fresh baked bread," said Nelson Rodenmayer,

director of marketing for the 85-unit division, based in Louisville, Ky.

Beyond bread, retailers said they will rely on traditional favorites such as cookie tray assortments, making adjustments to their programs such as offering more sizes. Some are broadening the concept to include breakfast trays and mini-dessert trays.

Pies will figure prominently in the mix, too. One chain is bringing in pies that are not only baked but also packaged by an outside source this year.

"Our same-store pie sales during the holidays last year were up 35% from the year before, and basically it's because we brought them in prebaked. So this year, we're also having them prepackaged," said Jeff Ruple, bakery director at 59-unit Harvest Foods, Little Rock, Ark.

"We looked until we found a quality product. By doing it this way, we know there are enough pies out at all times, and it frees up associates from production so they can interact with customers," Ruple explained.

Riser Foods, the 38-unit chain based in Bedford Heights, Ohio, is focusing in a big way on traditional Christmas cookies, offering a 3-pound cookie tray for the first time in self-service cases.

"We used to have just 1-pound trays, but we saw people picking up two or three of them at a time. Now we'll be giving them what they want and packaging costs for us will be less. It's a $17.99 ring," said Fred DiQuattro, director of bakery, deli, seafood and food service.

A consultant to the supermarket industry and former retailer said he thinks teamwork will be a key to holiday sales success -- both within the department and among other parts of the store.

"Departments need to get together early and figure out what goes with what, and what their best impulse items are," said Rob Doehler, president of Doehler Food Friends, Portland, Maine, and a former bakery executive with Hannaford Bros. "Then, maybe bring everything -- a bakery tray and a deli menu -- into the card department. Cross-merchandising can mean incremental sales for everybody involved."

SN interviewed a number of retailers who are doing modified versions of that. One large Northeastern chain's bakery department, for instance, has made a deal to display bakery trays in line in the stores' candy departments.

"There's tremendous potential for incremental sales of bakery trays," said a source at that chain, which began tracking its sales of bakery trays as a separate category more than a year ago.

Other retailers have begun just this year to track the category separately. Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa., is one of them, said Alan Christiansen, bakery buyer-merchandiser at the 27-unit chain.

Here is what retailers said they are doing to get their in-store bakeries ready for the holidays:

Dan Kallesen bakery director Harp's Food Stores Springdale, Ark.

We're focusing on decorating for the season, creating a theme in each department this year.

Also, we're introducing a gourmet bread. We've had such success with our signature Martha Harp dinner rolls that we developed a 24-ounce, home-style Martha Harp bread, which we expect to become a signature product for us also.

There are a lot of hot bread programs out there, but we wanted to give customers a bread they could heat in their own ovens. That was taken into consideration in the formulation. With the healthy trend growing, we figured the time was right for this product. The days of white bread are gone. This loaf will retail for $2.49.

We'll also feature trays this year with bit-size pastries. They'll be a mix of mini brownies, mini cookies, streudel bites. They're easy to eat and they look good in the self-service case. And we'll track the sales of trays separately this year for the first time.

We planned way ahead this year with our pumpkin pies. We got them out earlier, the middle of September, and we're bringing them in in three stages. That way we have them when we need them, but we're not overloading on inventory. At this time of year the freezer is prime real estate.

Jeff Ruple director of bakery Harvest Foods Little Rock, Ark.

We're trying to get a head start on hiring the people we need. Our managers are hiring help for the holidays right now, and we'll get them trained at our central training facility during the slow period at the beginning of November.

They'll get training in all phases of the bakery operation. It's very important that you have your people properly trained because during the holiday you get people in your bakery that may never have shopped the store before. If you've got associates who can't answer their questions, you may not just lose a sale, you may lose a customer.

Our biggest problem at this time of year is getting people. The unemployment rate here is very low. That's one reason we brought in prebaked pies last year and why we're getting them prepackaged this year. Until last year, we had baked them off in-store, but when you're baking a few hundred pies, it's almost a whole day's job. They take up a lot of space, cooling for two hours. Then somebody has to package them all.

The 8-inch pies we're bringing in now are in clear-dome packages. We expect pie sales to increase again this year by at least 15%. We also do a good job with cupcake trays at Christmastime -- big ones for school parties.

Fred DiQuattro director of bakery, deli, seafood and food service

Riser Foods Bedford Heights, Ohio

This year we're being very organized about how we get the help we need for the holidays. We have a special process improvement program that includes the top minds in our company. We're asking for their input on how to hire, train and retrain. We're sending out letters to employees who have previously worked for us, and we're recruiting senior citizens and housewives. We've done some of that before, but we're doing it in a more organized fashion now.

Also, we're putting out 3-pound containers of cookies. We saw a tremendous increase in cookies in self-service last year. Until now we had only put them out in 1-pound containers, but people were buying several of them. This way, packaging costs are less and the ring is big, $17.99.

Bread will be big this year. It always is here because of the demographics, but our cycle baking program will be great during the holidays. We started cycle baking just about a year ago, and we're doing it in a third of our stores by now. Both sales and profits on bread are way up in those stores where we bake at least four times a day.

We'll be promoting our 2-pound round breads with our homemade dips. People hollow the loaves out and fill them with dip. In time for the holidays, too, we're getting into specialty rolls, such as rye and multigrain.

We have a proactive ad schedule this year. We're doing more advertising on radio, TV and the newspapers.

Elizabeth Little president V. Richard's Brookfield, Wis.

For the first time this year we're promoting our Christmas cookies as corporate gifts. Before, we had had people coming in and buying 5 or 6 pounds, and they'd box them themselves. A flier that we've just printed up says we'll pack up any quantity by the pound. We mail or drop off the fliers to local businesses.

Cookies and other gift boxes and trays with sweets are getting more popular. I guess people realize they can't make the variety they can get from us for the price. Ours are $9.99 a pound. We're also adding a fourth size of cookie tray already made up to give people more choices.

We tested carry-out breakfast trays this fall -- trayed mini Danish and mini muffins. We know they'll do well during holidays when people are even busier than they are now. The sales are great already; they're selling all day long. Maybe people are picking them up for the next morning. We're trying to put more emphasis on our pull-apart breads this year, too, because bread has become so popular. We have turkey shapes and Christmas tree shapes, but we're going to have to do that with pre-ordering. We'll have signs up the beginning of November to remind people to order.

There's a fine line between having too much variety and still giving customers good service. In fact, we're setting up more tables for displays this year -- for cookies and trays -- but it really becomes a logistics problem if we don't leave enough room for customers. We're doing more stacking on the counter and we'll put an 8-foot rental table in the floral department.

Daisy King home economist, spokeswoman Steven's Markets Nashville, Tenn.

We're putting a whole lot more emphasis on trays. That category is exploding. The demand had hit us before we had a strategic plan in action. Starting this year we'll have fliers promoting our bakery trays. Chalkboard signs, too, will call attention to them. We're using signs also to call attention to our breads. We don't have a European crusty bread program of our own, but we bring it in from a supplier that has a retail store near here. And our signs make suggestions. For example, we'll say this eight-grain bread goes well with our ham and turkey.

John Smolders bakery director West Linn Thriftway West Linn, Ore.

Even though we're known for our scratch bakery, we're bringing in fruit bars this year. They resemble small fruit cakes. They're about 2 by 2 by 4 inches and really top-quality. Some people don't like fruit cake and I figure these will be additional sales. There's an apple-cinnamon-nut bar, a cherry bar and a double-fudge bar. They're very rich, like a fruit cake. We're selling them for $9.99.

For Christmastime we're packing up a little gold gift box with a brownie, a cupcake and some other items in it. We'll keep it under $10. I've tried doing this type of thing before with little tins and wicker baskets, but the tins were too small and baskets too big. These gold boxes are a 6-inch square, 4 inches deep, just right for a nice variety of product. It'll be a great office gift to give a co-worker or your boss.

Cookie trays are getting more popular every year because people don't have the time to bake anymore. We'll have more out in self-service this year. Thirty cookies on a tray for $6.99.

Alan Christiansen bakery buyer-merchandiser Genuardi's Family Markets Norristown, Pa.

We're definitely going to put more cookie trays out this year. We stack 3 to 5 pounds on a 10-inch pie container. I see a lot of growth there. While older people seem to buy Christmas cookies by the pound, the younger ones buy a lot of these trays. They don't want to wait. They just grab them from the case. This will be the first year we'll track sales of trays separately.

Nelson Rodenmayer director of marketing Winn-Dixie Stores Midwest division Louisville, Ky.

We're really concentrating on our breads this holiday season. We do great with our sourdough, and we'll be adding some varieties, probably challah bread and specialty rye and pumpernickel.

It's a good category for us. We're baking in-store more frequently, and that's been very successful.

We do well with trays, too. Sales have grown each year. It's a storewide event during the holidays. Departments work together. For example, we coordinate bakery, deli and seafood trays. Customers pick them up at one counter.