BRISTOL FARMS' CAKES ENJOYING RENEWED DEMAND

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Bristol Farms here has found that quality takes the cake, boosting its in-store bakery sales and its image significantly.When it first trained the spotlight on quality and variety in the cake category, sales started on an upswing, but that was just the beginning, said Peter Hejny, senior director, food-service/bakery, for the 12-unit independent.The retailer then took the next

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Bristol Farms here has found that quality takes the cake, boosting its in-store bakery sales and its image significantly.

When it first trained the spotlight on quality and variety in the cake category, sales started on an upswing, but that was just the beginning, said Peter Hejny, senior director, food-service/bakery, for the 12-unit independent.

The retailer then took the next step and began showing off cakes in different ways, making displays bigger -- and more readily visible -- and giving the cakes descriptive names like "Fresh Fruit Cornucopia" and "Golden White Chocolate Truffle."

"It's all about quality, and the program is still evolving," Hejny said.

Taking Bristol Farms' 7-inch round cakes to the next level -- literally as well as figuratively -- was one of the first changes. As a result, Bristol Farms' cake sales rose significantly and that's with a hike in the retail price from $19.99 to $24.99.

Hejny said he turned his company's two-layer cake program into a four-layer program to differentiate it from the competition, and sourced the best icing he could find, as the first step.

The results were good and helped to reinvigorate enthusiam among the retailer's ISB associates.

"[Cake] movement went from virtually nothing on our top-movers list to being consistently among the top seven."

Hejny explained that when he came to Bristol Farms four years ago, the company's cake business was built around 7-inch, two-layer, round cakes that represented neither quality nor value.

"Value, as I see it, is a balance between quality, service and price. We had price, $19.99, but that's all. Those cakes, made from scratch, didn't even look good. And I had never had so many complaints, on any job I've had, about a product. So I knew I had an opportunity."

Ironically, going from scratch to a top-quality frozen line provided the base for both quality and value. Not only that, but it made things simpler for the in-store bakery staff and assured consistency.

"Our bakery associates had shied away from the cakes because of all the customer complaints they were getting," Hejny said. "As a consequence, the cake case was empty half the time."

Now associates can proudly sell the top-quality, tall layer cakes that have been given names and a touch of class with unusual decorations like fresh flowers, real grapes, large shavings of white chocolate and edible gold leaf, he added.

The fresh flowers' stems are placed in a little water tube -- such as those used on corsages -- and inserted into the cake, giving the flower a bloom life equal to the cake's shelf life.

"We've done the same with our quarter-sheet cakes, taken them up a notch with shaved chocolate and fresh flowers," Hejny said.

One of the keys to success was breaking cakes into four categories -- for men, women, children and for all occasions -- "just so we could satisfy everybody, taking care of the service part of the equation," Hejny said.

The favorite among kids is The Dirt Cake, which features chocolate crumbs piled on it and gummy worms on top of that.

Hejny described the evolution of the 7-inch cake program at the Retailer's Bakery Association's ISB executive conference in Indianpolis this spring.