GOURMET RETAILER TO SUPPLY KINGS ISBS

PARSIPPANY, N.J. -- Kings Super Markets is completely recasting its service bakery program with the help of an unlikely ally -- Sutton Place Gourmet, SN has learned.Acting in a new role, the Bethesda, Md.-based specialty retailer, which has just launched a separate wholesale division, has created a turnkey program for Kings. Not only is it supplying up to 75% of the fine cakes and pastries in Kings'

PARSIPPANY, N.J. -- Kings Super Markets is completely recasting its service bakery program with the help of an unlikely ally -- Sutton Place Gourmet, SN has learned.

Acting in a new role, the Bethesda, Md.-based specialty retailer, which has just launched a separate wholesale division, has created a turnkey program for Kings. Not only is it supplying up to 75% of the fine cakes and pastries in Kings' service case, but it's also providing after-sale support that simplifies operations, provides new variety and even adds theater.

All of this translates into a big sales boost for the supermarket chain's service bakery.

"We're way over last year for full-service sales. It's because the products are all visually appealing to customers and their quality and taste are phenomenal. It's a great differentiator, and the variety is meaningful. That's key," said Frank DeViva, sales manager for bakery for the 29-unit Kings.

A number of supermarket operators are turning to niche retailers for help of one kind or another to help them face the ongoing challenges of specialized labor, product quality and variety, inventory and shrink control. But as they scour the horizon for unique products to give them an edge, it's often necessary to tap numerous sources and that makes ordering, receiving, accounts payable and product rotation particularly cumbersome.

Kings' team-up with the new Sutton Place Gourmet wholesale division addresses all of the above.

It seemed to Sutton Place that a partnership with Kings would be a natural, because the supermarket chain was already cultivating an upscale look in its pastry case. The items, however, came from too many sources and even so the variety was limited, said Jarett Peppard, general manager of the Sutton Place wholesale division. "Their service case was being underutilized. So we saw an opportunity for both of us," Peppard said.

DeViva confirmed that and also explained how Sutton Place's signature products -- which he said can be likened to those you'd find in a boutique bakery with a pastry chef making them in the back -- are livening up sales of everything in the case.

"We had a fairly generic offering in that case before. Some of the items were great in their day, but weren't adding much to our bakery program anymore. And we had mock special-occasion cakes in there. Now, with this, we've enhanced the whole service program and we've even seen a lift in sales of some former products that we kept because they were always good sellers. That's because there's more traffic coming to the case," DeViva said.

Kings announced the rollout of "Kings Patisserie," with some fanfare just two weekends ago. A huge, cloth banner hanging in the chain's in-store bakeries proclaims, "Kings Patisserie." Window signs also alerted customers, and a fold-out, full-color brochure was distributed at the bakery counter. The illustrated brochure describes 20 of the new offerings from Sutton Place. A full-page in the chain's circular also introduced Kings Patisserie with color photos and a listing of products.

Even the banners, as well as promotional materials and merchandising advice, are provided by Sutton Place, as is training for bakery associates, DeViva pointed out.

"They [Sutton Place's wholesale division] are committed to making this work. They offer a great level of support, ad support and training -- training materials as well as the manpower associated with training. They actually gave us one-on-one training in our stores."

The program was tested, using some of Sutton Place's 60-plus, high-end pastry items in four selected Kings units earlier this fall. A similar test is under way at Roche Bros., Wellesley Hills, Mass.

On a visit to Kings' Hillsdale, N.J., store, SN noted the 8-foot bakery service case has a decidedly elegant look and shows off such items as Sutton Place's Dolly's Sin Loaf, a chocolate-on-chocolate sponge cake enrobed in ganache, at $11.99, and a German chocolate torte, $12.99. A huge fruit tart, $17, was an eye-catcher, too.

The Patisserie's items, most of which are creations of Sutton Place's master pastry chef Pascal Jubault, are made in the specialty retailer/wholesaler's 15,000-square-foot central bakery, and are delivered to Kings five days a week. Most cakes are delivered frozen and then thawed and finished as needed in-store, DeViva said. That helps control shrink and, at the same time, "adds a level of animation that we wanted in the bakery."

The program is a true partnership in that Kings and Sutton Place are working together to iron out kinks and make the program work as well as possible for both parties, DeViva said. He pointed out this is the first wholesale venture for Sutton Place, which owns Balducci's, New York, and Hay Day Markets, Westport, Conn., as well as six retail stores under the Sutton Place Gourmet banner.

Sutton Place's Peppard told SN why he sees a bright future for the wholesale division and described what it has to offer supermarket operators in all their departments.

"We ourselves are high-end retailers, and like everybody else, we're always trying to think of ways to be innovative, to intrigue customers and grow sales with new programs, merchandising techniques and new varieties of products," he said, adding similar efforts are being developed for other departments in supermarkets.

"We started with bakery because our products are so outstanding and we knew retailers would want them," Peppard said.

Peppard's plans, however, don't stop with bakery. Indeed, Sutton Place Gourmet expects to utilize extra capacity in its 10,000-square-foot central kitchen to supply retailers with signature products for their deli and meat departments that will range from signature tuna salad to seared filet mignon and Beef Wellingtons.