H-E-B UNIT SAMPLES CORN BREAD SUCCESS, DESPITE HEAT

AUSTIN, Texas -- H.E. Butt Grocery Co. credits daily product demonstrations with making hot corn bread a sales hit -- despite 90-degree weather -- at a new store here.Giving customers a taste of the newly launched product is in keeping with a new selling philosophy at this store."We'd really gotten away from educating and selling, and we need to get back to it. We hired people here who like food and

AUSTIN, Texas -- H.E. Butt Grocery Co. credits daily product demonstrations with making hot corn bread a sales hit -- despite 90-degree weather -- at a new store here.

Giving customers a taste of the newly launched product is in keeping with a new selling philosophy at this store.

"We'd really gotten away from educating and selling, and we need to get back to it. We hired people here who like food and who like to talk to people," said Michelle Krzywonski, director of perishables at the 90,000-square-foot H-E-B unit that opened June 27 in the Round Rock section of the city.

The in-store bakery, situated at the beginning of the fresh-food aisle, is selling four to five skillets of corn bread an hour at $3.59 a half-skillet. (In the South, homemade corn bread is traditionally baked in a cast-iron skillet, instead of a square baking pan).

"We bake it only between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. It's not something we package out all day. We're the only store that has it, so it's not something customers think to ask for. That's why we've been sampling it everyday since we opened and will continue that for a few weeks until customers get accustomed to it," she said.

"Getting the product in their mouths is a selling point. Really, once they taste it, they buy it," Krzywonski said.

She described the corn bread as being made from a recipe developed by the bakery manager at this store.

"It's a different corn bread; it's fluffy, more like a cake. It's very moist with whole kernels of corn, and it's very thick, like maybe the height of a double-layer cake," she said.

Krzywonski said the bakery makes announcements over the public address system when the bread comes out of the oven and invites customers to taste it. She stressed that an associate offers the samples.

"It's our philosophy to have a person with our products to be sampled, giving them out, talking about them, answering questions. No matter what it is, the product doesn't have the same appeal if it's just sitting there by itself," she said.

The bakery here was purposefully designed to make it easy to give customers a taste of any product, she pointed out.

"Our bake shop here is full-service. Most of our stores' bakeries are self-service, which can be pretty impersonal. We made it full-service here to re-establish interaction with customers. This gives us the opportunity to do sampling out of the case when people walk by," she said.

Like other fresh departments in this store, the bakery is bigger than that in a typical H-E-B unit, Krzywonski said. She estimated that the showcase in the service bakery is 8 feet longer than in others.

"Our bake shop is really unique for this area. We have a lot of real, home-baked goods and upscale fruit tarts and cheese cakes," Krzywonski said.

She went on to explain how H-E-B happened to introduce hot corn bread in the middle of summer.

"We didn't want our bakery here to be a typical grocery store bakery. We wanted something different. So we traveled around to different areas; our bakery manager saw this in Dallas. He came back and played around with recipes until he came up with this one," Krzywonski said.

"Since it's already a hit, we expect it to do even better in winter," she added.

The 242-unit San Antonio-based chain has 25 stores in Austin, including Central Market, a fresh-format store it opened here three years ago. That store caused a stir in the industry because of its unique traffic pattern, its cafe, and the fact that it carries no nonfood. Central Market is 18 miles across town.