MADISON, Wis. -- Supermarkets large and small are looking to emphasize their fresh foods these days and the in-store service bakery is playing a major role in that effort.
As a result of that and other factors, bakery sales themselves are on the rise, according to studies cited by the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association in its "What's In Store 2002" summary of trends.
While there has been a decrease in the number of service bakery employees, sales are still up, the IDDBA report says. Indeed, hourly sales per employee increased 10% from 1999 to 2000 and average sales per square foot increased from $4.26 to $4.38, the report points out.
The percentage of supermarket shoppers who "always" or "frequently" shop the in-store service bakery department increased to 38.9% in 2000, up from 34.5% in 1999.
The report advises that small independents with just a few stores are in a good competitive situation because they have a chance to differentiate themselves at unit level through signature processes and customer service.
One upstate New York independent told SN recently that cycle baking all day long is a successful way to send the fresh message and distinguish oneself as the "neighborhood market."
"We try to bake all day long to keep that nice aroma in the store," one of the owners said.
New freezing technology makes for quality par-baked and finished products and presents a golden opportunity for the little guys to stand out, an industry consultant told SN. "Bread in particular is a key frequency shopping mover. It's consumed three times a day. Customers go back twice a week, or more, for a great loaf of bread. If you're an independent and don't have a strong commitment to bakery, you're missing one of the aces in your deck," said Brian Salus, president, Salus & Associates, Midlothian, Va.
But it's not just the little guys who are making the most of their bakeries.
At a Brooklyn, N.Y., unit of Costco, bake-off croissants and bagels are co-stars.
"All day long, croissants are coming out of the oven. There's excitement. And to walk out of a warehouse club with a dozen hot bagels, that's exciting," said Anthony Fontana, warehouse manager, at the Brooklyn store. SN recently observed bakery employees there, in an open-production environment, placing croissants and breads in ovens behind huge glass windows. The bakery is clearly a focal point.
And at 29-unit Kings Super Markets, West Caldwell, N.J., the plan is to put the bakery up front wherever possible in new stores and remodels.
"Near the front door is a great place. Bakery sales are mostly impulse sales. Making [the bakery] prominent takes advantage of that fact," Frank DeViva, bakery sales manager for Kings, told SN in an earlier interview.
He was in the process of installing eye-catching, walk-around displays of a branded, fresh artisan bread, in a small-format Kings store in Hoboken, N.J. There, it's the first element customers see when they enter the store.
The IDDBA "What's in Store" trend report points out that Americans have moved far beyond white bread and are embracing specialty loaves like focaccia, sourdough and multi-grain and ethnic varieties -- items that often retail for up to $4 apiece.
Likewise, consumers are not shying away from relatively pricey cakes either. They're not necessarily buying more cakes, but are opting for especially high-end dessert cakes, the reports says. And that trend carries right over into cookies, where consumers seem to be fascinated with "decadent" varieties.
SN has noted that retailers are revving up their efforts to capture attention with these types of bakery items, too. At an Albertson's in Orlando, SN saw a bakery associate roll out a rack of sheets of chocolate chip cookies to the middle of the aisle in front of the service bakery where he began packing the tempting items into clam-shell packages. As customers slowed down to watch, samples were offered.