THE PERFECT BLEND

Espresso bars could be the best stimulus for boosting sales at supermarket in-store bakeries.Retailers and industry experts told SN that the brewing synergy between gourmet coffee bars and the bakery is evinced by bakery product rings that just keep going up once the cappuccino and latte drinkers gather."People don't come in to buy just a cup of coffee. They want something to go with it," said one

Espresso bars could be the best stimulus for boosting sales at supermarket in-store bakeries.

Retailers and industry experts told SN that the brewing synergy between gourmet coffee bars and the bakery is evinced by bakery product rings that just keep going up once the cappuccino and latte drinkers gather.

"People don't come in to buy just a cup of coffee. They want something to go with it," said one retailer with on-site coffee bars.

And the "something" is invariably a scone or a bagel or a doughnut or the like, out of the fresh bakery.

"Those are definitely additional sales," said Bob Damato, director of deli-bakery for Bronx, N.Y.-based Food Emporium, a 35-unit division of A&P, Montvale, N.J.

The synergy is productive enough to encourage Food Emporium to expand its first coffee bar, which it launched at a prototype store opened last summer in Fort Lee, N.J.

Kowalski's Market, St. Paul, Minn., is another among the operators getting set to make changes at their already successful espresso bars, to push bakery sales gains even further.

Expansion of the variety of baked goods offered right at the coffee bar is one thing that's currently being evaluated by both Kowalski's and Food Emporium.

Other operators keep lining up. King Kullen Grocery Co., Westbury, N.Y., has added a coffee bar in the bakery at its newest and largest store, which opened earlier this month in Commack, N.Y. The department is a first for King Kullen, according to Tom Cullen, vice president of government and industry relations for the 48-unit chain.

"It's a natural tie-in. It can only help bakery sales," Cullen said, adding that the coffee bar/ bakery linkup is more convenient for customers, particularly on weekend mornings when they can pick up coffee and bagels or other baked items and pay for them at that one location in the store.

"When people buy a coffee, they almost always buy a scone or something to go with it," said Deb Kowalski, director of operations, at Kowalski's Market. "And they're also apt to pick up half a dozen rolls to take into the office. They get hooked on our bakery products that way."

At the Kowalski's unit in White Bear Lake, Minn., the bakery has more than doubled its sales since an espresso bar was installed right beside it about a year ago.

At that store, the bakery accounts for a whopping 7% of store distribution, sometimes hitting 7.5%, Kowalski said. She attributes that, in part, to the addition of the coffee bar, as well as to a remodeling strategy that brought the bakery near the entrance.

Now, the company is retrofitting a second store to accommodate a coffee bar in the bakery. Kowalski's Markets operates two stores under the Kowalski's name, one under a Cub Foods banner, and also owns an interest in another Cub Foods store in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

"I'm always astounded; every time I think sales [at the coffee bar] have hit a saturation point, they go on up again," Kowalski said. And they keep on growing.

The company is about to begin a renovation at the White Bear Lake store that "will use space more efficiently at the coffee bar," and that is expected to push bakery sales up still further, Kowalski said.

A reconfiguring will move the espresso machine -- already near the entrance -- further up front, and will convert 12 feet of bakery service counter to self-service.

"That [self-service] is where we've seen big increases in bakery sales," Kowalski said. The change in positioning, too, will bring the service pastry case closer to the espresso machine. That move is expected to boost pastry sales by making them quickly visible to the latte and cappuccino drinkers who appear in the afternoons and evenings, Kowalski said.

She said the variety of bakery products sold at the coffee bar will be expanded, too. "We're looking at adding to the Danish category," she said. Right now, the most popular item at the coffee bar is bagels, she added.

Food Emporium is also currently evaluating what items it should add at its coffee bar, which is across the aisle at an angle from the service bakery counter.

At first, a very limited selection of bakery items, primarily muffins and cookies, were offered at Food Emporium's coffee bar, Damato said. Since then, bagels and rolls have been added to the mix.

Sales are good, Damato said. The bakery in the Fort Lee unit accounts for 3% of store distribution. That's about 0.5% higher than at other Food Emporium units. But he said he sees potential for more.

In addition to expanding the variety of bakery products offered at the bar, Food Emporium is tweaking the operation in other ways designed to rev up single-serving bakery sales.

"For example, we added a toaster at the coffee bar because some people want their bagels or rolls toasted. And, we'll add more seating," he said.

Commenting on the proximity of the bakery to the coffee bar, Damato pointed out that it makes sense to put them together.

"Coffee lends itself to desserts and to breakfast, and so does bakery. So, in other stores, we'll put them as close to each other as possible," he said.

One industry watcher, Ed Weller, president of The Weller Co., a West Hollywood, Calif., consulting firm that works with manufacturers and retailers, also commented that the in-store bakery and coffee bar is a logical match.

"Coffee is normally a morning product and so are most bakery items. Bakeries and coffee bars are as synergistic as anything could be in a supermarket. It becomes a fun, breakfast thing, without fried eggs," he said.

Weller also pointed out that a bakery and gourmet coffee duo make the most of merchandising to other relevant day parts for eating, too.

"That 'clubby' atmosphere gourmet coffee bars have brings people in after work. They used to go to cocktail bars. Now they're going to coffee bars. And there's a population that will pay $2 for a cup of coffee," Weller said.

Dan Kallesen, bakery-deli director at Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., said he sees tremendous potential ahead for coffee bars in supermarkets. The 38-unit Harp's installed its first in a prototype store it opened this past summer.

"[Gourmet coffee bars are] a growing category. There are so many avenues you can go with a coffee bar. At this store, it shortens the gap between bakery and deli and is boosting sales in both departments," he said.