PORT ALLEN, La. -- Cakes and pies are selling unexpectedly well at the Piccadilly Express Cafeteria inside Hubbens Supermarket here.
From the very beginning at this independent retailer's 16,000-square-foot store, Piccadilly Express' success was not all in crawfish ettouffe and beef stew. The cafeteria operation also does an excellent job here with red velvet cakes, pecan delight and lemon ice-box pies -- and birthday cakes were added this week -- said officials involved in the program.
Piccadilly Express is operated by Piccadilly Cafeterias, a 130-unit chain based in Baton Rouge, La. Hubbens is one of four independent retailers that has linked up with the cafeteria chain. The arrangement came about through a co-branding deal forged last year between Piccadilly and Baton Rouge-based Associated Grocers of Louisiana, the wholesale cooperative that supplies Hubbens.
Among the four Express units inside grocery stores, the Piccadilly Express at Hubbens is the leader in bakery sales, said Warriner Siddle, Piccadilly's executive vice president and director of development.
"They're averaging $400 a day in bakery sales there," Siddle said. "It may not sound like a lot, but it's extra sales in addition to our hot food, and it represents a lot of pies when you realize they're only $3.49 and $3.99 each."
Hubbens co-manager Darryl Cazes said he sees the Piccadilly bakery offerings as an asset to the store. "We get compliments on the cakes and pies. They look good, even better than those we had previously offered from our own bakery," Cazes said.
When Hubbens had its own in-store bakery operation, much of the bakery mix had been made up of thaw-and-sell items, said Cazes. Piccadilly's pies and cakes are either made from mixes or, as in the case of red velvet cakes, from scratch.
Hubbens had opted to close down its own bakery at the same time it replaced its own limited hot-food program with the Piccadilly Express unit last fall.
"It [offering bakery items] has been an experiment here and it's going very well," said John Litzenberger, associate manager of the Piccadilly Express inside Hubbens.
It is going so well that the Hubbens' Piccadilly Express started offering custom-decorated birthday cakes in response to customer requests, Litzenberger pointed out.
"We had so many people asking if we did birthday cakes that we decided to do it. That's the first time for us. We don't do birthday cakes at any of our other locations."
Litzenberger said that he has staffers at Hubbens' store who have done decorating before, and who looked forward to doing it again.
"My head baker has had experience decorating and so has my part-time baker. She used to work for Hubbens in their bakery," he said.
The cakes and pies are displayed on a 6-foot, five-tiered rack directly across the aisle from Piccadilly Express' hot table, which is at the back of the store.
The Piccadilly Express units offer a menu that's a trimmed-down version of the one offered at the cafeteria chain's regular-size, freestanding units. Pies and cakes that need to be kept refrigerated are merchandised in an in-line case along with chilled salads and sandwiches.
Piccadilly retails its pies and cakes at a lower price point at Hubbens than it does at its freestanding units.
"People were used to the prices Hubbens had in their bakery and we felt we had to adjust ours. We did it by making a smaller pie. We sell 8-inch pies here for $3.49 and $3.99, depending on what type it is. The premium pies -- lemon ice box is an example -- are $3.99," Litzenberger said.
The 10-inch versions sold at Piccadilly's freestanding locations retail for $5.65 and $8.69.
The operator also adjusted its cakes to fit into Hubbens' price profile. While the cakes are 10-inch products, Piccadilly just puts one less layer on them. For example, a red velvet cake at Hubbens' Piccadilly Express has just two layers and retails for $6.99. At a traditional Piccadilly site, a red velvet cake has three layers and sells for $12.95, Litzenberger said.
Red velvet cakes, which are white cakes with red food coloring and a cream cheese icing, are regional favorites in Louisiana. The most popular variety at Hubbens is "just plain yellow with chocolate icing," said Litzenberger.
The cakes and pies are packed in dome-top containers that have scan data affixed to them. Customers can either pay for them at the Piccadilly Express Counter or at Hubbens' regular checkout station, but the ring goes to Piccadilly.
In addition to the four Piccadilly Express units operated inside supermarkets -- Hubbens and another in the Baton Rouge area; one in Vider, Texas; and one in Natchez, Miss. -- the cafeteria chain operates nine of the trimmed-down, takeout-oriented Piccadilly Express units in conjunction with its conventional freestanding cafeterias, which span 15 states.
The agreement the cafeteria chain struck with Associated Grocers gives exclusive rights to AG's 230 member retailers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to work with Piccadilly.