RANDALLS ROLLS FROM SCRATCH BAGELS TO NATURAL

HOUSTON -- Randalls Food Markets here has switched its from-scratch bagel operation to an all-natural product.The all-natural program, which was launched earlier this year in three stores here, has rung up such good sales it was put into the chain's newest Tom Thumb store in Dallas.The program will be rolled out to other selected stores in upscale neighborhoods, said Alex Sakhel, director of bakery

HOUSTON -- Randalls Food Markets here has switched its from-scratch bagel operation to an all-natural product.

The all-natural program, which was launched earlier this year in three stores here, has rung up such good sales it was put into the chain's newest Tom Thumb store in Dallas.

The program will be rolled out to other selected stores in upscale neighborhoods, said Alex Sakhel, director of bakery operations for the 124-unit Randalls.

Only four Randalls and one Tom Thumb have open production, from-scratch bagel operations at present. Other Randalls stores bring in a formed, boiled and partially baked bagel that's made by a local manufacturer to Randalls specifications.

The switch to all-natural is in keeping with current trends, said Sakhel.

"We're trying to provide what the customer wants. We feel like grains and natural products are growing trends," he added.

"We use all natural, unbleached, unbromated flour and fresh ingredients. It's a little bit different bagel, much chewier," Sakhel said.

The all-natural bagels are retailed at the same price as regular bagels. They're three for $1. Twelve varieties are offered, of which the best-sellers are plain, cinnamon-raisin, blueberry and jalapeno cheese, Sakhel said. Other varieties are wheat and honey, onion, garlic, banana-walnut, garden vegetable and various seeded ones.

Bag stuffers, handouts and signs in-store are used to call customers' attention to the fact that the bagels are all-natural.

A full-color handout distributed at the Tom Thumb store underscores the number of "unnatural" ingredients in most bagels. It's headlined, "Different ways to make a bagel." Two side-by-side columns are headed, "Tom Thumb Remarkably Natural" and "Other Ways."

The "Other Ways" column shows that "other way" bagels are made with flour that's bleached and has flavors and toppings that include sulfate, potassium bromate, ammonium, fumaric acid, azodicarbonamide and other unnatural-sounding ingredients as well as preservatives.

By contrast, the handout illustrates that Tom Thumb's Remarkably Natural product uses all-natural ingredients: brown sugar, malt, salt and yeast only.

In addition to upscaling its bagel program with a natural product, Randalls will add a "semi-service" counter in most new stores, Sakhel said.

The first is in the Plano Tom Thumb store, where self-service bagel bins are in-line in the bakery and associates are near enough to provide services such as slicing and buttering, Sakel said.

At the new Tom Thumb store, brown paper bags are provided for bagels at the bagel bins. They have the Tom Thumb logo on one side. On the flip side, the bags offer a short history of the bagel, and nutrition information such as "one Tom Thumb bagel contains on average 300 calories, one gram of fat, 480-mg of sodium and 0-mg cholesterol."