VICTORY UNIT PUTS FRESH STRESS ON BIG BAKERY

KINGSTON, Mass. -- Victory Supermarkets has given its in-store bakery a starring role in a fresh format that's the feature of a new store here.Positioned at the end of the fresh food power aisle, the bakery is designed to catch impulse sales from every customer who walks the aisle, officials said.It may not be capturing everybody yet, but it's chalking up sales that are way above projections. After

KINGSTON, Mass. -- Victory Supermarkets has given its in-store bakery a starring role in a fresh format that's the feature of a new store here.

Positioned at the end of the fresh food power aisle, the bakery is designed to catch impulse sales from every customer who walks the aisle, officials said.

It may not be capturing everybody yet, but it's chalking up sales that are way above projections. After six months in operation, the bakery is contributing a full 5% of total store sales. That's nearly twice the company average of 3.5%, said Arthur P. (Jay) DiGeronimo, president of the 16-unit, Leominster, Mass.-based Victory.

DiGeronimo attributes such success to the size of the bakery, its positioning, its product mix and the way products are presented. He went on to explain why bakery was given so much attention at this new site.

"It creates great credibility about the freshness of our products. There's nothing in the bakery that can't be tied into the whole fresh focus we have at this store," DiGeronimo said.

As an example, he pointed out that a strawberry theme can be carried literally from the front of the store to the back. Slant tables of colorful produce placed broadside just inside the store's entrance head the fresh power aisle. On a recent store visit, SN noted that California strawberries were featured there in mass displays. Alongside them, fresh-baked strawberry cakes from the bakery were merchandised.

Another island display of strawberry cakes faced customers as they entered the bakery, which is against the back wall at the end of the fresh aisle. In Victory's older stores, the bakery's location differs, but none has bakery capping the fresh aisle as this one does.

"The positioning of the bakery in this spot is great because everybody has to walk through it, and it's big, twice as big as any of our others," DiGeronimo said.

DiGeronimo pointed out that carrying a theme from one end of the aisle to the other is a purposeful strategy in which the bakery plays a key role. The idea is to tie products made in the food court -- such as pizza and panini -- and in the bakery, to seasonal produce, thus underscoring all the products' freshness.

"For instance, when asparagus is in season, we'll have huge displays of fresh asparagus on the produce tables, and also feature asparagus soup, and maybe asparagus pizza, and asparagus bread," DiGeronimo said, emphasizing the tie-in. He named some other seasonal vegetables and fruits that will be used in the same way, including tomatoes.

The bakery's contribution to the tomato theme could be tomato bread. But whether it's part of a theme or not, the bakery is an integral part of the chain's sparked-up fresh image, he said.

"There are products in the bakery that complement all our other fresh products," DiGeronimo said.

Among them are crusty, European-style breads and kettle-boiled bagels, both of which are displayed on lengths of wooden slant tables that span 12 to 20 feet.

The bagel operation, against the back wall, spans the entire width of the fresh aisle. Customers can see associates boiling the bagels, then loading them into ovens. When a batch is done, the associate removes the bagels on a wooden paddle and tilts them into wicker baskets on the slant-table display.

While the display is big, it is sufficiently low-profile to enable customers to get a good view of the production process.

"The only thing in the back room [of the bakery] is storage, and coolers. And we'll take that open-production look to future stores," DiGeronimo said.

"We're very happy with the kettle bagel program and we're looking at two or three additional stores we can retrofit with it," he added.

The bagels are cross merchandised with freshly made, flavored cream cheeses in an adjacent 4-foot tiered case. Chalkboard signs proclaim the freshness of both products. One, over the bagel display, says, "Our bagels are hot, fresh, kettle-boiled and hearth-baked." A sign hanging over the cream-cheese display says, "Made-from-scratch cream cheeses."

"The bagel program is just the next step up in offering great, fresh food. Bagels are big sellers everywhere and we want to stay ahead of the trend," DiGeronimo said.