Rising Sales

IN THE WORLD OF WELLNESS, the in-store bakery remains a crossroads of temptation. The department tickles all five senses with its technicolor cakes, aromatic pastries and endless trays of cookies. Yet, the ISB is home to one of the bedrocks of a healthful diet: whole grains. It's here that retailers offer artisan breads made with ingredients that include not only grains, but nuts and berries. We carry

IN THE WORLD OF WELLNESS, the in-store bakery remains a crossroads of temptation. The department tickles all five senses with its technicolor cakes, aromatic pastries and endless trays of cookies.

Yet, the ISB is home to one of the bedrocks of a healthful diet: whole grains. It's here that retailers offer artisan breads made with ingredients that include not only grains, but nuts and berries.

“We carry a seven-grain bread that has different kinds of seeds in it,” said Mike Peplinski, bakery production manager at V. Richard's Market in Brookfield, Wis. “That kind of recipe is a foundation of any bread program today. It doesn't matter so much what you put inside it. The grains are the most important ingredient people are looking for.”

A reputation for freshness and variety can help a store's bakery play an important role in promoting health, and retailers agree that a well-managed bread program is a must-have component. Consumers seem to agree. Artisan bread and rolls made up 11.3% of ISB sales that totaled $2.4 billion in 2007, an increase of nearly 10% from the year before, according to Modern Baking magazine.

More recent evidence measuring dietary attitudes was published just this month in “Nutrition and You: Trends 2008,” a report issued by the American Dietetic Association. The survey found that nearly 56% of adults claim they are eating more whole grains. When they were asked to compare whole grain bread to white, the poll saw the closest thing to a unanimous verdict: 94% of respondents said they believe whole grain bread is healthier than white bread; 6% said they are equally healthy; and just six people (four of whom were men) said white bread is “healthier.”

ISB executives understand shoppers can make lots of choices to get their recommended daily amount of grains. Hearth breads are only one option — and a pricey one, at that.

“We realize we have two customers here,” said Kent Tapley, vice president of deli-bakery-foodservice at Marsh Supermarkets, Indianapolis. “We have the customer looking for an everyday-type product that's more competitive price-wise; we also have the customer who's looking for that European-style, fresh-baked product made with the best ingredients.”

The 104-store chain operates three banners: the upscale Marketplace, the value-format Hometown, and O'Malia's, a five-store specialty unit emphasizing prime meats. In each, Tapley tries to position both the everyday bread and the chain's Marsh Signature line of premium artisan loaves and rolls as a destination within the ISB.

“A lot of customers might know whole grains would be better for them, but if they're not used to visiting the fresh bakery, they go down the commercial [bread] aisle,” he said. “Packaged bread might be healthy, but it still contains preservatives and additives that offset what's good about it. That's why we try to keep our Signature product as clean and ingredient-simple as possible.”

Qualities like simplicity and authenticity help make up the central marketing message in any artisan bread program. Many hearth-style loaves and rolls sold at Market of Choice stores use an all-natural, yeast-free starter.

“What that does is help digestion, since the wheat breaks down in a way that makes it easier for your body to get all the benefits,” said Christine Jessie, bakery sales manager for the seven-store chain in Eugene, Ore. “Your digestion isn't working so hard to break it down.”

With its strong focus on local foods, Market of Choice offers more than 50 varieties of high-quality bread on any given day. Some are made from scratch in rack ovens in each store, a selection that's augmented by a large number of boutique vendors who deliver their own specialties.

“One just makes bread using a brick oven built by the owners themselves,” said Jessie. “Some just have one item that they make really great, and we'll buy just that item from them; and we have one guy who only makes vegan loaf cakes, and we'll buy two SKUs of those. They're absolutely delicious.”

Among the most popular varieties at Market of Choice is the retailer's own 100% whole wheat loaf, free of high-fructose corn syrup and dough conditioners.

“It's just pure, clean and simple,” said Jessie, noting that a nine-grain version is also available.


Schnuck Markets in St. Louis likewise has found success within the artisan niche, with an organic whole wheat loaf, as well as an organic “Rustic French” loaf, according to Bill Mihu, the retailer's vice president of bakery operations.

“From day one they had immediate acceptance, and they're truly one of the better-selling SKUs that we have in our artisan bread line,” he said, adding that a non-organic whole grain loaf is the No. 1 best seller.

Schnucks, which outsources its hearth bread and roll program to La Brea Bakery, headquartered in Van Nuys, Calif., found that artisan breads are the fastest-growing bread category in the bakery for the past few years — no mean feat given the appeal of the ISB's other products.

“The artisan category has, in the consumer's mind, a healthier connotation, a cleaner label,” observed Mihu.

V. Richard's finds a similar situation with its outsourced program.

“Our 100% whole wheat is huge, and breads like our Honey Oat and French Peasant are some of the staples you'll see on our menu,” said Peplinski, the store's bakery production manager.

V. Richard's gets its artisan products from Breadsmith, a Whitefish Bay, Wis.-based manufacturer known for high-quality and unique products. Kevin Schuk, vice president of the company, says grains are a foundation for its recipes, though Breadsmith is cautious about making health claims.

“It's tricky because there are so many standards out there,” he said. “So, we take the cautious road and use the moniker ‘Made with Whole Grains.’”

That kind of labeling seems to be enough for customers at Marsh, where a multi-grain baguette takes top sales honors from the 18 varieties typically available on any given day.

“Sales depend on what's hot out there,” said Tapley. “If it's grain, then our seven-grain batard becomes a very big favorite. Or, the kalamata olive and feta batard we have. Kalamata olives are the No.1 best-selling olives we've got on our olive bars, so customers tie these products together as they're shopping and planning for dinner.”

Indeed, how can retailers keep consumers excited about good-for-you hearth breads? Rotating in limited-edition products around the holidays is one way to attract sales. Schnucks' menu of 16 varieties gets tweaked with up to five seasonal offerings, with loaves of apple-raisin spice, or pecan-raisin bread. They provide added focus to the category, says Mihu.

Most important is to stay on top of trends and changes in consumer taste, retailers said. Jessie at Market of Choice recently has discovered that anything with flax is popular.

“Usually it's mixed into the dough, though I've seen a couple of items where they grind it onto the loaf,” she said.

Good Advice

  • Position bread displays outside of the ISB's “sweet zone” to maximize exposure to all shoppers.
  • Differentiate artisan selections from the commercial aisle. Keep ingredients clean and simple, and highlight them on packaging and displays.
  • Cut in seasonal items to match holiday shopping times.
  • Supply the deli with best-selling breads for sandwiches, and cross-promote the availability of whole loaves in the bakery.