SAN FRANCISCO -- Giving customers what they want at a good value without sacrificing quality is the key to success in the in-store bakery.
That doesn't sound like a revelation, but it is a formidable challenge. The problem is, with today's cost-cutting climate at retail, it's not as easy to deliver the goods.
That sums up the sentiment of retailers interviewed by SN on the show floor at the annual convention of the Retail Bakers of America, Laurel, Md., held here March 11 to 13.
The bakery executives were asked what they see as the essential challenge facing the department. Here's what they had to say:
director of bakery operations (retired)
Publix Super Markets Lakeland, Fla.
I would tell someone who is going to take over a supermarket bakery to send out a customer survey and ask customers, "How are we doing? How do you evaluate our bakery?"
You cannot be everything to everybody. The customer has to show us the direction. Once you know what the customers want, the supermarket bakery can become actually very simple. They cannot compete with the retail bakers with varieties, but they can be a place that specializes in doughnuts in the morning or in decorated cakes.
Trying to be everything to everybody is where we are losing being the profit center. This needs to be rectified. When I came to Publix, my No. 1 objective was to see where we stood in terms of profitability. I've always done my best to see that the customer was served, but, at the same time, that the company got a return on its investment.
People are the key to success. Decorators have to have the recognition and appreciation and then it is easy. In the supermarket, if the person is transferred from the meat, or deli or produce department, how can they find roots in this? They cannot. They have to have a feeling about this business and they can then be promoted.
West Point Market Akron, Ohio
Staying in touch with your customers. Their needs change, sometimes on a daily basis, especially seasonally. If you lose track of what the customer needs, you're going to lose the customer.
People are willing to spend more money if you are giving them what they are asking for. We stay in touch with the customer with surveys. We have a questionnaire on a little podium that floats throughout the store. If you have more than two people asking for a fat-free cake in a day, or within a couple of days, that's an indication.
The retail sales clerks who are talking to your customers every day are extremely important in that process.
If there are changes, make sure your customers are aware of what's happening. If it is change that is not necessarily considered positive in the customers' eyes, you have to make sure they know why you are making that decision. Even go so far as to let them know what the consequences will be if you don't make the change.
fresh bake manager Wakefern Food Corp. Elizabeth, N.J.
Quality. What do I mean by quality? In the finished product, quality and consistency for repeat sales.
Fred DiQuattro director, bakery, deli, seafood and food service Riser Foods
Bedford Heights, Ohio
Controlling labor through training and generating new, well-trained employees. The ground-level part of it is so important. We have a new program and, for want of a better term, it's called GBH, general bakery helpers. It's about seven months old. We have 13 active people in it.
This we're counting on to keep our bakeries good bakeries. The attrition rate is incredible. So the key is getting good competent labor that you have to build.
large Western chain
Knowing what the customer wants: quality products at a price that's fair. Five dollars for bread is fair, if the quality is there. They want it fresh. They don't want extended long shelf lives that many people are forced to put out there to keep their [cases] full.
We're a small part of a large corporation. You do what you can with what your corporation allows you to do. You stick to your convictions. The easiest thing is to give up and say, "Listen, I'll just bring all these things in. I won't worry about training or promotions or about preaching about quality. I can just be one of the pack."