AUDUBON, Pa. -- At Genuardi's Family Markets, bread has risen to star status.
The chain is making that perfectly clear at a new store here, orchestrating state-of-the-art merchandising fixtures that put bread squarely under the spotlight.
Genuardi's dedicated more than 16 linear feet to an expanded selection of store-baked breads -- including a new signature bread -- to give the category added prominence.
Similar action to give bread top billing is planned for all new stores and remodels, said officials at the Norristown, Pa.-based retailer.
At the new store here, an 8-foot, low-profile "bread bar" was designed to offer both service and self-service. The service part of the bar shows off naked loaves stacked behind curved glass. Just in front of the glass, a wide wood shelf -- an integral part of the merchandising
fixture -- offers bagged loaves of the same varieties for grab-and-go.
The bar imparts an old-world look with features such as natural-finished oak and thick, curved glass.
"We've done a good job with crusty bread for years, but this is a better way to display it," said Alan Christiansen, bakery specialist at the 27-unit chain.
"The bread looks great, and the low profile of the case creates another dimension to service. It's designed to have the feel of an old-fashioned bread shop," he said in an interview with SN.
Adjacent to the bread bar are 8 feet of slant tables, holding baskets of bread loaves in see-through bags. Another 4 feet of in-line racking displays rolls. Over the top of all the displays, customers can see associates busy making bread.
"We took down the walls and opened up the production area. The ovens are in full view; so are associates preparing product, and that emphasizes the freshness of the product," Christiansen said.
Genuardi's manages to give bread the star treatment, even though in this store the bakery is the last department in the traffic pattern, placed at the left front of the store.
Two adjacent concepts help the bread bar attract notice by bracketing it with activity. As a customer faces the bread displays, he also sees a custom cake-decorating station to his right and a made-to-order sandwich station to his left.
The placement of service-oriented production concepts to flank the bread bar on either side was a purposeful attempt to catch consumers' eyes and call attention to the breads, Christiansen said. In addition, the bakery's location late in the store traffic pattern serves it well for impulse buys, he added.
"We tried to create a store within a store. It's like part of a mini food court at this location," he said. The deli counter, a salad bar and a Bucks County coffee bar are also just across the aisle. Limited seating at tables is provided at the front corner of the store to the side of the checkout lanes.
The chain did not devote significantly more space to the bakery, nor to bread, in the Audubon store. However, the layout reconfigures bakery to be wider and less deep, and thus creates a feeling of more space, Christiansen said.
In addition, while associates work behind the low displays, they also are facing the shoppers, which Christiansen said helps to foster interaction.
While just 25% of bread sales out of the new "bread shop" concept are service, the format nonetheless represents a new tilt toward service for Genuardi's.
In most of the chain's other bakeries, which don't have the revamped bread merchandising layout yet, bread sales are even more overwhelmingly self-service. In those stores, bread is merchandised on cart-shaped racks in the aisle and on tables.
Christiansen said the installation of bread bars, and the attendant increased emphasis on the popular bread category, are both aimed at giving the chain an edge over its competition.
He also said he doesn't see the bread craze among consumers leveling off any time soon.
"As more people become familiar with the Food Pyramid, and realize that bread is good for them, sales will continue to grow," he said.
And that's true no matter what the demographics are for any given market area, he added. Genuardi's new 44,000-square-foot unit here replaces an older store in a neighborhood decidedly middle-class, Christiansen said.
The chain has been working on the concept for some time; the bread bar at the Audubon unit is actually its fifth. Genuardi's had experimented with its first bread bar in a store in Bear, Del., which had opened last June.
The rollout will continue. Two more -- one in a new store, the other in a replacement store -- will be installed in the next two or three months, Christiansen said. And the chain's store in upscale St. David's, Pa., where the focus has been on the store's food court, will get a bread bar probably by the end of the year.
While he declined to reveal sales figures or unit movement, Christiansen said the bars are boosting bread sales compared with stores without them.
"We're doing fantastically with them. They're a definite success. We'll put them in new stores," he said. Where it is feasible, Genuardi's also will make changes at existing stores to accommodate bread-bar merchandising fixtures as best it can.
To add further panache to its bread program, Genuardi's launched a signature Italian bread along with three flavors of focaccia -- traditional, Romano cheese with rosemary and garlic, and fresh tomato.
That foursome of products has brought the chain's repertoire up to 20 varieties. The bakery offers all 20 breads on the weekends. During the week, when store and department traffic is less heavy, it makes about eight to 15 varieties available instead.
The four new breads made their debut on the bread bar at the Bear, Del., store in June. But only in the last few months have they been rolled out to all the chain's stores.
The signature bread, called Pane di Friuli, for the Friuli region of northern Italy, was developed for Genuardi's by one of its suppliers, Christiansen said. It's a richer-than-usual Italian bread with "a slightly different flavor," he explained.