LAKELAND, Fla. -- Publix Super Markets here got good marks from Consumer Reports readers for its in-store bakeries.
In a survey conducted by the Yonkers, N.Y.-based national consumer magazine, Publix shoppers cited bakery as one of the chain's major strengths. While the in-store bakery was named as a strength at several of the 35 supermarket chains that consumers mentioned, Publix' bakery won the highest rating compared with the others.
More than 19,000 Consumer Reports readers participated in the survey, which asked readers to rate their supermarkets on such things as cleanliness, price, service and checkouts. A question in the survey also asked readers to name their supermarkets' strengths and weaknesses. Shoppers at three other chains -- Raley's Supermarkets, West Sacramento, Calif.; Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C.; and H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio -- also said bakery was a strength at their supermarkets, but Publix shoppers gave its bakery a higher score than shoppers at the other three chains gave their supermarkets' bakeries.
The Consumer Reports survey did not make clear what criteria readers used to judge the bakery at their supermarkets.
Publix also tied with Raley's for "best overall shopping experience," which took into consideration such things as cleanliness, service, courteous associates and fast checkout. The two chains scored 83 out of 100 possible points. Harris Teeter came in third with a score of 81. Those three chains, however, did not score high on price.
From its survey findings, Consumer Reports concluded that many consumers are prepared to pay premium prices for high-quality food sold in a store that's clean and that offers fast, courteous service, especially at checkout.
The publication also said of the ratings in the article that "because the data are based on responses of Consumer Reports readers, they may not reflect the experience of the population at large."
Consumers and industry experts who talked to SN expressed no surprise that Publix, which has more than 500 stores in the Southeast, got such positive comments on its bakery.
"As in-store bakeries have evolved over the last few years, Publix has maintained its standards for high quality," said Carl Richardson, a Rochester, Mich.-based bakery consultant who is a former director of bakery for Farmer Jack, Detroit, a division of A&P, Montvale, N.J.
Quality has been held a priority in Publix' bakeries, "even as the labor pool has thinned out," Richardson said. While Publix has veered away from its once totally scratch production, just as many other supermarkets have, "They haven't given up the scratch environment," he added. With a predominantly scratch and mix combination now, Publix will look at products offered by manufacturers to see if they live up to their standards, Richardson said. "There was a time when they wouldn't even look," he said. "They clearly recognize that their bakery is an image-maker for the company. They have an ongoing bakery training program that's always been a priority."
Another industry source, who had been a Publix shopper when he lived in the South, said, "They built a quality reputation with their bakery. Consumers go to Publix for a birthday cake or pastries when they're having company."
And another consumer, a former resident of St. Augustine, Fla., told SN, "Publix is known for their baked goods. We used to treat ourselves with something from their bakery on the weekends."