While one of the smaller bakery categories, fresh bagels play an important role in attracting shoppers to retail bakery departments. Retailers say that having a variety of bagel flavors and sizes throughout the day can position the in-store bakery as a destination.
Bagels cater to individual shoppers looking for a quick and convenient breakfast or snack, as well as those who want several dozen for a work event or family function. Plain bagels are fine, but more retailers are building excitement by offering new and unusual flavors.
Dorothy Lane Market, Dayton, Ohio, bakes 16 different varieties of bagels from scratch each day, according to Brian Sheets, manager of the retailer’s Washington Square store in Dayton.
Along with standard flavors like plain, sesame and poppy, Dorothy Lane has success with unique varieties like blueberry-cinnamon crunch and cranberry-orange. Another popular variety is asiago-jalapeño, made with asiago cheese and sundried tomatoes, and topped with jalapeño pieces.
“Jalapeño has been a trend in other foods, and it’s popular in bagels as well,” Sheets said. “It adds extra flavor.”
Dorothy Lane is proud of the reputation it has built in the bagel business, Sheets said. Its bagels are hand-shaped and baked daily at the Dorothy Lane Market Bakehouse, a baking facility located behind its Washington Square store.
“Our customers know that we make them fresh every morning — and we do it right,” he said, noting that the retailer’s bagel recipe is modeled after the popular New York bagel shops.
One way Dorothy Lane has built its bagel sales is by adding corporate accounts. It welcomes orders from local hospitals, cafes and other businesses, Sheets said. Orders are either delivered by store staff or a delivery service.
Another way the Washington Square store caters to bagel buyers is by offering complementary services in its in-store coffee bar, located next to the bakery. Customers are notified that they can bring their bagel to the café and use a self-serve toaster. The coffee bar also provides butter or cream cheese for a small fee.
“It’s a very convenient combination to have the bakery next to the café,” he said.
Fancy flavors and colors
Stew Leonard’s, a six-store retailer based in Norwalk, Conn., also has an impressive bagel business.
“Our bagels are so popular that people from other states who are traveling through our area stop at our stores just to get them,” said Mario Ortiz, team leader of the retailer’s Norwalk store.
Bagel makers arrive at 5 a.m. every day. The retailer uses a unique process in which the bagels are first boiled, then hearth-baked. This produces a bagel that’s crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, according to the company.
Stew Leonard’s is known for its unique seasonal bagels, like the gingerbread bagel it sold this past holiday season. The bagel was made with flour, brown sugar, ginger and white chocolate.
“We use simple ingredients,” Ortiz noted.
Other seasonal and holiday bagels at the chain include heart-shaped pink and red bagels for Valentine’s Day, green bagels for St. Patrick’s Day and pumpkin bagels in the fall. And plenty of rainbow bagels are available year-round. In fact, the rainbow food trend has been a boon to the bagel business, Ortiz said.
“It definitely gave it a push,” he said. “For some people who may not have purchased bagels before, the rainbow bagel got them to try them.”
Stew Leonard’s took the rainbow trend a step further by creating a so-called “unicorn” bagel, made with pink- and purple-colored dough, and topped with edible glitter.
The chain leverages its bagels to connect with the communities in which it operates. For instance, to celebrate graduation season this past June, its stores made bagels in the colors of area high schools. The bagels were available for purchase individually, and in platters through Stew Leonard’s catering departments. Colors varied by store. For instance, its Norwalk store made bagels in green and white for Norwalk High School, while its Danbury, Conn., store made blue and orange bagels for Danbury High School.
Stew Leonard’s even bakes mini bagels to cater to health and wellness shoppers who might typically avoid bagels due to the carbs and calories. The chain also has had success with other types of better-for-you bagels, like its 9-grain bagel, quinoa bagel and honey-wheat bagel.
“We try to provide many different options for all types of bagel shoppers,” he said.
Bagels can be an important component to in-store bakeries even at chains that don’t make them from scratch. While fresh doughnuts are the big draw at the Marketplace Foods store in Minot, N.D., the bakery also makes sure it always has a selection of bagels available. Frozen dough delivered to the store is thawed and left to rise. Bakery associates then shape it into bagels and bake it, according to Felicia Christoff, sales production associate.
Bagels are first sold individually. Those that don’t sell on the first day are assembled into four-packs for next-day sales. Flavors include blueberry, cinnamon, onion, raisin and everything bagels.
“We have a bagel store right down the street and it’s hard to compete with that, but we still make sure we have bagels for our customers as well,” Christoff said.
Indeed, despite heavy competition from foodservice channels, in-store bakeries are in a good position to win over the bagel buyer, said Eric Richard, education coordinator at the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association.
“It all comes down to quality and freshness,” Richard said. “Having good-tasting bagels in-store will bring consumers back.”
Turning shoppers into bagel buyers
When it comes to bagels, retail bakeries are at an advantage because potential bagel buyers are nearby shopping the supermarket. When asked why they buy bagels from the supermarket, 45% of bagel buyers said it’s because they are “already there,” according to a consumer research report from the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association entitled “Growing the Category with Superconsumers: Bagels.” Bagel buyers also view retail bakeries as providing a value: 21% said they view supermarket bagels as being less expensive than at other foodservice establishments.
The report lists several ways for retailers to turn store shoppers into bagel buyers. Among the recommended actions:
• Make sure bagels are readily available. “Bagels should be ready as soon as consumers walk in the door,” according to the report.
• Offer bagel “holes” or cut-up bagels for added convenience.
• Assemble grab-and-go boxes that are pre-filled with bagels. “These bulk boxes are easy to pick up at the bakery for those in a hurry,” according to the report. “Or they can be customized to meet the needs of those with more time or specific bagel preferences.”
• Use apps for pre-ordering.
• Launch a bagel rewards program to build loyalty.