Baking seems to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance in recent years. Bakery-themed television shows are extremely popular and bakeries are featured more regularly in advertisements for everything from cars to credit cards, so Modern Baking is taking the opportunity to give a shoutout to those in the industry who have taken an innovative idea or product and run with it. These inaugural Innovative 10 run the gamut from decorators to pastry chefs, retail bakeries to supermarket in-stores to allieds. All offer ideas or techniques that you can incorporate in your own business to help it grow. Modern Baking congratulates this year’s Innovative 10 for a job well done and encourages everyone to keep improving your businesses; you may be one of next year’s Innovative 10.
King Arthur Flour embraces the web
When Google comes calling, you don’t turn them down. Last year, King Arthur Flour was selected from a group of Vermont-based small businesses by the search engine giant to star in a national TV ad promoting the Google Chrome browser. Google chose the 200-year-old flour supplier for its reputable history and innovation–particularly for using the web to build its business during the past 20 years.
“One of the biggest factors in our innovation is social media and how we’ve embraced it,” says Halley Silver, web marketing project manager. “Our first foray into social media was a community tab we launched on our website before Facebook came out. It’s an online forum for customers and we respond to every single comment or question.”
King Arthur Flour recently hosted a series of online instructional baking videos for professionals, an effort that helped them get noticed by Google. And the company is building a “device agnostic” website that responds across desktop, mobile and tablet computers for a better user experience, Silver says.
The day after the Google ad aired nationwide in November 2011, King Arthur Flour’s website got more than 75,000 hits, double the number seen that day in 2010. The company catapulted to one of the top 10 brands on Google+.
“The brand awareness has been huge,” says Terri Rosenstock, public relations manager. “Some people didn’t even realize they had King Arthur Flour on their shelf. It’s really helped build our brand.”
August First Bakery mobilizes bread sales
Sometimes innovation comes by looking to the past. That’s what Jodi Whalen and Phil Merrick, owners of August First bakery café, Burlington, Vt., hoped to channel when they launched the bread bicycle in the summer of 2010 to deliver bread to nearby neighborhoods.
“The idea was twofold,” Whalen says. “One was to have more visibility in the community to increase bread sales, and also to do some community building in a way that recognizes how special a bakery can be.”
Monday through Friday from early May to mid-October, the bakery sends employees out on bikes armed with a bell and their voices to peddle artisan bread in five Burlington neighborhoods on a weekly schedule. No Tweets announce their location nor do GPS coordinates track where the bikes are headed.
“There’s something about the slowing down of it,” Whalen says. “We actually had local tech people contact us saying we could improve the bread bike by adding a GPS, and we said absolutely not. There is something magical about being in your house and hearing, ‘Bread for sale!’”
Not only have bread sales increased at the bakery, but August First also has woven itself into the fabric of the community. “I hate to use the word brand,” Whalen says. “But it’s been such a natural way to create a brand. It really resonates with people–they just love it so much.”
Edgewood Bakery does it all
Since taking over the 1,500-sq.-ft. banquet hall behind the bakery six years ago, Edgewood Bakery, Jacksonville, Fla., has evolved in ways owners Sandy and Gary Polletta never imagined. Now with a booming catering division, lunch service, a bistro serving dinner three nights a week, and a recently launched online shipping division, there seems to be nothing this bakery café won’t tackle. “Six years ago, we never would have thought we’d have a full restaurant or café,” Sandy Polletta says. “It’s naturally evolved from one thing to another.”
As the catering division grew, Edgewood expanded its breakfast and lunch offerings to meet increased demand for diverse catered options. “That developed into adding more items, which developed into full service with an expanded menu, and we added outdoor seating,” she says. Last summer, the bakery brought on a banquet manager and executive chef. And after a soft launch in August, Edgewood’s 28-seat bistro opened in September for full dinner service Thursday through Saturday. Although change is scary, Polletta says it’s allowed the bakery to build its brand within the community.
“Looking at those opportunities, we needed to diversify to keep up with the economy and make sure we have customers coming through our doors not just for special occasions. We want to make sure we’re a destination.”
Crumbs brings cupcakes to the masses
Today it’s hard to imagine a world without cupcakes, but 10 years ago, they were primarily saved for childrens’ birthdays. Fast-forward to 2012 and consumer demand shows no signs of slowing, with sales from specialty cupcakes up each year since 2006, according to IBISWorld. Crumbs Bake Shop, New York, the nation’s largest cupcake bakery chain, has been on the scene since 2003, and the expansion hasn’t stopped.
“We don’t want to take credit for what goes on today, but we were there in the beginning. It was just us and Magnolia Bakery,” co-founder Jason Bauer says.
The chain, which went public last year after merging with 57th Street General Acquisition Corp., has swelled to 50 units in seven states, with plans to open in two additional markets in 2012, boost its beverage program and even expand into shopping malls. Bauer attributes the chain’s success to the fact that all the stores are company owned.
“We’re not a franchise. Crumbs Holdings opens and operates all the stores. That allows us to be innovative and focus on service and really spend a lot of time continuing to understand and grow the brand in new markets.”
More than 75 percent of sales comes from cupcakes. The company has centralized commissaries in each market where product is prepared, which helps with quality control. “First and foremost, you need a good product. It’s the repeat sale that makes you successful,” Bauer says. “We’ve also built a brand that’s bigger than our actual business. In the Northeast, it’s a household name. We hope to leverage that across the country.”
Hot Chocolate’s Mindy Segal plays with dessert
What’s left to learn after 25 years in the baking and pastry business? That flaws are OK and learning never stops. Mindy Segal, award-winning pastry chef/owner of the seven-year-old Hot Chocolate restaurant, Chicago, revels in the imperfect–the burnt edge of a croissant, lopsided cookies and oozing pastries–because that makes for rustic, great desserts. Her mastery of plated desserts from 20 years of working as a pastry chef at renowned Chicago fine-dining restaurants Ambria, mk and Spago is tempered by her sense of humor.
“I have a very quirky sense of humor that most people don’t get, but I do,” Segal says. “I do a lot with textures and temperatures. You’ll rarely get a dessert on my menu that’s one texture and one temperature.”
From white chocolate mint pot du crème to “Quebecois” sugar pie with bacon fat crust and house-made praline ice cream (using house-roasted local pecans) to mimic pecan pie, each dessert plays with diners’ senses while evoking memories of flavors from childhood.
Hot Chocolate is adding a hot chocolate barista bar in April and this fall, the restaurant will open for breakfast, offering European-style, scratch-baked products, including Danish, English muffins, rugalach, bagels, filled croissants and baguettes. Segal isn’t stopping there, also planning to open a 24-hour glass enclosed bakery at O’Hare International Airport and several hot chocolate bar concepts around the globe.
“I’m going to be 45 this year, and going into my eighth year of owning this business; I am still learning and still evolving,” she says. “I don’t think that process ever stops. Ever.”
Atwood’s thrives on sharing knowledge
Jennifer Atwood, CD, learned the art of cake decorating at the elbows of her parents, Mark, CMB, CD and Rhonda Atwood, owners of Atwood’s Bakery in Alexandria, La. So, it comes as no surprise that she is equally as willing as her parents to teach new techniques to others.
Two years ago, she began traveling the country to teach decorators how to use a fondant-cutting machine that speeds decorating by producing fondant decorations in multiples. “The machine is great when we do production items, like polka dots,” Atwood says. It also works well for decorations where cutters can be hard to find, such as fleur de lis–an important enhancement in the heart of NFL Saints country. “We can make our signature fleur de lis from 1 in. to 12 ins.” But the classes aren’t restricted to fondant. She recently taught a flavor profile class at a local bakery association’s show, where she demonstrated an orange rum raisin Danish. She also showed how the same flavors taste different in other products, such as muffins and croissants. Atwood plans on taking the course nationwide by the end of the year.
She also is working on a book geared toward the baking industry, so if she can’t come to your bakery to teach a class, you can still learn her techniques and ideas.
“The most important tool for a decorator to have is an inner longing to constantly want more knowledge,” Atwood says. “I still register for other people’s classes because you can always improve yourself.”
Busken Bakery makes a name for itself
When Dan and Brian took over the family business, Busken Bakery in Cincinnati, they inherited a company that had an established reputation for creative advertising and marketing. However, the brothers knew they had to take the bakery into the 21st century while still maintaining the creativity Busken was known for.
The bakery had used an advertising agency for years, an anomaly in the retail baking world, but Dan and Brian decided to switch to a PR agency. “We wanted to take the product back to the streets and allow people to interact with the brand,” said Brian during a seminar at All Things Baking last fall. “The baking business is very mediafriendly.” The bakery uses the PR agency to help monitor its social media activity.
“The benefit of social media is it is very measurable. It’s cheap and your fan-base advertises for you,” Dan said during the seminar. “The downside is you need to hire someone to manage it. It’s an open forum, and [fans] can say what they want.”
The bakery used social media to promote activities and contests going on in the bakery, such as the cutest baby wearing a Busken onesie contest, a cookie war with cookies featuring local TV news anchors–buy a cookie with that anchor’s face on it, vote for that anchor–and the bakery’s presence at a local music fest. The key, the brothers say, is to keep the “events” low in cost and credible–a real story, not a contrived one–and talk about them on social media.
Wakefern goes gluten-free
Gluten-free, with a small but dedicated celiac consumer base, is gaining momentum in in-store bakeries as more consumers turn to it for dietary reasons. Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., is no exception. The wholesale grocery cooperative operates 238 stores (235 with in-store bakeries) under the ShopRite banner in New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland. (Donna Nunez, fresh bakery division manager declined to participate in an interview.)
Gluten-free products are challenging to produce and pose shelf-life issues. For that reason, most in-store bakeries look to outside manufacturers or local bakeries to supply branded gluten-free bakery products; however, Wakefern produces its own line of decorated cakes, tortillas, pizzas, white and multigrain breads, cupcakes (white and chocolate varieties) and brownies. The products are merchandised in a refrigerated case within the in-store bakery because often the whole family eats gluten-free if only one member can’t tolerate gluten. The products are completely different from their “regular” counterparts, requiring different packaging and handling. Wakefern acknowledges that gluten-free is a niche category but one that continues to grow as more people are diagnosed with celiac disease or suffer from gluten intolerance. The in-stores have been offering glutenfree products for more than a year and are experiencing continual sales growth.
Hannaford goes small for big sales
Smaller product sizes have been the trend for several years, but bakeries are often challenged to make them as profitable. Delhaize America’s Hannaford Bros., based in Scarborough, Maine, and operating 179 in-store bakeries, may have found the perfect balance. The company began investigating smaller bakery product sizes after customers indicated they were interested, and introduced several cakes, desserts and bread varieties in smaller sizes last May. To introduce the new, smaller sizes, Hannaford instituted a targeted couponing program around the small decorated cakes and creme cakes, which ran in May and June. Customers who purchased a 1/4-sheet birthday cake, for example, would receive a coupon for a 5-in. cake, an item that could be considered more of an everyday treat.
“We saw redemption rates that were up a little higher than other couponing programs we’ve done,” says Sue Langsley, deli/bakery merchandiser for Hannaford. “So customers were seeing a value in the small items.”
Creating that sense of value and triggering a sale is important, since most in-store bakery products are impulse purchases. “They aren’t usually on the shopping list, so the product price has to be something that will fit into their budget,” Langsley adds. She is cognizant of how customers may be thinking–how does it compare if they were to go out to eat in a restaurant?
Puratos tests taste sensations
What makes consumers choose one product over another? Puratos Corp., Cherry Hill, N.J., uses its Sensobus to find out. The mobile laboratory tests consumers’ opinions about their everyday food needs and wants.
The Sensobus can roll up to almost any location, but often parks in mall or supermarket parking lots. “We’re catching [consumers] when they have their shopping minds on,” says Kathryn Power, marketing communications manager, Puratos USA.
Introduced to the United States last year, the Sensobus crisscrosses the country asking consumers questions such as “Does the product look appetizing,” “Which bread do you prefer,” or “How much would you pay for this product?” Specialized sensory analysts compile the data to find outwhat customers in a given area want from bakery, patisserie or chocolate products. Preference mapping across several parameters informs how much consumers like or dislike a product, and different products can be compared at the same time. This allows the Sensobus team to know which products better match consumer expectations.