At one time, a market simply sold groceries, leaving perishables like produce, bakery and meat to the experts: the green grocer, baker and butcher. The advent of the supermarket in the second half of the last century changed all that.
Bryan (pictured above with his daughter Heather Kelly) and Sandy Devoe, who purchased the single-unit Fitzgerald’s Foods in Simsbury, Conn., in July 2010, quickly realized perishables were key. “We felt that if we could enhance the perishables departments we could pull people back from the chain stores because they really wanted to shop here. The store has 65 years of history,” Bryan Devoe says. “The first major thing we changed was the bakery because that brings people in, and we wanted to make the bakery a destination. When we opened the new bakery, we wanted to wow our customers. It was the step that got us going.”
In the previous iteration of Fitzgerald’s, the bakery was almost non-existent. Most product was brought in fully finished or was bake-off, and customers had gotten into the habit of grabbing a loaf of bread and bypassing the rest of the bakery. “I was actually surprised at the numbers they did with how little variety they had. The quality of the products was good, but the numbers may have been just because there wasn’t any other place to go,” he says. With no retail bakery in town, Devoe knew he had an opportunity to become the place residents came for their everyday desserts as well as special occasions.
He turned to his daughter, Heather Kelly, to run the new bakery. Both had significant experience working in Highland Park Markets, a high-end chain with several locations in Connecticut; however, Kelly’s desire to run the bakery was a surprise to Devoe, and he stressed the importance of the role the bakery would play in the new Fitzgerald’s.
“He pretty much said to me, ‘Heather, if you fail, we fail.’ So no pressure,” Kelly laughs. But she has more than proven herself. Bakery sales are up 125 percent from last year and account for 5.5 percent of store sales.
“I’m amazed every day by what comes out of the bakery,” Devoe says. When revamping the bakery, they devoted a significant amount of display space to service by installing two 8-ft. showcases. “I decided to go service in the bakery because it’s key to the business,” he adds. Plus, it helps distinguish Fitzgerald’s from the competing chain supermarkets.
“I think you need the employees there to talk about the product. I don’t think a customer is going to make the decision to buy a $25 cake without knowing exactly what’s in it. And we need employees to explain why it’s $25. It’s because we make it fresh every day,” Devoe says. Products out of the service cases account for about 40 percent of bakery sales.
The bakery relies on a mix of scratch production and carefully selected par-baked and fully finished products. The bread line is a par-bake program, however Devoe and Kelly have plans to add scratch breads. “We have a scratch bread program we want to use, and we wanted to start it last fall, but we weren’t ready yet,” Devoe says. They have yet to decide exactly how they would want to merchandise the scratch-made bread to set them apart from what other area markets are doing. “Part of what is holding us back is we want it to be unique,” he says.
“We want to make sure we do it right,” Kelly adds.
Instead, they have focused on products they know they can make well from scratch, such as cakes, cheesecakes, icings and mousses. Other products, such as pies, are not cost-effective to make in-house, so they bring in fully finished product. This is necessary especially during the busy holiday season when the bakery would not be able to keep up with demand. When shopping for new products, they ask themselves if they can make the product better from scratch. If they answer is yes, they do; if the answer is no, they purchase the product from suppliers.
Changes with the seasons
The product line changes seasonally, and Kelly and her team have free rein to make any product they think they can sell.
A new item that will be introduced this fall is the caramel apple cheesecake cake made with two layers of apple cake with a layer of caramel cheesecake in the middle. The first layer of cake is baked into the caramel. The entire cake is then covered with cream cheese icing with house-made caramel and dark chocolate ganache drizzled over the top and garnished with pieces of caramel and slices of dried apples. Kelly had tried to dip the apple slices in caramel, but the dried slices worked better.
A summer staple, which was only available from Memorial Day to Labor Day, was s’mores. They have proven to be extremely popular with the bakery selling more than 24 dozen in a week. “I have nightmares about s’mores,” Kelly jokes. Graham cracker crumbs are placed in a small paper cup, about the size of a mini cupcake, then a marshmallow that has been dipped in chocolate is placed in the cup and more chocolate is drizzled over everything. “It’s not your typical s’more, but they’re little and easy to eat,” she adds.
A successful Valentine’s Day product was the heart-shaped red velvet cheesecake cake for two. In two days, the only time the product was available, the bakery sold more than 100 of them.
Other products are transitioned from season to season with some simple tweaks. The summer favorite mint chocolate cake slice tastes like mint chocolate chip ice cream. To make the dessert more winter holiday appropriate, Kelly plans to replace the green Andy’s Mints with candy canes and change the name to something more wintery.
Some products came about purely by accident. In an attempt to make a Mississippi mud pie, Kelly ended up with a brownie mousse sundae because the pie ended up looking more like a giant cupcake. The brownie mousse sundae has a round brownie base with chocolate mousse piled on it and is drizzled with chocolate ganache. It is topped with a dollop of buttercream, sprinkles and a cherry to complete the sundae look.
While creating new products, Kelly relies on her stable of taste-testers, her baking team and her parents. “They can do whatever they want as long as I get to sample it,” Devoe says. During the development of the apple caramel cheesecake cake, they decided the apple cake didn’t have enough apple flavor. They replaced the water with apple cider to give it a richer apple flavor.
Although Fitzgerald’s serves a fairly affluent customer base, Devoe and Kelly are careful to keep a range of pricepoints in the bakery; they want to avoid sticker shock when the customers look at the showcase. “Do you want to sell five or do you want to sell 15?” Devoe asks when discussing price. “When you have to bring a dessert to someone’s house, you might not want to spend $25, but you will bring a $19.99 one without second-guessing it.”
“In this economy, people can’t afford to spend $30 on an everyday cake, and I don’t want the bakery to be only for special occasions, I want people to be able to afford to buy these amazing desserts for their family,” Kelly says.
“We didn’t want to be just a destination,” Devoe adds. “You should be able to buy a cake every weekend and not worry about the price. We have to have both.”
To help keep the prices down while still maintaining high quality ingredients, Fitzgerald’s brought in 6-in. and 5-in. sizes for many of the cakes and tarts to help keep prices below the second-guessing precipice. Birthday cakes remain popular in the 8-in. size, but the seasonal cakes are 6-in. rounds.
For customers who want a smaller birthday cake, Kelly developed babycakes, a 5-in. double layer that is decorated similarly to the 8-in. birthday cakes but is less expensive and serves four to five people. Another option the bakery offers is the party cake, an 8-in. single layer with five cupcakes placed on top, decorated with candles and large dot sprinkles.
Last fall, the bakery offered candy apples made with its house-made caramel. They sold well, but the apples were large, and didn’t really take off until they were placed on sale at the end of the season. So, this year, the bakery is going to make them using smaller apples to keep the regular price at last year’s sale price and only offer them in the two most popular flavors instead of the four that were available last year.
“We decided they were worth doing again if we can get the pricepoint down to where people aren’t going to think twice about it,” Kelly says. And, to improve shelf life of the apples, Fitzgerald’s sells them without a stick. A punctured candy apple only has a shelf life of one week, while an unpunctured one has a 30-day shelf life, she adds.
With a product line that changes frequently, Fitzgerald’s is not known for a single product, but rather for offering a variety of quality products. “I think we’re known for making things that taste as good as they look,” Kelly says. “We have a signature bakery as opposed to a signature item.”