Can a supermarket chain be all things to all people? With its various banners and store brands that hit differing price points, Brookshire Grocery Co. (BGC) is trying to answer yes. This Tyler-Texas based chain with 152 units under its Brookshire, Super 1, Olé Foods, ALPS and FRESH banners, operating in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, is Modern Baking’s inaugural In-store Bakery Operation of the Year.
Recently, Modern Baking called on its readers to nominate the best in-store bakery operators in the country. The nominations were judged on several criteria, including management techniques, merchandising methods, promotion/advertising and commitment to product quality. BGC came out on top.
Part of what makes the company so successful is it has branched into several banners, each aimed at a different segment of the marketplace. Brookshire’s, with 119 stores and 117 bakeries, is a traditional format supermarket strongly focused on service. In fact, BGC’s mission statement is “to provide a great food and shopping experience.”
“We would like to think that the thing we do better than anything else is take care of customers,” says John Rose, BGC bakery category manager. Brookshire’s stores are divided into seven districts by region, and each district has a market/bakery/deli supervisor who oversees all the bakeries in his/her district.
Super 1 with 30 stores, all but two with in-store bakeries, is divided into three districts and is a price impact store. It carries many of the same products as Brookshire’s in-store bakeries, but at a lower price point and often in larger package sizes for customers who are often bulk shoppers. “Super 1 stores are not for every market, but it gives us a 1-2 punch in every market they’re in,” Rose says. “In many of our markets, we offer a service-focused operator and a price impact operator.”
Switch to RTO
The bakery operations of the two banners are similar in that they both rely on retarder-to-oven (RTO) products. BGC switched to RTO several years ago when skilled bakery labor became scarce. The switch allowed the bakeries to keep product quality high and consistent. Products are baked and finished on site; each bakery has a rack or convection oven. The locations have a little latitude to offer the products that sell best in their market, but all pull from the same product line up.
While RTO makes up the bulk of the product line, cake rounds and layers for custom decorated cakes are shipped frozen to the stores from BGC’s central bakery. The commissary also produces a few other cake products, but a third party supplies the dessert cake varieties. Cupcakes, also provided by an outside vendor, are shipped to the stores frozen or in batter form, depending on the location’s production capabilities.
Rose stresses that keeping baking at each location helps promote the theater of baking. Customers can see the product coming out of the oven (if the location has an open production area), or at the very least, smell it as it is baking. But by using RTO products, BGC can keep labor costs in check while providing a quality, consistent product.
In some locations, BGC has begun positioning a decorating station at the front of the bakeries. This adds action and theater to the department and keeps an employee front and center, which aids with customer interaction. “The decorator at the front is an attention-grabber,” says Yasmin Reves, bakery manager for Super 1’s North Tyler location. “It makes people stop, and we’re showing them what we can do.”
Brookshire’s and Super 1 locations also share a similar merchandising philosophy. Both formats rely heavily on packaged products displayed on tables spread throughout the department. The tables are positioned to draw customers in and slow them down. The bakeries, either positioned at the front of the store or at a natural bottleneck in the store flow, also always feature fresh products in the front, so the first thing customers see are BGC’s freshly-baked products.
“We want them to walk in and buy what’s not on the list,” Rose says. “Statistics show that the average customer spends an average of $2.17 per minute while in the store, so the more minutes, the more sales. Occasionally, we’ll hear a complaint that a customer loves our store but it’s hard to get through the bakery. Frankly, in a certain sense, that’s not all bad. It’s job accomplished.”
Most of the Brookshire locations still have at least one small service case for dessert cakes and decorated cakes, cupcakes and individual desserts. (Super 1 has eliminated some service cases from its stores.) “The service cases are good because the bakery managers can do a million things with them, and they are really showpieces for products rather than just offering them in a clamshell package,” Rose says. The cases also help foster customer/employee interaction.
The third element in Brookshire’s product merchandising is self-service. Some locations feature a bread kiosk where customers select and package the products they want. More recently, BGC ran a test program with a muffin cart in certain Brookshire’s locations. They proved successful and will soon be found in more locations. The three tiers of merchandising–service, self-service and packaged–help BGC meet the needs of different customers. While many are comfortable selecting their own breads, when it comes to cookies or donuts, they just want to grab a package and go, Rose says.
Operating under CM
The majority of BGC’s bakery products are sold as packaged items, which aids in tracking sales, something BGC has focused on since it adopted category management four years ago. The business is divided into several categories, and each fresh department has its own category manager. Rose, as category manager for bakery, orchestrates the entire bakery program for the chain (with the exception of the new FRESH store), with input from an array of partners. He is responsible for selecting products that will be sold, setting the price for each product and devising product promotions.
To pass all this information on to the bakery supervisors and managers, who are responsible for executing his plans, Rose uses the company’s intranet site, the keeper of all vital bakery information. It is where bakery managers go to see the schematics for setting shelves and displays as well as how to produce and finish new products.
Along with category management, BGC implemented new inventory management software, which allows the company to track sales, set prices company-wide and get real-time inventory data. “The software really drives our whole company. Before, we had about eight different types of software to run our business,” Rose says. “Now, with one software for all areas of our company, we’re all on the same page.”
The software allows Rose to watch how certain products, individual stores or districts are performing and even track inventory in the warehouse. Bakery managers also can use the software to keep track of store sales and labor hours. All the information is easily transferrable to Excel spreadsheets where it can be arranged in a variety of easy-to-read reports. “It really helped us see where our business was strong and where it wasn’t,” Rose says.
The software showed BGC stores are very strong in cake categories, but were lagging in bread sales. To take advantage of the strong cake category, Rose implemented a Cake of the Month program in which all locations feature the same variety of cake at a discounted price. Brookshire sells the cakes for $4.99 and Super 1 at $3.99. To choose the varieties to put on special, Rose turned to the software to find the stores’ seven core varieties. “We wanted to stay with cakes that everyone is familiar with and we know how to produce,” Rose says. “We know those varieties will have a following.”
In its third month, the promotion has already been a huge success, he adds.
A few years ago when Rose noticed that bread sales were not where he would have liked them, BGC developed a new of line of in-house bread products under its Full Circle brand. Those products now regularly outsell a well-known national brand.
Along with category management and inventory management software, the company also streamlined its bakery production by implementing the STARS program. STARS–Saving Time And Resources Systematically–organized the bakeries so that any employee walking into any bakery knows exactly where to find the piping bags, the spatulas or any other bakery utensil. Nearly all of the bakeries are now on the same page operationally. The rollout of STARS is expected to be complete in November.
Focusing on branding
While BGC has different banners to serve different customer demographics, the in-store bakeries are introducing a product branding program to accomplish the same thing within a single banner. The top of the line, appropriately named Brookshire’s Best, is found on products throughout the store: on the commercial shelves, in the meat department and in the dairy section. In the bakery, the brand is on products made only with finest ingredients, including tiramisu, mousse cakes, cheesecakes and other desserts.
For customers looking for products at a lower price point, the bakeries also feature Tasty Bakery, Full Circle and Yums! brands. The Tasty Bakery brand is on several types of cakes, pastries, donuts and take-and-bake breads. The all natural Full Circle name also can be found on certain cake varieties and bread items. The Yums! brand is currently exclusive to the bakeries’ cupcake line, but Rose plans to expand the brand to include other products, such as Danish and brownies.
“We have our different brand tiers. If customers want to go from our Tasty Bakery tier to our Brookshire’s Best tier, that’s where we’ll differentiate prices,” Rose says. “Some stores may carry more products of one brand than another.”
Many of the BGC brands are often complemented by national bakery brands, giving customers another option to find the exact product they want. Rose has found that having the dueling brands only helps grow overall sales without poaching from one segment to add to the other. “Every time we introduce our own brand, the pie gets bigger,” he says. When introducing a BGC-branded product, “it’s important that you don’t just take sales from the other category. You do take some, but you find new customers.”
For example, Tasty Bakery cookies are offered in five core varieties that can sell anywhere–chocolate chip, oatmeal, peanut butter, sugar and chocolate candy–at a slightly lower price point than the national brand, but the national brand is available in more varieties. The two brands work together to serve most customer demographics.
A fresh take
Operating completely without BGC bakery brands and outside of the category management system is the chain’s newest format, FRESH, which opened two months ago. Unlike its RTO brethren, the FRESH bakery produces 98 percent of its products from scratch. Breads are made from starters, and on the pastry side, everything from the cake to the buttercream to the ganache is made in-house. The only exceptions are the cookies, croissants and Danish. The product line is completely unique, and the store manager oversees all of the departments; the bakery does not fall under Rose’s category management duties.
FRESH also is more focused on service items than the traditional Brookshire location. The bakery department has a few display tables selling packaged products, but the majority of the products are sold from the bread and pastry service cases. The bread case is about 32 linear ft., featuring 60 to 70 varieties and the pastry case is 40 linear ft., showcasing about 300 SKUs.
Artisan bread production begins at 7 p.m. when the first of eight bread bakers arrive to begin mixing, proofing and shaping the dough. The first loaves go into the oven at 2 a.m. At 3 a.m., a second shift of bread bakers arrives to start straight dough production and prepare the sourdough for the next day’s production. The last of the loaves leave the oven about 10:30 a.m.
Three different starters–sourdough, poolish and fermented dough–are used for the 38 different doughs. Top selling products include pecan apple raisin with Granny Smith apples, dark raisins, pecans in a sourdough base; white chocolate apricot; and Tuscan, which is made from only flour, water, salt, yeast and poolish. “It’s really simple but it has great texture and flavor,” says Aaron Halford, FRESH bakery manager.
At midnight, the pastry production staff of three arrives to begin making Danish, muffins, croissants and cakes. All products are baked and then frozen in order to keep up with demand. The first of the five finishers comes in at 6 a.m., with additional help arriving at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. One finisher is devoted only to dessert cakes, while the other two focus on the other products and keeping the showcase filled. Lemon and raspberry bars, crème brulée and cannoli are some of the top selling pastry products.
Throughout all of BGC’s banners one thing remains consistent: giving the customer what they want at the price they are willing to pay. And part of that is offering quality, fresh-baked in-store products. “One of the things we try to stress as the customer walks in is fresh baked. It sets the tone for the whole shopping trip,” Rose says. “When they walk in, they see great looking product that is mouthwatering.”