Porto’s Bakery produces miniature versions of its traditional product line to create dessert trays for group events.
The Bruegger’s to Go program features Softwich platters and boxed lunches (p. 32).
Wedding accounts have become the fastest growing business for Muddy Paws Cheesecake.
by Beth D’Addono, contributing editor
When it comes to new ways of generating sales, savvy bakery operators know they don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, they package and market the same product they’re already producing for a new audience. Corporate accounts and catering clients offer untapped opportunity for a broad range of bakery operators.
Bakery café chains have long taken the lead in tailoring their products for convenient group sales. By bundling their current products as platters for any day part and selling complementary foods and beverages, independent retail bakers too are finding corporate accounts a growth market.
Raul Porto, whose family-owned bakery has been based in Glendale, Calif. for some 35 years, traces his interest in catering sales to his family’s Cuban roots. “In Cuba, which is where our business started, bakeries always sell small hors d’oeuvres in addition to cakes and bread. In some cases, Cuban bakeries cook dinners for people to take home on weekends,” he says.
When his parents opened Porto’s Bakery in the United States, the tradition was continued. Porto, who runs the business along with several of his siblings, recently expanded with a second location in Burbank. “We started, since day one, making appetizers like meatand cheese-filled empanadas, in the regular size, and also in a miniature size. In the beginning, we stuck with Cuban products, but then quickly expanded into making sandwiches on mini croissants.”
Offer mini versions
The idea was to offer clients the option of mini versions of products the bakery was already making, suited to off-premise catering and take away.
The strategy has grown into its own division at Porto’s Bakery. The pre-order department operates with a designated staff of order takers and packagers, and it is the fastest growing area of the business, according to Porto. That division accounts for about 15 percent of overall sales, which is $3 million annually from its Glendale store.
“We can easily fill 1000 orders on a Saturday,” Porto says. “Everybody wants to have parties at home. Nobody wants to cook.”
Items are sold in quantities of 25 or 50 in a platter, including individual precooked hors d’oeuvres, priced in the $0.40 to $0.70 range, and mini croissant sandwiches and house-made salads. “We really can’t handle any more business on the weekends, but we’d like to expand our weekday business by tapping more into the corporate market.”
Corporate customers make up a small but growing percentage of the pre-order business, usually ordering platters of sandwiches, salads and fancy miniature desserts packaged for pick up.
Porto says that the employees who take customer orders on the phone are his number one source of marketing.
“They take a cake order, and then they up sell by asking what kind of party it is, do they need bread, or hors d’oeuvres. It’s very important that they have comprehensive product knowledge. I’d say in 50 to 70 percent of our cake orders, the customers end up buying more.” Porto offers free delivery for orders of $200 or more, with delivery available for any size order for a fee.
“If an operator is thinking of expanding into group sales, I’d advise them to think small,” he says. “As in miniature–if you’re already making pizza, make mini pizzas. Anything with puff pastry freezes well and bakes off perfectly.”
Develop separate menu
Two years ago, Bruegger’s, which currently has 247 stores in 19 states, developed its Bruegger’s to Go program targeting the business and group sales market. “We developed a separate menu of sandwiches for breakfast and lunch along with individually packaged salads,” says Chris Bryan, director of marketing for the Burlington, Vt.-based company.
“It was really a collaboration between marketing and purchasing,” Bryan says. “There was no customization of products, so we were able to roll the program out quickly.”
The boxed lunches, which include a sandwich on a softwich–the company’s softer, square bagel, or a wheat wrap; bag of chips; cookie or apple, are priced at $7.99, with delivery available in each store’s immediate area. Platters of bagels, along with smoked salmon, capers, onions, cream cheese and tomatoes, are popular for morning meetings.
“We’re marketing to more than just corporate meetings,” Bryan says. “We’re also looking at bus trips for sports teams and seniors. The meals are healthy and portable.”
To promote platters and lunch deliveries, Bruegger’s managers leave marketing materials in office buildings, hospitals and doctor’s offices. “We recognize that the person making the order isn’t necessarily the end user. It’s often an administrative assistant charged with having lunch delivered. We’ll offer that person a free sandwich for every order as an incentive.”
Bryan stays away from calling Bruegger’s To Go catering, because it implies set up and take down. “We say group sales, because that’s exactly what it is.”
Eric Deising started doing so much group sale business that he bought the building next store to his family-owned Deising’s Bakeries, Restaurants & Catering in Kingston, N.Y. and turned it into a designated room for meetings and parties. Booked for regular meetings by the local chamber of commerce and rotary, the space is used on weekends for bridal and baby showers and birthday parties.
Deising’s, in business since 1965, expanded into a bakery café serving breakfast and lunch in addition to baked products in 1980. During the next 10 years, Deising’s expanded further into two buildings next door, taking over a bar and a laundromat, to open a 90-seat full service restaurant and a catering facility. “The bar allowed us to have a liquor license, so I can serve beer and wine,” he says.
Initially, the restaurant sold individual sandwiches to groups, but soon found that creating party platters with assorted sandwiches was faster for the kitchen to produce. Platters hold eight sandwiches, which are cut into thirds. “We also make our own soups and deli salads, but there are some excellent frozen soups available that I’ll use in a pinch,” Deising says.
He recommends going to a restaurant trade shows to get a feel for other products on the market that can complement your bakery offerings. “I’d love to do more marketing for this side of the business, but I’m a baker and keep getting stuck in the bakery. I’d like to step away from production and concentrate more on marketing to businesses and doctor’s offices.”
Einstein Bros., a division of New World Restaurant Group in Golden, Colo., kick started its formal catering sales group about a year ago. “We took our menu and modified it, reducing it to only the products that would be easily packaged and portable,” says Mike Engler, Einstein’s catering sales manager. Bottled drinks and water are also included on the catering menu, and delivery is available for sales of $50 and more.
“We designate a central catering phone line, so that the person doing the ordering can be taken care of with personal service and efficiency. The idea is to give them helpful advice and make them aware of products and options they might not have thought of. There’s no magic pill here,” Engler says. “Management has to be very committed from the top down to marketing a catering division. You can’t dabble.”
Weddings are the largest part of Tami Cabrera-Weinmann’s catering business. Cabrera-Weinmann operates Muddy Paws Cheesecake in Minneapolis, producing 180 flavors of cheesecake with a no-crack guarantee. “I spend $80,000 a year to dominate that [wedding] market,” she says. Her company exhibits at four or five wedding shows a year, which costs about $6,000 per show.
Cabrera-Weinmann, who maintains one retail location with 21 employees, bakes an average of 8,000 cakes a month, including some for corporate accounts. She says her corporate clients favor 9-in. cheesecakes cut in smaller slices than the slices she sells to retail customers.
Determining the factors that appeal to particular groups, such as preferences for smaller portions, can open an entire new sales category for bakery operations. Operators say the segment is not really catering because the term often implies setting up and tearing down delivers. But, bakeries do need to cater their product, packaging, sales and marketing strategies to the special needs of groups. Most bakeries already claim corporations, hospitals, school groups, etc. as customers. The category can increase with some simple adjustments.