To deliver the fresh bread their customers demand, large retail chains point to out-of-stock items as an area for wholesale bakery improvement.
Baking Management asked prominent supermarket retail chains what they needed from bread and baked product manufacturers. Maria Brous is director of community relations at Publix, Lakeland, Fla., a privately owned company with more than 141,000 employees and 1,000 stores in the Southeast. Oshellin Freeze is bread category manager at Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., which operates more than 1,300 supermarkets, either directly or through affiliated entities, and employs 74,000 throughout the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic.
BM: What types of baked products are consumers purchasing most often?
Brous: This answer will vary by customer. While we have some customers that are loyal to their weekly selections of baked goods, in tough economic times many customers are looking for additional value. We see more customers gravitating to baked products that are on sale or on promotion.
Freeze: Our overall largest segment is commodity white bread, with a higher growth percent in wheat breads.
BM: What types of new baked products are consumers requesting that you haven't typically stocked in the past?
Brous: We have a wide selection of baked products available at our stores for customer convenience and preference. We are also aware that WIC has approved select 16-oz. breads, so that has become more of a request recently.
Freeze: We're finding that new innovation in thin, healthful items has fueled growth.
BM: How can wholesale bakeries better serve your stores' needs?
Brous: At Publix, we are all about service to our customers. We need to have the products they are looking for in order to meet their needs. In return, we ask that our suppliers continue to supply us with the requested product and eliminate out of stocks. We need fresh bread deliveries seven days a week to serve our customers.
Freeze: Bakeries can better serve the stores by providing continued good service and supporting in-stock conditions. By doing this, we are able to provide our customers with a good shopping experience.
BM: What types of complaints do you have regarding the service or products supplied by wholesale bakers?
Brous: A mutual opportunity is balancing the current inventory and space allotment as new products hit the market. As a retailer, we only have a select amount of space dedicated to a particular item. In order to make room for new items, other items will need to be discontinued. This can be tricky and requires open dialogue between our vendors and Publix.
Freeze: Because everything is freshly baked based on associate order, we can struggle with out-of-stock items.
BM: What are consumers telling you about the baked products they're purchasing from your stores?
Brous: Our customers consistently want to purchase fresh bread that is of high quality and competitively priced.
Freeze: Overall, we hear very little from consumers on bakery products. Generally, contacts are in regards to a quality issue, and we work quickly with our suppliers to address these issues.
BM: What are the biggest factors involved in purchasing baked products for your stores?
Brous: Due to the economy, price is a big concern.
Freeze: We find that a solid order plus exceptional service leads to a great customer experience.