An in-store bakery director called me a few weeks ago to tell me about something unusual he was planning for his supermarket bakeries this holiday season: pies.
What's so out of the ordinary about that? After all, it is pie season. October, November and December are the prime months for pie sales.
The difference is that his in-stores are selling high-quality, non shelfstable pies for a premium price. The Midwest supermarket is the only one in its area selling the pumpkin and sweet potato pies that need to be refrigerated.
"The down side is we can't stack and sell 400 pies off a table," the instore director said. "The up side is that our guests will have some of the best tasting pies from our stores."
Compare this approach to another-I ran across last weekend. I was going through the checkout purchasing my weekly groceries when the clerk asked if I wanted to buy a pie. "We're having a super-saver, blow-out special on $2.99 pies," the pierced-face teenager told me.
He was trying to do his job, but checkout is probably the worst time to pitch a pie. A pie is not an easy last-minute, add-on sale, even if it is nearly as cheap as a candy bar and a pack of gum. As with most bakery products, customers want to see and even smell the pies when possible. Obviously the focus here was the price, not the product.
The only reason I was even considering purchasing one was that I was with my friend from England who had never had a pumpkin pie. But, I knew instantly that I would not want this pie to be his first taste of the American classic.
Unfortunately, the "stackemhigh, sure-to-fly" approach to pie sales, is the more common choice for most supermarket bakeries. Instores know they have a captured, sure-fire audience: people need to buy pies for Thanksgiving, period.
Yet, they insist on selling cheap, poor quality pies because they make quantity their primary goal. I'll never understand why a bakery would want to sell more of a bad thing.
Even worse, the practice is so common that customers have come to expect cheap pies, creating an up-hill battle for in-store operations that try to do something different.
The jury is still out as to which instore bakery's direction will work best this pie season. I'm not sure which one will sell the most pies. But, I'm absolutely certain which one will have the most satisfied, loyal customers.