Sometimes, to move forward you have to look back. That’s what Hy-Vee did with its new flagship in-store bakery in Urbandale, Iowa that opened Aug. 14. When Modern Baking visited Hy-Vee earlier this year for In-store Bakery of the Year, Tony Byington, assistant vice president of bakery operations, talked about what the company envisioned for the future, which came to fruition in the Urbandale bakery.
The bakery has gone back to its roots somewhat, says Don Wilkens, central regional supervisor. Byington, Wilkens and bakery manager Dave Kelderman looked to old formulas for products such as Chocolate Chewies and Devil Dogs. The bakery also makes a statement with a return to service cases and employees to sell products, but perhaps the biggest change was to the bread program. Hy-Vee relies on processes almost as old as bread baking itself by using starters and poolish to produce 16 daily varieties of from-scratch bread items. (Pictured, left to right: Don Wilkens and Dave Kelderman.)
The new Urbandale location, which was built as a replacement store on the same site, marks a dramatic change for the company. It is the largest store in the chain and features a sushi bar, coffee shop, wood oven pizzeria and a full-service restaurant and bar. In the new concept, bakery plays a key role. “We really wanted to make our bakeries a destination and set ourselves apart from the competition,” Wilkens says.
Bakery production occurs within customer view with an open-air bread display and a lineup of service cases housing donuts, cookies, cupcakes, pastries and dessert cakes. “As customers first enter the bakery, they can see a lot more going on–more action. Customers are getting samples and tasting the product, they’re talking and interacting with the employees. The bakery draws customers’ attention,” Byington says.
With the added service cases–about 200 products are available in the cases–the bakery also had to make a big commitment to staffing. “We went from 16 employees in the old store to 35 now,” Kelderman says. “And we’ll have a total of 40 by the time we’re done.”
The bakery increased staffing from three full-time bakers to five, from two full-time decorators to four, and it has added sales staff throughout the day. Previously, one to two sales employees was standard, but the new bakery requires five to six employees–bread alone necessitates two employees from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. During the busy Saturday and Sunday hours, it’s not unusual to see eight sales employees behind the cases, Wilkens says. All those employees are needed to help the 3,000 customers who shop the bakery in a given week. Bakery staff more than doubled, but sales haven’t quite doubled yet in the new location, Kelderman says.
About 18 months ago, when Byington and his team began playing with ideas for this prototype bakery, they focused on artisan bread. “In the history of our company, we’ve never had a bread program made from a dough starter,” Byington says.
Wilkens and Kelderman were sent off-site for training, and then a trainer came on-site to work with them in the bakery. Since the Urbandale location is a replacement store, the bakery staff had three weeks where the new store wasn’t open and the old store had already been torn down to make bread every day and get their systems established.
Focus on bread making
“We didn’t have to worry about anything else in the bakery other than how to make these breads,” Kelderman says. “It was a big change. Most of my bakers had never done anything like this.” The biggest challenge was in production scheduling and planning several days ahead because with the use of starters and poolish, the doughs that are mixed on Wednesday are not ready to be baked until Friday.
The bread is displayed on open tables with bagged flour stored underneath to enhance with the from-scratch image. Loaves are sold by the whole or half and can be sliced on request. Customers also can see the bakers pull loaves out on peels from the deck oven (the first in the chain) positioned directly behind the bread display. The response has been tremendous. The first week of opening, the bakery sold almost $11,000 in bread.
Urbandale always has been a big bread location, Kelderman says, but he worried that the new artisan bread program would pull sales away from the packaged bread that had always sold so well. “It hasn’t affected sales at all,” he says. “We’re going after two different customers and catching both of them now. That was a pleasant surprise.” The best-selling products in the bakery are asiago cheese bread and raisin walnut bread, which have the highest price point of all bread varieties, retailing for $5.99.
Donuts also account for a large portion of Urbandale’s bakery sales, coming in at 20 percent, and those sales have only been helped by the return of service donuts. By moving the donuts back into a service case, Hy-Vee was able to change to a four-tier price structure, which allowed Kelderman and his team to add some creative new varieties, such as Orange Burst long johns and Peanut Butter Crunch® long johns. Packaged donuts are still available for grab-and-go on the display tables in the bakery and by the front checkout counters.
Muffins also received a facelift. While the standard blueberry and similar flavors are still available in multi-packs on the bakery’s display tables, the five varieties available in the service case are decidedly more upscale with flavors like strawberry goat cheese and 100 percent whole grain with strawberries, raspberries and blueberries as well as the best-selling walnut double chocolate. Muffin sales are up by about 75 percent, Kelderman says.
Dessert cakes moved from self-serve to a full-service case in the new bakery. They also were upgraded from single-layer versions to three layers. “The biggest surprise to me is the amount of business coming from the two cake cases,” Kelderman adds.
Upscale cupcakes, which feature more icing and garnishes, are selling well. “These cupcakes have been phenomenal. They’re simple, not over the top, and they sell like crazy,” Kelderman says. Pastries, which share a showcase with cupcakes, are selling about four times more than in the old location. “We’ve added a lot more fresh fruit than we’ve used in the past to give the case more freshness and color,” Byington says.
Hy-Vee currently has one more flagship store in the works that will open in Overland Park, Kansas, in February. Its bakery will be modeled after Urbandale–Hy-Vee’s bakery of the future.