Food Lion’s newest supermarket concept is earning accolades from industry analysts and customers alike. Learn how in-store baking contributes to Bloom’s core strategy.
Building a new supermarket brand from five stores to more than 50 in less than a year is a sure sign that a company believes it has the right idea. After extensive market research from its first Bloom stores in the Charlotte, N.C., area, Food Lion LLC has quickly built its Bloom concept into a sleek, modern shopping experience with an emphasis on technology and fresh foods.
|Cake Decorator Sharon Jones, here decorating vibrantly-colored cupcakes, works in view of customers.|
| Mike Lamontagne (center) designs Bloom’s product line with assistance from Mark Mallen (left), cake and dessert specialist, and Richard Skurski, baking and systems specialist. |
| Bloom’s in-store bakeries feature self-service coffee displays. |
| Bloom bakery products are |
merchandised throughout its deli and home meal solutions departments.
Positioning in-store bakeries and delis prominently in store layouts and as part of its overall brand strategy has remained consistent throughout Bloom’s evolution. Bloom has quickly become a key brand in Food Lion’s three-pronged approach to expanding and remodeling its stores. The brands include Food Lion, the traditional supermarket with 1,151 stores; Bottom Dollar Food, the no-frills discount grocery store with 18 units and no in-store bakeries; and Bloom with 52 stores.
“For us to continue growing and succeeding, we needed to differentiate ourselves in the market by looking at the different types of guests [customers] around each store,” says Karen Peterson, Food Lion media relations.
Compared to traditional supermarkets, Bloom stores feature smaller footprints, about 38,000 sq. ft.; wider aisles and lower shelving to ease customer flow; and a broader variety and more upscale selection of foods, including bakery. “Bloom appeals to a lot of different segments, but particularly people who are interested in gourmet foods and cooking,” Peterson adds. “We do a lot of research with existing customers, panels and customer interviews. A great customer experience is what we are really focusing on.”
The company recently finished converting 40 Food Lion stores to Bloom stores in the Washington, D.C. area, and it operates seven new Bloom stores in the Greenville, S.C. market. Modern Baking visited Bloom’s newest prototype in Greenville, which opened in January, to learn more about Food Lion’s latest initiative and its plans for the future.
Walking into Bloom, customers will notice a difference in store design, customer service and product line. Bloom’s interior design highlights technology with computer kiosks positioned throughout the store that allow customers to look up a range of information about their items. By simply scanning an item, customers can find recipe suggestions, prices and complementary food and drink ideas. They can even log into their personal Bloom Web site to print out their shopping lists. Monitors on shopping carts allow shoppers to find items on a computerized map, and the stores offer scan-as-you-shop technology.
Along with Bloom’s technology features, customers also immediately encounter its fresh food offerings. Shoppers enter through the produce department and move directly to the deli and home meal solutions department, then into the bakery. Bakery products are merchandised throughout the home meal solutions center, called Table Top®, where customers can find a variety of grab-and-go side dishes or complete meals.
“I really wanted to see a line of bakery products as you walk through the store,” says Mike Lamontagne, manager of merchandising and training–deli, bakery and home meal solutions. “We didn’t have a whole lot of space dedicated to the bakery portion, but I still wanted to get that large bakery presence throughout the deli and bakery.”
Fitting into the high-tech, shopper-friendly theme, bakery merchandisers feature blue-tinted Plexiglas shelving, drawing customers’ eyes to the bakery products. Aisles are wide enough for shoppers to easily maneuver carts throughout the bakery, and products are positioned in logical categories. Decorated cookies and cupcakes are displayed together in lower profile shelving for children’s eye level,
The center of the bakery department features self-service coffee pumps, where customers can purchase hot cups of coffee to accompany a pastry or drink while they shop. Coffee sales are attributed to in-store bakery department sales, Lamontagne notes.
Cake decorators work at stations in front of the bakery retail area, encouraging interaction with customers. Emphasis on customer service at Bloom begins during the hiring process. “I tell them our work stations are facing our guests,” Lamontagne says. “If you are not interested in working in front of and interacting with our guests, you probably will not be very happy working at Bloom.”
The in-store bakery department’s significance to the Bloom concept starts with Bloom’s leadership. Bloom Vice President James Egan was the vice president, bakery/deli, at Food Lion before taking over his role at Bloom. With a bakery-deli executive at the top, Lamontagne says he feels support from corporate, particularly with some of the special considerations in-store baking requires.
Corporate also understands the profit potential in bakery, he says. Lamontagne would not reveal Bloom’s in-store bakery sales figures, except to say that bakery’s contribution to total store sales is more than 3 percent. “We’re doing very well. Profitability is a very important piece. If it is not profitable, we’re probably not going to do it,” he says.
Bloom management is divided among four directors (merchandising, marketing, retail services and operations) who report to Egan. Four department managers (produce and floral, meat and seafood, grocery and Lamontagne at bakery, deli and home meal solutions) report to the merchandising director. A team of seven district merchandisers, who oversee about seven stores each, report to Lamontagne.
District merchandisers are charged with converting and/or opening the bakeries and delis under the Bloom banner, including implementing merchandising strategies and training staff and store management. “We help develop the bakery managers and increase the store management’s understanding of what we do in deli/bakery, how they can help our business,” says Tammy Gumola, district merchandising manager for Bloom bakeries and delis in the Charlotte region.
In-store bakery personnel at store level in the Greenville location also consists of a bakery-deli manager and assistant bakery manager. Bloom bakeries staff about nine other associates, including cake decorators, bakers and salespeople.
Training Bloom culture
Depending on their roles in the store, Bloom associates undergo from 40 to 300 hours of formal training. Much of the training process focuses on Bloom’s culture: creating a service environment where customers “shop happy.” Along with the upbeat swing music piped in throughout the store and the bright, contemporary decor, Bloom stores carry home the “shop happy” theme through their associates.
One of the ways Bloom encourages communication and idea sharing among its staff is through its “huddle” system. Any time of day, but at least twice a day, store management can call a huddle in a designated department. The brief meetings last only about five minutes, but Bloom associates lead the meetings to share a successful idea, acknowledge a staff member’s good performance or even just to dance. The huddles promote Bloom’s light-hearted team culture, and its in-store bakery department is an ideal place for that culture to shine.
“Bakery is one of the only gems in the store where you can showcase quality, consistency and customer service all at the same time,” Lamontagne says.
Bloom’s in-store bakeries offer a full line of products, and its primary movers are its cakes, including decorated celebration cakes and upscale tortes; breads, including an extensive selection of European-style crusty breads; and breakfast pastries, including its signature Bloomberry Muffin, which is filled with wild Maine blueberry filling.
The bakery brands its top-tier in-store line of products as Bloom Inspirations, which also are packaged differently than the rest of the line. For example, Bloom Inspirations cookies are packaged in natural-colored window boxes, rather than typical clamshells.
Breads are produced from frozen, par-baked and proof-and-bake doughs. The variety of frozen dough products allows bakers to bake in smaller batches throughout the day to maximize freshness. Category managers have been more selective in the products they use in Bloom stores to raise the bar on quality. Artisan breads, which retail for $4.99, are displayed in service showcases at the front center of the bakery. Some of the more popular varieties include asiago, muesli, Parmesan sun dried tomato and cranberry walnut.
The bakery also revamped other products already popular in its Food Lion stores. The Pane Italiano bread at Bloom is a larger Italian bread with a thicker crust than the version available at Food Lion. “That’s been our biggest success, taking our number one SKUs and making them better,” Lamontagne says.
The cake category drives key sales at Bloom as well. Along with custom decorated cakes produced in view of customers, Bloom offers a unique line of chocolate-enrobed dessert cakes available as 5-in. rounds, bar cakes and full-size 9-in. rounds. With names, such as Chocolate Bliss, Chocolate Avalanche and Peanut Butter Rave, the decadent cakes present a gourmet appeal. The selection, however, is not complicated to produce in-store due to Bloom’s training materials and support.
“We wanted to keep it an executable selection where we could really drive quality home for the customer,” says Cake and Dessert Specialist Mark Mallen.
Bloom’s taste ambassadors give customers the opportunity to taste the quality of the bakery’s gourmet cakes and other in-store products. Their full-time responsibility is to work with each department to determine which products to actively sample each day and how best to promote that product to shoppers. “You’d be surprised how much the sampling sells a product,” says Taste Ambassador April Tucker.
One of the products Bloom bakeries are currently testing is a white whole wheat crusty bread. Lamontagne says he is trying the item in the in-store bakeries after learning of the success of some of the white whole wheat breads in the commercial aisle. He also is considering offering an organic line to sell under Bloom’s Nature’s Place organic and natural foods label. Although he won’t move on a trend until he knows it is right for Bloom customers and profitable for Bloom bakeries, Lamontagne is always on the look out for what’s next.
“As we continue to look at the research and trends, we never settle,” he says. “We’ll probably be totally different a year from now.”