Fad diets of the last decade, such as the no-carb Atkins Diet, delivered a blow to bread sales throughout the baking industry. White bread sales have yet to fully recover, but consumers are embracing artisan-style loaves, with their whole grain, healthful allure. Currently, bread makes up more than 11 percent of an in-store bakery’s average sales, according to Modern Baking’s 2008 Supermarket Bakery Research.
Fad diets of the last decade, such as the no-carb Atkins Diet, delivered a blow to bread sales throughout the baking industry. White bread sales have yet to fully recover, but consumers are embracing artisan-style loaves, with their whole grain, healthful allure. Currently, bread makes up more than 11 percent of an in-store bakery's average sales, according to Modern Baking's 2008 Supermarket Bakery Research.
John Rose, bakery category manager for Brookshire Grocery Co., Tyler, Texas, shares his viewpoint on the bread category in supermarket in-store bakeries.
What are the trends you are seeing in the bread category?
The bread category has certainly grown, thanks to customers' clamoring for fresh-baked artisan breads. The key drivers of artisan breads are quality and freshness, with price-point taking a back seat to the former. [Following the national trend, breads and rolls account for more than 11 percent of Brookshire's total in-store sales.]
How have trends changed, and where do you see the bread category going?
A great argument could be made that, to some extent, baby boomers are influencing artisan bread growth thanks to smaller households. Additionally, the health benefits of most artisan breads fit with a healthier lifestyle mantra, which customers of all demographics are gravitating toward.
How has Brookshire adjusted its bread program to benefit from these trends?
Recently, we partnered with [a cooperative] to develop an all-natural line of artisan breads. We have juxtaposed this with a national brand that we carry, which has enabled the entire artisan bread category to grow.
Describe the process of developing the new products.
We looked at several different suppliers, which was an arduous but critical process. Once a supplier was selected, the [cooperative] inspected the plant to ensure that both quality standards and best practices were in place. From there, we worked with [the cooperative] to develop the packaging and branded it under the Full Circle name. Our in-house marketing team did a fantastic job of promoting it in our Celebrate Cooking magazine, along with ad support and excellent execution by our retail operations partners.
Was the program implemented chain-wide or only in certain stores?
Initially, we launched it in all stores to test the water. Afterwards, we pared it down to those stores where customers were more likely to respond.
What are the criteria for selecting which stores will offer the new bread products?
We found that some stores do very well with perhaps only one or two varieties—and that's great. Other stores can promote more of the line with great success. In a certain sense, we asked our customers (the real boss), to point us in the right direction.
What results have Brookshire in-store bakeries seen as a result of the revamped bread program?
The entire bread category has grown, which was our initial goal. Our own Full Circle brand now dominates the artisan bread category, which was our target from the onset.
How have customers responded?
We have had many customers, who were loyal to the national brand, move over to our Full Circle brand. On the other hand, we had some customers who prefer the national brand continue to support it. Thus, we're more than happy to offer both.
What are Brookshire's plans for the bread program?
We intend to give our new line adequate time to become an established destination product, at which time we will consider expanding the line under the Full Circle brand.
We would like to develop a complete line of Full Circle rolls. Currently, we offer a Full Circle ciabatta roll; however, a complete line of whole grain rolls, and possibly rosemary rolls, would be ideal.
What other product trends do you see?
It's no secret that the baking industry continues to move towards fresh-baked and away from thaw-and-sell. Customers have shown an overwhelming willingness to support this shift.
How has in-store baking evolved during your career?
A lot. At one time, companies had the time and resources to invest in programs that yielded the bakers they needed to support their bakery programs. Since that time, as the availability of journeymen bakers has waned, companies have moved to thaw-and-sell products mixed with a selection of RTO (retarder to oven) and/or frozen proof-and-bake products. This has enabled bakery programs to continue to offer fresh-baked products in the event bakers with scratch/mix skills are unavailable. Also, some companies, such as ours, have opted to build their own bakery plants with the objective of augmenting various bakery products under their own brands—specifically for their own stores.
Interestingly enough, what hasn't changed is a continued emphasis on custom-order cakes. The importance of the one-on-one customer service between our cake decorators and the customers they serve cannot be overstated. In my view, a custom-order cake is all about the event, the level of service and the quality of the cake. It is little, if anything, about the price. That being said, our cake decorators are the best in the business and do a fantastic job of delivering legendary customer service each and every day.
John Rose earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in commerce from Texas A&M and began his supermarket career in 1975 as the assistant production manager for Interstate Brands. In 1981, he moved to Buttrey Foods, where he served as apprentice/journeyman/bakery manager while earning his journeyman baker's card from the state of Montana in 1983. Rose was named bakery manager for Brookshire Grocery Co. in 1986, where he also served as bakery merchandiser, bakery buyer and bakery supervisor before moving into his current role as bakery category manager.
Brookshire Grocery Co., Tyler, Texas, was founded in 1928 and currently operates 150 in-store bakeries with 160 locations under the Brookshire Food Stores, Super 1 Foods and Olé Foods banners.