Superior's bakeries hold the first position in its stores and feature open production.
In the tortilleria, staff prepares fresh corn tortillas for packaging.
Customers select a variety of pastries using tongs and trays, panaderia-style.
Racks of warm bolillos are displayed in self-service cabinets.
Giant balloons. Crowds of families. Bright colors. Superior Super Warehouse is a carnival of sorts.
"It's like Disneyland in here on Saturdays," says Joye Crosby, bakery buyer for Superior Super Warehouse. "Whole families come shopping. It is a really fun shopping experience."
Based in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., Superior Super Warehouse has 20 stores, all with in-store bakeries and tortillerias. The stores classify as grocery super-centers with their low prices, store set up and sizes, averaging 50,000 to 70,000 sq. ft. But unlike some supercenters, Superior strives for quality, variety and service in its perimeter departments, including bakery, produce and meat.
The company is the largest independently owned chain of supercenters in Southern California and has opened nine new stores in the last six years. Last year, Superior reached $800 million in annual sales, and bakery represents about 3.5 percent of store sales.
Bakery leads Superior's shopping experience as the first department shoppers see and smell as they enter the supermarkets. Superior's in-store bakeries average about 2,000 sq. ft. The primarily scratch bakeries bring production in full view of customers, contributing to the stores' lively environment.
Decorated cakes, sweet breads, pastries and crusty breads account for the bulk of in-store bakery sales. Each Superior store also houses tortillerias where fresh, hot tortillas are prepared throughout the day. Superior targets a largely Hispanic customer base, but its fresh bakery and tortilleria appeal to Southern California's multi-cultural population.
"California is pretty diverse, and ethnic foods are among the first things people enjoy picking up," Crosby says. Appreciating its food savvy customers, Superior bakeries maintain the Spanish and English names for its products.
"For the demographics of the customers we cater to, bakery is important. It is a big draw," Crosby says.
Sweet breads, such as conchas, cuernos and orejas as well as bolillo rolls, are often purchased daily. Locating the bakery near the front door is more conducive to daily purchases and coffee sales. The bakeries sell about 7,500 cups of coffee a week. Customers can pay for products in the bakery, avoiding the grocery check out lines.
"More traditionally American bakery products have grown in popularity among new and long established Hispanic immigrants as well," Crosby says. The bakeries sold 170,000 pumpkin and apple pies last year during November and December. Bagels also are a favorite among Superior shoppers, who purchase about 18,000 bagels a week.
Superior in-stores are labor intensive operations. Each bakery employs four to six bakers, three to five decorators, ten to 15 sales clerks and one porter. The first baker arrives at 4 a.m. to begin the morning pastries and bolillo rolls. A second baker arrives at 5 a.m., and bakery managers begin at 6 a.m.
As the chain has expanded, increasing the pace of new stores in recent years, it becomes more challenging to maintain consistency from store to store. Superior works to improve this consistency among its bakeries, so customers can expect the same high quality in every store.
To help with this challenge, Superior turned to their manufacturers for private label mixes and frozen dough for a few products.
"We tried other programs in the past, but we know that scratch is our niche, and we don't want to get away from it," Crosby says. Maintaining the personal touches each baker contributes to the product and differing store demographics also contribute to the final offering.
Sweet breads are now prepared using a proprietary mix developed from Superior's proprietary formula. The mix improved consistency and quality in the conchas and cut labor time required to measure ingredients.
Superior also sourced a frozen dough for its tolera rolls and French bread. Bolillos continue to be made from scratch and are the top seller for the in-store bakeries. The company sells about 350,000 bolillos a week.
Decorated cakes make up about 15 percent of bakery sales. One of Superior's busiest stores averages about 500 custom cake orders a week. The bakeries pop with color because at least three refrigerated service showcases merchandise decorated cakes and fruit tortes in various shapes and sizes.
Sweat breads and single pastries are merchandised in self-service cases where customers use tongs to pile trays full of the treats. Similar to the self-service format of many panaderias, Superior's customers also can select warm bolillos directly from oven racks housed in upright cabinets.
"If you go into a neighborhood panaderia, you will see similar products," Crosby says.
Superior prides itself on its clean stores, including its bakeries. The company employs an outside firm to perform sanitation inspections regularly, which are stricter than the health department's requirements.
Superior's in-store bakeries go a step further to ensure clean departments through its staff. Bakers are responsible to clean and sanitize production areas at the end of their shifts. In addition, all in-stores employ porters dedicated solely to cleaning the bakery.
"They even clean the dust off the cord to the airbrush dispenser," says Crosby. "That may seem minor, but they really keep on top of it for us."
Superior currently has three stores under construction, which are scheduled to open this fall. The first new store will open in Inglewood, Calif.
in September. As the company grows, Crosby and her team plan to continue developing new products and production strategies to uphold its quality in-store bakeries. Whatever new programs, Superior Super Warehouse seeks to maintain the high-energy shopping experience and bakery quality its customers have come to expect.
Superior at a glance
Headquarters: Santa Fe Springs, Calif.
A sampling of Superior's prices