In-store bakery operators typically select production methods to reduce labor expense, using their existing product lines. At Roche Bros., based in Wellesley Hills., Mass., bakery management, supported by company executives, first selects which bakery foods to offer and then chooses how to produce them.
The most significant benefit: The procedure enables Roche Bros. to select products that customers want, not items that the company wants to sell. It also allows bakery management to identify equipment and allocate labor to yield optimum production efficiencies.
Taking this tack has resulted in a bakery program that provides Roche Bros. customers scratch-made artisan bread products, frozen dough and par-baked crusty and variety bread items, and a diverse selection of high-quality pastries and sweetgoods prepared on premise and purchased fully finished. By filling customers' needs, and doing so efficiently, the bakeries are returning profits, company officials note.
On top of trends
Roche Bros.'s commitment to hot baking dates to 1970, when brothers Pat and Bud Roche introduced in-store baking with the opening of their fourth supermarket. They continued to open stores, all with bakeries, until they retired in 1998, and sons, Jay, Rick and Ed, assumed top management roles. They opened the eighteenth supermarket in 2007.
For the last 20 years, under the leadership of Peter Dumas, bakery director, the company has been on top of bakery foods trends in New England. For example, the bakeries introduced scratch-made fresh fruit tarts 15 years ago and added authentic artisan breads in 1999, after a four-person team participated in an artisan bread course at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kan.
Roche Bros. chose scratch production for artisan breads because “our customers expect us to be different from the other supermarkets,” says Rob DiMarino, bakery merchandiser. “Our artisan breads are part of our goal to provide high quality of service and goods.”
The bakeries use a combination of production methods to achieve that goal, according to David Hay, bakery merchandiser/trainer. “The combination allows us to have everyday product as well as higher end items for special occasions or for customers who want the next higher tier.”
In pursuing this, the bakeries assign the bulk of production and sales labor to products with the greatest return, such as artisan breads, scones and muffins, he says.
Modern Baking recently visited the Wellesley, Mass., store, a 44,000-sq.-ft. replacement unit, which Roche Bros. opened in January 2008. As with the entire store, the bakery features up-to-date service and self-service displays, product-friendly lighting and wide 7-ft. to 10-ft. aisles between displays, which collectively afford customers excellent product visibility.
Success with scratch artisan breads, currently produced by five stores, spurred officials to design the Wellesley bakery to accommodate artisan bread production and sales for maximum results, Hay explains. Artisan breads offer a good example of how Roche Bros. weaves production methods into a supermarket environment.
“We designed and located the bakery sales and production areas with artisan bread production in mind,” he says. It required more space than was available on the sales floor, so the company placed it and other bakery production on the building's upper level next to the store's prepared foods kitchen. A four-deck hearth oven was installed in the main floor bakery to bake artisan breads in customer view.
The upstairs production room is small, 600 sq. ft., and accommodates spiral and vertical mixers, a baguette moulder, a six-rack roll-in proofer, two double-rack rotary ovens and three workbenches. An elevator serves to receive ingredients and transfer products to the main floor.
Baguettes are high-volume items and require a moulder, Hay observes. “But, we roll and mould artisan loaves by hand to give finished product an authentic appearance,” he says. “For example, the interior crumb is more open than if we ran the dough through a machine.”
The first baker begins at 11 p.m., baking breakfast products, proofing frozen dough items and baking par-baked bread and roll items. This continues for four to five hours, after which the baker finishes the baked items, such as icing Danish, working until 7 a.m.
A second baker arrives at 5 a.m. to handle artisan bread production, a three-day procedure. He prepares biga preferment for the next day's mixing, and mixes and moulds artisan doughs for overnight fermentation. He also transports initial racks of loaves, fermented for 24 hours, via the elevator to the store-level bakery and bakes the pieces in the deck oven.
Each member of the six-person baking crew is trained in artisan bread production. However, the full-time 5 a.m. baker is dedicated to making artisan bread.
A cake decorator begins at 6:30 a.m., followed by another baker and decorator, arriving on staggered schedules until 10 a.m. More artisan loaves and par-baked items are baked soon after 12 p.m. and through the early evening. This allows for a production person to be on site until 7 p.m.
“Our bakeries probably are ‘over-ovened,’ but at holiday time — our biggest sales period — our bakers can keep up with production,” Hay observes.
Artisan bread varieties include baguette, Tuscan, sourdough, multi-grain, farmer's wheat and garlic-cheddar cheese. The five in-stores that produce artisan bread sell about 1,600 loaves a week, which account for 6 to 8 percent of bakery sales. “Sales need to be this high to support their production,” Hay says.
Roche Bros. makes artisan breads because they set the bakeries apart from the competition, according to Hay. “Some great par-baked artisan breads are available, but our competitors will sell them. And, they bake off in central locations; we make ours in the stores that sell them,” he adds.
Crusty French breads, prepared from frozen par-baked product, include Parisian, baguette, boule, petite pain and double-crust roll shapes. All crusty breads and rolls have a one-day shelf life.
Sales, notably those of three-pack baguettes, have grown by 14 percent during the last year, Hay says. He attributes the increase to greater variety and significant improvements in par-baked product quality during the last five years.
Bakers also prepare several varieties of hearth and pan breads and rolls from frozen dough. Examples include multigrain ciabatta, roasted garlic, rosemary olive oil, kalamata olive, 100 percent whole wheat and oatmeal.
Muffins: a top seller
Roche Bros. 6-oz. muffins are the company's third-largest unit sales category among all products with 42,000 to 44,000 muffins sold company wide each week, DiMarino says. “We view muffins as a commodity item — every bakery operator in New England sells them. But, we have the biggest muffin with the most fruit — 18 lbs. of fruit to 50 lbs. of batter,” he adds.
Bakers in each store bake muffins, prepared from mix, throughout the day. Sales associates transfer them to custom-designed wheeled cart displays. The carts require replenishment four to five times each day, DiMarino says. The most popular flavor is blueberry, a signature item, made with grade A fruit.
The success of muffin sales led to introducing a muffin-of-the-month program. “Customers come in specifically to check out the muffin of the month,” he says. Some of the more popular seasonal varieties became so popular that they are offered more regularly; one bakery offers gingerbread muffins year-round.
Fresh fruit tarts, another signature category, were prepared from scratch until last year. “We began to shift our labor so we could increase our variety,” Hay says. A vendor supplies the bases (shortbread crusts coated with white chocolate and filled with Bavarian cream); decorators top them with creative designs of freshly cut fruit and apply apricot glaze.
“We can do this because we found a vendor who can provide the same high quality that we acheived,” he notes. “Any changes in production must not be transparent to our customers.”
Quality boosted sales
Eighteen months ago, Roche Bros. upgraded its everyday cakes, among them carrot, Black Forest, chocolate fudge, German chocolate, mocha, triple chocolate, bar and whipped cream cakes.
The company worked with a supplier to provide simply decorated cakes made with high quality ingredients. For example, each has all-butter icing or Belgium chocolate icing or real cream cheese icing. “As a result, sales have increased,” Hay says. “For example, higher quality ingredients helped our red velvet cake become number three in dessert cake sales.”
With space needed for artisan bread production, “we could not create a niche for scratch-made pastries,” he explains. “So, we either hand finish in the stores or purchase top quality finished products from four vendors, who deliver one or more times per week.”
The bakeries also feature more-upscale dessert cakes, such as Grand Marnier, chocolate decadence, lemon mousse bombe, strawberry mango mousse, tiramisu and flourless chocolate cake.
Cookies are the bakeries' fastest-growing product category, increasing 12 percent during the last 12 months, Hay says, in large part because consumers are becoming more exposed to different varieties through their travels and the Food Network: “They're intrigued to try different varieties.” The bakeries also capture more sales with ethnic varieties, such as anise cookies and pizelles for Italians and scratch-made macaroons for Jewish customers.
Collectively, Roche Bros.' 18 bakeries sell more than 6 million cookies annually, baked off from frozen batter. The company's Our Own brand of custom-formulated varieties includes chocolate chip, triple chocolate chip, honey oatmeal raisin, white chocolate macadamia, chocolate chip with walnuts, butter and candy chip.
The all-butter line was the result of a move to upgrade the bakeries' cookies. Hay and other staff experimented with formulas to perfect the doughs and then worked with a supplier to replicate them in frozen puck form. The cookie line has become a signature product, available only at Roche Bros.
To enhance their sales in the Wellesley store, the bakery features a six-pan rotary display oven with a round glass exterior to bake cookies throughout the day in customer view. One minute before baking concludes, a vent automatically opens and allows the aroma to escape.
“If a customer wants three or four cookies, we can bake them within eight minutes,” says Matthew Brady, Wellesley bakery manager.
Appealing to customers who cannot enjoy cookies and other conventional bakery foods also is paying off. Sales of gluten-free, sugar-free and no sugar-added products have increased by 10 percent each year in recent years, Hay says, as “more consumers become conscious of what they eat and read nutrition labels.” Roche Bros. partnered with a local wholesale bakery that recently completed construction of a gluten-free facility, which delivers breads, cakes, pound cakes and cookies.
Sugar-free muffins also are popular. The bakeries had made them from a mix, yet sales did not warrant mix production. So, the company switched to purchasing a high-quality thaw-and-sell product, Hay explains
Customer contact essential
He acknowledges that indentifying and training associates for multi-production method bakeries is challenging. In addition, each associate must learn to communicate effectively with customers.
“We look for people who are willing to learn, work hard and maintain high quality,” Hay says. “A good example is our lead bread baker, who was a landscaping foreman. We gave him a shot at baking and trained him. He gravitated to mixing and moulding, learned the process and took over bread production.”
To enhance their verbal communications, full-time employees can participate in Dale Carnegie professional development classes. Associates learn to build their confidence to interact with customers. Rather than waiting for customers to act, associates learn to make full eye contact and engage customers.
“This can be something as simple as assisting a customer in locating a product or more involved, like up-selling,” Brady says, adding that associates reach a level at which they know customers and learn about their store's community. “This is important because each town is different.”
Hay adds that effective associate-customer contact has become more important with the economic recession. Roche Bros. bakeries have not escaped its impact, despite their locations in mostly upper-middle and higher-income communities.
“The recession definitely has affected unit sales, and revenues have increased largely because ingredient prices rose,” he explains. “Customers are being more selective. For example, sale items are doing 20 percent more than normal.”
Greater in-store competition also has imposed challenges. Notably, Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegman Food Market, well-known for its perishables departments, including bakery, recently decided to move into Roche Bros.' market territory.
During the last six months, Roche Bros. bakeries have slowed new product introductions, refined product lines to focus on the better-selling items and focused on operational efficiencies, Hay says. “The mission has been to do a better job of what we're already doing.”
In addition, the company is honing bakery management training, such as ensuring that assistant bakery managers “fully understand the financial aspects of their bakeries and are in positions to step in confidently as bakery managers when they are responsible for the departments,” he explains.
All the while, bakery personnel are keeping their eyes on their customers. Providing them what they want has helped guide Roche Bros. bakery program, and bakery management plans to continue the strategy.
at a glance
Headquarters: Wellesley Hills, Mass.
Web site: www.rochebros.com
Bakery management: Paul McGillivray, vice president-sales; Peter Dumas, bakery director; David Hay, bakery merchandiser/trainer; Rob DiMarino, bakery merchandiser
Number of stores/bakeries: 18
Newer store/bakery sizes: 43,000 to 48,000 sq. ft./1,600 sq. ft.
Market served: metropolitan Boston to Cape Cod
Major in-store competitors: Stop & Shop, Shaw's Supermarkets
Number of bakery employees: 10 to 20 per bakery
Products: full line, including authentic artisan breads/rolls, custom-decorated and dessert cakes, tarts, single-serve desserts, cookies, pies, Danish and puff pastries, sweetgoods (no donuts)
Production methods: scratch, base/mix, frozen raw and par-baked, DSD fully baked, thaw and sell
Major in-store production equipment: vertical mixers, baguette moulders, roll-in proofers, deck and rotary rack ovens, cake image projector, computerized decorating machine, display rotating pan oven, bread slicer, walk-in refrigerators/freezers
Plans: build cake sales, including develop wedding cake program; increase cookie varieties; remodel Sudbury, Mass. store, where company introduced scratch artisan breads in 1999
Bakery supply distributors:Perkins Paper, Sparrow Enterprises
a sampling of prices
|Blueberry muffin, 6 ozs.||$1.29|
|Butter croissant, 3 ozs.||$1.29|
|Chocolate chip cookie,|
|Eclairs, 4 count||$4.29|
|Banana bread, 16 ozs.||$4.49|
|Key lime pie,|
|9 ins., 34 ozs.||$12.99|
|Decorated chocolate raspberry|
|mousse, 3 ins.||$3.99|
|New York-style plain|
|cheesecake, 3 ins.||$3.99|
|mousse cake, 7 ins.||$16.95|
|Fresh fruit tart, 9 ins.||$19.95|
|Decorated carrot cake,|
|7 ins., 54 ozs.||$15.99|
|cupcake, 5 ozs.||$3.99|
|bite size, 4 count||$5.00|
|chocolate cake, 7 ins.||$9.99|
|cupcake, 5 ozs.||$3.99|
|4 ins., single||$4.99|
|7 ins., single||$5.99|
|7 ins., double||$12.99|
|8 ins., double||$14.99|
|¼ sheet, single||$17.95|
|Scratch-made artisan breads:|
|Tuscan, 16 ozs.||$3.99|
|Garlic-cheddar, 16 ozs.||$4.29|
|walnut, 16 ozs.||$4.29|
|sourdough, 25 ozs.||$4.99|
|White pan bread, 16 ozs.||$2.99|