An accidental delivery
bakery front and
center for this sixunit
chain. With a
blend of cakes,
pastries and breads,
generate 8 percent
of total store sales.
Highland Park Market in Farmington, Conn. is not Robyn Bonini's neighborhood grocery store. But it is her favorite. She regularly drives miles out of her way for the in-store bakery's fresh fruit tart and chocolate mousse cake.
That kind of customer loyalty is one of the major reasons the bakery departments at Highland Park Market's six suburban Hartford stores account for an average of 8 percent of total store sales, which average $750,000 annually per location, explains Bakery Director Robert Thatcher. During the holidays, bakery sales can account for up to 16 percent of total sales. Thatcher attributes Highland Park Market bakeries' 3 1/2 to 4 percent sales increases during the past few years to an expansion of product variety and consistent quality.
Plans: add Cuban rolls and ciabatta to product line, open a 4,000-sq.-ft. central commissary
Each store averages about 20,000 sq. ft., with 750 sq. ft. dedicated to the bakery. Four cross-trained staffers per store turn out a full line of items from crusty breads and rolls to cookies and custom cakes from their exhibition production and decorating space.
About 70 percent of the pastry items are made from scratch; almost all of the 26 varieties of loaves and rolls are par-baked or proof-and-bake doughs. Most of the locations' bakery sales are split evenly between breads and pastries. The exception is Farmington, with 70 percent of sales coming from pastries while bread makes up the remaining 30 percent.
About 80 percent of the products in each of the full-line bakery departments are sold from a 6-ft. long refrigerated service case. At most of the stores, the other 20 percent, which are packaged, baked-on-premise or RTU items, are displayed on tables and shelves and in baskets in the department's 6 ft. of dry space.
Highland Park's newest location in South Windsor, which opened about three years ago, had a 25-ft., four-shelf, wrought iron display custom made to prominently showcase the breads and other non-refrigerated and packaged items. That's a long way from the company's first bakery in its original Manchester store, which sold muffins, other breakfast items and cakes on a lopsided display table. During its early years, the department brought in an average of $3,000 per week.
The original 900-sq.-ft. Manchester location, which was built in 1886 as a dry goods store, became a grocery when John Devanney purchased it in 1957. Several expansions by Devanney and his six children increased the store size to 16,000 sq. ft.
Family members opened a second store in nearby Coventry in 1976, followed by a third location in Glastonbury in 1992. The following year, John Devanney's son Timothy became the company's owner when he bought out his siblings, and in 1995, brought the concept to Farmington and expanded the Manchester store to its current 20,000-sq.-ft. size to house the bakery and deli departments.
The Suffield location followed in 2000 and South Windsor in 2005. All of the stores are situated within a 30-mile radius of the original Manchester location.
Bakery became a major part of the business about 15 years ago when a 6-ft. long refrigerated case was mistakenly delivered to the Gastonbury store rather than the dry case that had been ordered. Instead of sending the refrigerated case back, the bakery staff began using it to display and sell slices of store-baked cakes.
Based on the initial success of this experiment, the store added more desserts. Refrigerated and additional dry cases were then added to the Manchester and Coventry bakery departments to accommodate more expansive dessert displays.
Another serendipitous event was the introduction of fresh fruit tarts as a promotional product for the grand opening of the Farmington store.
“We ran one ad for Mother's Day, and the response was overwhelming,” Thatcher says. “Since then, every Mother's Day weekend, the stores sell a total of between 500 and 600 fruit tarts.”
At Farmington, which sells about 200 of that holiday total, the bakery borrows the salad bar from the deli, moves it to the back, fills it with cut-up fruit and hires college students to top the tarts production-line style, he explains. The rest of the year, the Farmington store averages about 40 fruit tarts a week; the other locations each average about 20.
Highland Park uses frozen puff pastry crusts coated with coarse sugar for its 9-in. fruit and razzleberry tarts. Because the sugar-coated puff crusts only are available in the larger size, individual-size tarts are made with shortbread crusts.
While the regular fruit tarts are filled with vanilla custard, the deluxe razzleberry version is filled with a mixture of mascarpone, whipped cream, sugar and kirsch. The inside of the puff shell is coated with chocolate for extra crispness and flavor. Strawberries, blackberries and blueberries are arranged on the tart's top.
For the large neighboring Swedish community, Highland Park Market began making Swedish cardamom bread and almond braids from scratch as a holiday promotion years ago. Both have become year-round signature items, popular with customers of all ethnic groups.
Both of the braided products are made from the same basic dough, which is made twice a week. Each batch yields about 30 circular wreath-like cardamom breads and 12 oblong almond paste-filled braids. During the Easter and Christmas holidays, production jumps to 120 to 150 cardamom breads and 50 to 60 almond braids per store per week.
After mixing, the dough must rest for 1 1/2 hours before it is hand-cut, braided and the almond variety snipped epi-style with scissors. Another 15-minute rest follows before baking.
Listen to customers
“Our Swedish customers were very vocal when they didn't think we had enough cardamom in our formula,” Thatcher notes. “We started out with 3 ozs. of the spice and gradually increased until we got it to the correct level-about 3 1/2 ozs.”
Loaf cakes, added recently to the market's menu, also quickly became a customer favorite. Each store sells an average of 25 to 30 14-oz. loaves per day, mostly blueberry crumb with apple, zucchini and pumpkin also selling well.
The loaves are made from scratch in batches of 80 to 100 and are frozen after baking. They are thawed and packaged as needed to keep the grab-and-go table display filled and refreshed.
From the beginning, specialty and custom-ordered decorated cakes have been mainstays of Highland Park's bakeries. They still are, ranging in selection and price from $10.99 for basic Boston cream to $24.99 for sophisticated chocolate or white chocolate Chambord.
Most cakes are made from frozen yellow, chocolate and marble layers. Among the bakery's best-selling creations are chocolate mousse, tiramisu, chocolate fudge and Italian whipped cream cake with fresh strawberries and peaches. Five or six seasonal items, such as Orange Blossom cake in spring and summer, pumpkin cheesecake in fall and bouche de noel and Black Forest cake around the holidays, round out the offerings.
Carrot cakes, cheesecakes and special order red velvet and cherry chocolate almond cakes are made from scratch. These store-made layers are frozen after baking to ensure production meets customer demand.
Each store sells about 15 carrot cakes per week along with two to three additional sheets that are sold by the slice. Between 50 and 60 round and sheet cakes also are special ordered in each store each week. Changing selections of cake and pie slices, packaged in clear clamshell containers, are always on hand for impulse buys.
With the rising popularity of individual desserts, cake layers and mix-based brownies do double duty as bases for elaborate, multi-layered confections for one.
“Many customers don't want to choose only one item,” Thatcher says. “They say they're afraid they might miss something.”
Prices for every budget
Individual pastry prices range from $0.99 for small éclairs to $4.29 for hand-decorated Chocolate Mousse Mice. A 5-oz. Peanut Butter Earthquake bar, which goes for $3.69, starts with a brownie base that is topped with peanut butter cream, pieces of chocolate cake, peanuts and a chocolate ganache drizzle. Raspberry Avalanche, a fruity version, layers cream cheese topping, chocolate cake, raspberry filling and a garnish of white chocolate ganache on a brownie base.
At the upper end of the price scale, the Chocolate Mousse Mice are whimsically shaped confections made from chocolate cake and mousse, all dipped in chocolate ganache and decorated with buttercream faces and tails as well as almond-sliver ears. Yellow or chocolate cake-based “bombs” are filled with key lime cream or chocolate truffle and dipped in lime-flavored or chocolate ganache.
Cupcake sales have increased about 40 percent (despite a 40 percent price hike) since the bakery started piping roses on them about eight months ago, Thatcher adds. The cakes come in frozen and are finished in the exhibition decorating area. Although undecorated cupcakes are still available for a lower price, the rose-topped ones are better sellers, he notes.
Fruit pies are frozen, but cream-filled varieties are made in-house using frozen crusts. The stores also carry various flavors and sizes of individual- and double-serving pies and cakes, some of which are store-made, others are thaw-and-sell, and are packaged for grab and go.
Cookies are separated into four categories. Gourmet/all natural and “everyday” cookies (traditional favorites, such as chocolate chip, oatmeal, peanut butter and sugar) are made from frozen dough pucks and packaged in multiples in custom-made bags. Scratch-made, 4-oz. M & M® and chocolate chip cookies are wrapped in clear plastic and displayed on top of the service cases. Fancy RTU butter and Italian cookies are sold by the pound from the service case.
Danish, sticky buns and cinnamon buns with house-made schmear are baked from frozen doughs every morning and finished in the bakery. As are the breads, which include Italian, French, whole wheat and rye with and without seeds, and rolls, which range from “Italian Crispies,” Italian bread dough dipped in cornmeal, to regular and mini hard rolls and finger rolls.
In addition to producing breads and rolls for sale to customers, the bakery provides them to the store deli for sandwiches. Cuban rolls and ciabatta for panini are next on the bakery's production agenda, Thatcher notes.
Each store's bakery manager can add or eliminate products to meet customer demand and maximize sales. For example, the South Windsor location greatly expanded its selection of gluten- and sugar-free items.
Production for all bakeries begins at around 6 a.m. with Danish, bagels, croissants and breads. Between 7:30 and 8 a.m., the pastry chefs begin working. Baking continues through the day until 5 p.m. At 4 p.m., the final batch of breads come from the oven to keep the baking smells circulating around the stores and offer customers warm loaves for dinner.
Despite the vast array of breads and pastries that are produced at the stores, Thatcher estimates stales at 10 percent. Leftovers are donated to local soup kitchens.
Thatcher sets his gross profit goal at about 60 percent, and the bakeries are generally on target.
Each week, one cake, pastry, cookie, loaf cake and bread is featured at a promotional price. The bakeries also sample items throughout the day as they come from the oven.
Bakery products have become such an important part of the Highland Park Market brand that owner Timothy Devanney is looking into opening a 4,000-sq.-ft. central commissary within the next couple of years, Thatcher says. The facility will provide bread to all of the stores on a daily basis and may bring fruit pie production in-house.
As long as the bakeries continue to offer quality products, such as fresh fruit tarts and chocolate mousse cakes, Robyn Bonini and other customers will continue to go out of their way to shop Highland Park Markets' in-stores.
Higland Park Market
A sampling of prices…
|Fruit tart, 9 ins., 48 ozs.||$22.99|
|Chocolate mousse cake,|
|8 ins., 56 ozs.||$21.99|
|large, 36 ozs.||$24.99|
|individual, 4 ozs.||$3.69|
|Tiramisu cake, 48 ozs.||$24.99|
|large, 56 ozs.||$18.99|
|individual, 4 ozs.||$4.29|
|Peanut Butter Earthquake bar, 5 ozs.||$3.69|
|Raspberry Avalanche, 5 ozs.||$3.69|
|Key lime pie, 10 ins., 56 ozs.||$11.99|
|Pie slice, 4 ozs.||$4.29|
|Cake slice, 4 ozs.||$3.69|
|Cupcake, 2 ozs.||$0.99|
|Swedish cardamom bread, 15 ozs.||$4.49|
|Almond braid, 16 ozs.||$4.99|
|Loaf cake, 15 ozs.||$4.29|
|Giant M&M cookie, 4 ozs.||$1.49|
|Filled croissant, 2 ozs.||$1.69|
|Large Danish, 2 ozs.||$1.29|
|Italian bread, 16 ozs.||$2.49|
|Sourdough, 16 ozs.||$2.99|
Higland Park Market
at a glance
Location: Farmington, Conn.
Primary business: in-store bakery
Market served: suburban Hartford, Conn.
Key personnel titles: Timothy Devanney, owner; Robert Thatcher, bakery director
Number of stores/in-stores: 6/6
Product line: Full line
Store/bakery size: Average 20,000 sq. ft./750 sq. ft.
Production methods: scratch, bases and mixes, frozen
Annual sales: $750,000 per store
Major equipment: Vertical mixers, rotary rack ovens, proofers, refrigerators, freezers, refrigerated service and self-service cases, bread slicers
Bakery supply distributors: C&S, Perkins, Instant Whip, Otto Brehm