MERCHANDISING BLOCKBUSTER PRODUCTS and engaging customers' senses help create a sense of "theater" in supermarket in-store bakeries. By generating some excitement in your in-stores, you can drive customers and sales to the cash register.
"I can sum it up in one word," says Carol Christison, executive director for the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association. "Experience. Consumers love to 'experience' things. They're looking for new taste thrills, consistent quality, and to be able to learn something about the product they're buying."
Putting the sizzle into the sales message involves turning the bakery into an experience department, she adds. This can involve offering interactive customer programs, such as holiday cake or cookie decorating, or open production areas where customers can view the bakery action. "Just look at the Krispy Kreme operations with production areas in full view of the customer," Christison says. "The customer can stand and watch their donuts being created. They don't have to ask if they're freshñthey just saw them being made, start to finish."
Mustard Seed Market, a natural foods supermarket with two locations in northeastern Ohio, spotlights open production in its in-store bakeries. "We promote that we have experts working for us," says Bryan Smith, Mustard Seed bakery director. "We designed the bakery to show them off."
Smith typically has five people working behind the glass partitions that separate the bakery from the customer area. "The whole idea is to make a connection with the customer," says Smith. Mustard Seed instores also actively sample new or seasonal featured items of the week, such as fruit-filled thumbprint cookies or specialty Passover desserts.
He also promotes eye-catching products for secondary holidays, such as shadow cookies for Groundhog Day or decorated treats for Grandparents' Day. As the list of products has grown, Smith has found it helpful to write up "cheat sheets" for sales associates to help them more accurately sell both the products' flavor and ingredients.
Show customers' baking action
Training sales associates to be salespeople, rather than order takers, helps the staff promote bakery action and interact more knowledgeably with customers, according to Bob Beckerman, SuperValu Inc.'s retired corporate wholesale director for delibakeryfoodservice. In order to grow sales, in-stores must demonstrate, sample and educate consumers about the best products it produces, Beckerman says. "Almost every bakery has the ability to do something very well and distance itself from the competition," he says. "Establishing and focusing on those points of difference not only create excitement, but also earn you a higher price for your goods."
Wegmans Food Markets' in-store bakeries differentiate themselves with exceptional customer service, backed by action-based store design and high-quality products. By making quality foods and skilled personnel its focus, the Rochester, N.Y.-based supermarket chain has grown to more than 70 stores and expanded its territory recently to include the Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia areas.
"Our stores are designed to showcase both the bakery and deli production," says Dave Grossi, perishables manager for Wegmans in Downingtown, Pa. "Everything happens in the view of the customer. They see the wood-fired brick oven; they see 15 people working in production in the patisserie. That can't help but generate interest."
Active sampling also draws customers to Wegmans' in-stores and gives them the chance to try some of the bakeries' more unusual products.
"Demonstrations and sampling are very big here," Grossi adds. "We find that there are products that customers haven't tried before, like the focaccia or the cheese bread. And, once they get it into their mouths, they want to buy."
Appeal to customers' senses
Jeffrey Naaman, director of bakery for Strack & Van Til, based in Highland, Ind. recently redesigned his instores to showcase production and entice consumers with all five senses. "It increases your sales and the contribution the department makes to the bottom line of the store," Naaman says. "The biggest change this brings is more commitment to labor spent serving the guest. The challenge for all of us is the labor and training component."
Beyond opening its production to customer view, Strack & Van Til places heavy emphasis on merchandising and selling its products effectively, particularly its cakes and artisan breads. The in-stores' artisan breads are positioned on a high-profile service bread rack located directly behind the service counter and bakery cash registers. Customers watch bakers move bread directly from the oven to the cooling racks to displays throughout the day, so they know it is fresh. And, sales associates are readily available to assist customers' selection and slice the breads if requested.
Strack & Van Til's decorated cake program, too, is designed for maximum customer interaction. Cake decorators decorate cakes in a designated area behind glass in view of customers. A counter with stools allows customers to sit while they discuss their design requests with cake decorators. The counter also conveniently positions a book of photo examples from the latest licensed character designs for customers to peruse while they wait.
Any event can be a bakery promotion
Bakery promotions centered around movie releases, sports teams and other non-holiday events are generating sales in supermarket bakeries thanks to creative support, such as point-of-sale displays, value-added decorating kits and costumes provided for bakery sales associates. Some in-stores plan a yearlong calendar of events that tie in with scheduled movie releases or sporting events, according to a vice president of a cake decorating supply company.
"Instead of creating a blanket national program, we're encouraging stores to customize cakes to their audience," the cake decorating supplier adds. "These are opportunities to draw large groups of people, which can in turn generate sales if the timing is right."
For example, Price Chopper's New England store created a sculpted cake replica of the New England football stadium before the Super Bowlô. The bakery also brought in cheerleaders and people in character costumes to take pictures with children-and promote the bakeries' cakes and bakery products, according to Carl Richardson, vice president of bakery operations for Price Chopper.
To complement their decorated cake programs, in-store bakeries also are centering some of their bakery events around children. With events like hands-on cake or cookie decorating classes, supermarkets are extending bakery's reach to a younger audience.
Get children involved
Letting customers and their children watch a cake decorator, baker or pastry chef at work helps get customers involved with the bakery, further building a positive sales relationship. Supermarkets, too, are bringing in local guest celebrity chefs to lead cooking or baking classes. Andronico's Markets in Albany, Calif. designates an area of the supermarketto cooking classes. And, hanging above its bakery is a television tuned to a food channel. These efforts enhance Andronico's image as a food authority, where customers go for answers to their meal preparation questions.
"They want to ask questions, and familiarity drives sales," says the cake decorating supplier. "The bakery is really the one place in the entire grocery store where true creativity is on display."
By nature, in-store bakeries can be the most interactive departments in the supermarket. Drawing customers to the bakery action promotes your bakery talents and product quality. "A can of peas is just a can of peas," says Price Chopper's Richardson. "But it's in the bakery that you can create a pleasurable shopping experience. It's all about theater today."