With its stores undergoing remodels, SuperFresh's in-store bakeries are creating a fresh new image to match their products. Customers approve — bakery sales are up in renovated stores.
Living up to the name SuperFresh is a tall order. Emphasizing freshness within the limited footprint of a downtown store was the impetus for recent renovations throughout the 63-unit chain.
One of America's first supermarket chains, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P), founded in 1859, operates about 440 stores in four formats under several banners, including SuperFresh, in six East Coast states from New York to Washington, D.C. The Montvale, N.J. company's format-focused strategy (gourmet, fresh, price impact and discount) was initiated five years ago when Eric Claus, originally from A&P Canada, took the helm as U.S. president and C.E.O. Three years later, Sal Baio joined the team as vice president of fresh and Jim Saufl as deli/bakery senior director.
“We understand that one size doesn't fit all, and we really take that to heart,” explains Baio regarding the formats and store redesigns to suit each physical site and community.
To make sure the bakery department formats are flexible enough to suit their city and suburban neighborhoods, the company has developed a number of variations of the new designs and layouts, Saufl says. A smaller downtown Philadelphia store, for example, is set up to resemble a European boutique and offers an appropriately abbreviated line of bakery products. Product mix also adapts to the local populations, such as the addition of guava and other fruit-flavored pastries in Latino communities. “Even within formats, we have different designs, depending on the neighborhoods,” Baio says.
A little more than 50 percent of the chain's stores have been remodeled to fit the format to the neighborhood. “Although our investment in remodels has slowed down slightly, we continue to spend capital in these stores, so our formats and products can keep up with what our customers want and need because things are changing every day,” Baio says. Additional store remodels in the fresh format are planned this year in a number of markets, he continues. Two or three new stores are currently under construction, continuing the aggressive program started a few years ago.
Renovating Philly stores
SuperFresh, one of three banners A&P operates in its fresh format, is targeted to upper middle class consumers in the mid-Atlantic region, Baio says. The company began renovating its 20 SuperFresh Philadelphia area stores last June.
One store, located at the busy intersection of 10th and South Streets, features a 2,000-sq.-ft. bakery, which is smaller than the standard 3,000-sq.-ft. size for the chain. The space is evenly divided between production and display. Upgrading the in-store bakery's ambience and showcasing its hundreds of made-on-site products was a priority for the management team, Saufl says.
About half of the department's products are made in-house from proprietary mixes and bases or baked off from frozen or par-baked dough.
“But,” Saufl points out, “if you include all of the items we assemble, ice, decorate and repackage, that number goes up to about 85 percent.”
When renovating the South Street store, management focused on three things: redesigning the retail floor displays, introducing premium proprietary branded categories and training for both the production and counter personnel to enable them to turn out consistent quality products and have the knowledge to effectively sell them.
Prior to the remodel, the South Street bakery was equipped with a 30-pan double rotating rack oven, one 60-qt. and two 20-qt. mixers, a 100-sq.-ft. cooler and a 500-sq.-ft. freezer. Although no square footage could be added, another 20-qt. mixer and some prep stations/work tables were brought in to maximize the efficiency of the workspace.
Invested in training
Instead of relying on technology for bakery department operation efficiency, the company instead invested in training the five-person production team to use existing equipment. A master cake decorator trains in-store personnel, technical specialists are available to help handle any issues and vendor partners also are tapped for training assistance. As a result, staffers are able to turn out the required volume and variety of products on a schedule that begins at 5:30 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m.
In addition to enabling sales associates to answer customer questions, the intensive training makes it easy for them to communicate their enthusiasm about the products.
“To do this type of work, you have to be passionate,” says Sales Associate Mike Terry after he explained the six complex chocolate components of an elaborate cake.
In the retail space, Saufl installed a 12-ft., European-style refrigerated service case, which when combined with a 12-ft., open-air, refrigerated, self-serve case, boosted the department's ability to merchandise gourmet cakes and individual pastries. Each of the three glass front windows of the case swings open and lies flush against the adjacent glass to make it quicker and easier for staffers to keep the cases clean and to restock, rotate and refresh products. An open self-serve frozen case completes the display line-up.
According to Saufl, the prominent displays have had an impact on customer perceptions. The showcases are filled with more than 30 varieties of full- and petite-sized cakes (made from frozen layers, assembled and finished on site) topped with buttercream, non-dairy whipped icing and fondant, 30 varieties of single-serve desserts, four kinds of signature cheesecakes (made from a proprietary base) as well as store-made cream pies, fruit tarts and filled-to-order cannoli.
“We've heard customers say ‘Wow, I had no idea you could do things like that!'” Saufl says.
Attention to detail
Cosmetic details, such as orange walls and tiles behind black cases, give the bakery department visual pop against the store's overall neutral colors. Track, pendant and spot lighting draw the eye to colorful product-focused signage and to the products themselves. Since the remodel, service case sales have increased from about 20 percent to 45 percent, Saufl says.
Numerous wooden tables and racks on the retail floor make the more than 70 SKUs of artisan breads, rolls, bagels, cakes, cookies, muffins and other items convenient for grab-and-go sales. Customers linger to look over the 15 flavors of crème cakes, 26 varieties of cookies and the 27-layer all-butter croissants.
Other bakery product displays, including a pie rack at the store's street entrance and strategically placed tables in the front of the store and in the deli and other departments, encourage impulse purchases, Saufl says. The deli department also uses bread from the bakery in its sandwich program.
“In the first five months [after the renovation], our total bakery sales doubled. Since then, we've continued to see double digit percent increases,” he explains. “The bakery department accounts for more than 2 percent of overall store sales.
“We look at profitability, not just gross profit, and that takes into consideration labor, supplies and other costs,” Saufl continues. “Last year, bakery led this company in terms of percent of sales increase over the prior year.”
Despite the number of SKUs, bakery shrink averages less than 8 percent, he says. He attributes this to continual tracking and tweaking of product category and individual item sales at each of the company's stores.
He notes that overall breads and rolls, cakes, pies and Danish/puff pastry are the fastest growing product categories. In a survey of the surrounding market area, the management team discovered that customers, many of whom live within walking distance of the store, wanted more easy-to-carry, individual and other smaller-sized items, such as petite cakes and pies.
Right now, he notes, muffin and cookie sales are flat. But he expects that cookie sales will rev up with the upcoming introduction of several new products.
Interactive in-store sampling is an integral part of the SuperFresh chain's merchandising. Staffers walk around the bakery area with wicker baskets filled with sample baby baguettes (50 grams) in their own little bags. Or, they offer slices of mini pies from tables set up on the retail floor.
Branding also is key to A&P's strategy to further elevate the positioning of bakery products at all of its stores, including SuperFresh. A&P's category managers played an instrumental role in developing two major proprietary brands, Hartford Reserve (named after one of A&P's founders) and Via Roma.
Saufl describes Hartford Reserve as “the best of the best.” Currently the brand can be found on the chain's apple pie and is set to expand into cherry, peach and pumpkin varieties as well as other high-end products.
“Sales have been phenomenal and have not at all cannibalized sales of our other pies,” he points out.
Via Roma is the banner for an Italian line of products. Right now, it is used to brand some pastries, including the regular and chocolate-enrobed cannoli that are filled to order or are available in kit form in the bakery's freezer, but Saufl says, the Via Roma name also will appear on cookies and other products in the near future.
Breads are sold under the supplier's name, Ace Bakery, but the company is considering adding its own proprietary branding to the bread selection.
Although Saufl emphasizes that the bakery team always works on new ideas and at least one bakery item is added every month, the rollout process is slow and methodical, based on production feasibility and sampling reactions. One particularly innovative new item is a “sundae” made from three generous scoops of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry mousses piled into a crispy waffle cone cup with its interior coated with chocolate and topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Another is the “cannoli kiss,” a chocolate-topped cream puff variation of the traditional cannoli.
Saufl gets the most from his basic products by offering them in various sizes, configurations, and fresh or frozen. Crème cakes, for examples, are available in loaves, rounds and slices. Layer cakes are sold whole or by the half from the freezer and fresh cases, cut into squares and merchandized as “Duet” packaged pairs, and sliced diagonally and displayed in the service case. Customers can buy clear clamshell packages of big chocolate chip cookies, and ones dipped in chocolate or sandwiched with cream.
“When you walk into our fresh stores, you get an unbelievable ‘foodie' experience. It's all about prepared foods; all about quality and freshness,” Saufl says. “In bakery, we are a freshness cue for the whole store.”
SuperFresh AT A GLANCE
Headquarters: Montvale, N.J.
Market served: Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
Number of locations: 63
Management: Sal Baio, vice president of A&P Fresh; Jim Saufl, senior director deli/bakery; Kathy Hopta-Cummings, senior category manager/bakery; Patsy Driscoll, category manager/cakes, pastries and cookies; Mike Batta, category manager/breads and rolls
Parent company: The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P)
Other banners under the A&P brand: A&P, Waldbaum's, Pathmark, Best Cellars, The Food Emporium, Super Foodmart and Food Basics
Production methods: mix/base, frozen par-baked and thaw-and-bake
Major equipment: double rotary rack ovens, mixers, freezer and cooler
Plans: continue remodeling bakeries within the fresh format, open two or three more stores
SuperFresh A SAMPLING OF PRICES
|Hartford Reserve apple pie,|
|Banana cream pie, 24 ozs.||$5.99|
|single-serve, 6 ozs.||$3.99|
|Fruit tart, 44 ozs.||$14.99|
|single-serve, 5 ozs.||$2.49|
|Olive fougasse, 16 ozs.||$3.99|
|Crème cake loaf,|
|2-pack, 14 ozs.||$5.00|
|Fondant cake, 50 ozs.||$19.99|
|Strawberry shortcake, 20 ozs.||$8.99|
|Baguette, 12 ozs.||$1.99|
|Muffins, 4-count, 16 ozs.||$3.99|
|Chocolate chip cookies,|
|Chocolate-dipped chocolate chip|
|cookies, 22-oz. package||$5.99|
|2-count, 12 ozs.||$1.89|
|Italian bread, 12 ozs.||$1.99|
|Death by Chocolate cake,|
|Mousse sundae, 16 ozs.||$3.99|