| (from left) Jose Diaz, deli/bakery supervisor, and Gerald DeMattia, bakery/deli director |
Western Beef adapts each bakery’s product mix to fulfill the store’s unique customer needs. Further, bakeries modify production schedules to ensure products are fresh for their busiest selling periods.
Bucking a trend toward using more thaw-and-sell products, the company’s bakers increasingly seek opportunities to make their items from scratch and mixes, supplemented with frozen raw and par-baked production.
And, Western Beef is using this strategy to capture sales from consumers often neglected or abandoned by other operators: low- to middle-income, inner-city residents who comprise various ethnic backgrounds.
The company, based in Ridgewood, N.Y., operates 11 hot bakeries in 17 conventional supermarkets in New York City’s five boroughs, two stores on Long Island and two across the Hudson River in New Jersey. These neighborhood supermarkets serve the needs of consumers as diverse as African-Americans, Italians, Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean groups, Central and South Americans, Mexicans, Portuguese, and northern and eastern Europeans, among others.
The task to meet their demands is daunting, but the strategy works, Western Beef officials say. For example, bakery sales increased about 10 percent from 2004 to 2005 and continue to grow, they note.
Meeting customer needs
Western Beef has pursued a marketing strategy to cater to ethnically diverse populations since the firm was founded nearly 35 years ago. Originally, it was a meat purveyor, filling voids created after most independent butcher shops had closed.
“Our company has been based on providing high quality meat in the varieties that our various customers want,” observes Richard Fraschilla, chief operating officer. One reflection is the supermarkets’ walk-in “cold rooms” where customers can select cuts and portions needed.
| Each in-store features a self-service bread wall that offers customers a window to the bakery production area. |
Along the way, Western Beef stores evolved from meat markets to grocery stores to supermarkets, as they added dairy, produce and grocery departments.
In 1989, the company installed its first hot bakery, which focused on scratch-made breads and rolls. “We felt that bread is good for everybody, and there weren’t enough mom-and-pop bakeries in the markets we serve,” Fraschilla says.
The company introduced its bakeries to draw consumers to stores. “They did just that. One of our Long Island stores was a borderline store,” Fraschilla recalls. “We remodeled it and installed a bakery. Sales jumped 30 percent. Bakery has played a big part in that store’s success. One reason for the bakery’s popularity is its fresh bread–people rave about it.”
Fresh-from-the-oven Italian, French and semolina breads have become the most highly demanded breads in Western Beef’s hot bakeries. Other items common to all in-stores include croissants; muffins, particularly corn and banana nut varieties; and glazed, yeast-raised donuts.
More healthful eating
Croissants sell well in large part due to their packaging, according to Gerald DeMattia, director of bakery/deli. Plain croissants are packed on clear plastic bases and covered with clear domes, containing four 2 1/5-oz. or twelve 1-oz. pieces. Both sizes retail for $2.99.
Because bread sales far out-strip donut volume, the company is gradually eliminating the bakeries’ self-service donut displays and extending their self-service bread shelving. This will enable adding more specialty varieties, such as rosemary and whole wheat breads.
“We see more people eating more healthfully,” DeMattia says. “These specialty breads open opportunities for more profits.” Plans include producing them from scratch and mixes.
The hallmark of Western Beef’s in-stores is their capacity to provide the products that each store’s customers seek. Examples include sweet potato pies for African-American and Caribbean consumers, Italian savory cookies for Spanish-speaking as well as Italian communities, and pudding and pound cakes, in plain, lemon, marble and sour cream varieties, for African-American neighborhoods.
| Bakers tailor scratch-made breads and rolls for Western Beef’s ethnically diverse neighborhoods. |
“Other operators have tried to cater to the various Latin communities by providing the same products to each. This approach didn’t work, and those operators pulled out.”
Where needed, the bakeries also adapt their production schedules to ensure that customers receive the freshest products possible, officials say. Some stores are busiest in the late afternoons and evenings as two-income households shop, while other stores see strong morning and early afternoon sales because most customers come from homes with one wage earner. As a result, the bakeries schedule production for freshness, such as having hot breads available for late afternoon customers.
Balancing labor costs
Bakers produce most breads and rolls from scratch and some specialty products from bases and mixes. “You can’t get a better slice of bread than from a fresh, scratch-made loaf,” DeMattia says. Crews supplement scratch bread production with frozen dough for variety pan breads.
They use mixes to prepare pound and pudding cakes and plan to make muffins from mixes. (See accompanying “at a glance” for other product categories and their production methods.)
The company chose to pursue scratch/mix baking, particularly for bread products because “that’s what our customers want,” Fraschilla says. “They aren’t happy going into one of our competitors’ stores and not finding a good loaf of Italian bread. Our customers know the difference.”
After Western Beef opened its first scratch/mix bakery, “we were told that we probably could open one or two bakeries, but no more because we wouldn’t find bakers to make scratch bread,” he recalls. “But, we ran with the idea.”
| Finding their wide variety of fresh breads to be their top draw, Western Beef in-stores have expanded their bread displays. |
“Mostly, we grow our employees from within,” Fraschilla says. “The supermarket business has always been a pass-through business; young people work in the stores during their school years then go elsewhere after graduating. We always look for talented people who want an opportunity to grow.”
For example, he explains, bakery employees often have joined the company as helpers and within a couple of years rose to become bakers and bakery managers, even assistant store managers and managers. “One of our bakery supervisors started as deli clerk, the other as a meat wrapper,” he says.
Fraschilla acknowledges that labor cost associated with scratch/mix baking is a big issue. “We’re able to balance our costs with our prices and make scratch baking work for us,” he says.
“For example, we’re in the middle, between the large chains and the small independent operators. We’re small enough that we can meet the needs of our very different customers, but we’re large enough to have buying power and use our warehouse for grocery, produce and meat effectively. And, we don’t have a large administrative bureaucracy like the big chains, which costs money.”
Hot baking vital
Hot baking will play a vital role in Western Beef’s expansion, according to Fraschilla and DeMattia. The firm currently is remodeling supermarkets, including installing new departments, among them bakeries, in some locations. Results to date are promising.
After one of the Long Island stores was remodeled recently, the additions of a bakery and deli contributed to a 30 percent increase in sales, they say. This remodeling program will continue into next year.
Western Beef also plans to begin new store projects by the end of the year, and will add stores mostly along the perimeter of the company’s current territory. The firm projects opening one to two stores in 2007.
Bakery’s presence will be obvious in the company’s growth, he notes. “For example, in our stores serving Mexican communities, we’ll consider including tortilla production,” DeMattia says. “We already do well selling tortillas that we buy wholesale. Besides selling fresh tortillas in those supermarkets, we could ship them for sale in other stores.”
He and his bakers also will be searching for more opportunities to bake from scratch and mix. “You can’t get a fresher, better product than one from a well-made scratch product. We have the equipment, and we’ll train more bakers. We’ll do it.”
Western Beef...a sampling of prices
Yeast-raised donuts, 12 count…$2.50
Cheese Danish, 4 count… $2.99
Cherry strudel sticks, 8 ozs., 4 count… $1.69
Chocolate chip cookies, 12 ozs.…$1.99
Éclairs, 4 count…$2.99
Lemon pound cake, 48 ozs.… $5.99
Vanilla pudding cake, 20 ozs. …$2.99
Plain cheesecake, 26 ozs.…$5.99
Carrot cake, 7 ins.…$7.99
Cookies ‘n crème cake, 7 ins. … $7.99
Decorated cake, 10 ins.…$16.95
1/4 sheet… $12.99
Italian bread, 10 ozs., 3 count…$1.69
French bread, 16 ozs. … $1.19
Semolina bread, 30 ozs. … $1.99
Rye bread, 19 ozs.…$1.99
Challah bread, 19 ozs.…$2.69
Portuguese hero rolls, 3 count… $1.00
Kaiser rolls, 5 count…$1.00
Western Beef…at a glance
Headquarters: Ridgewood, Queens, N.Y.
Web site: www.westernbeef.com
Management: Richard Fraschilla, chief operating officer; Gerald DeMattia, director, bakery/deli; José Diaz and Edgar Garcia, bakery/deli supervisors
Market served: New York City’s five boroughs, plus two stores each on Long Island and across Hudson River in New Jersey
Number of stores/bakeries: 21/11
Average store/bakery sizes: 30,000 to 35,000 sq. ft./1,600 sq. ft.
Number of bakery employees: 4 to 7 per bakery
Product line: Full line of breads/rolls, donuts, cookies, pies, pastries, sweetgoods and cakes
Average weekly sales: $5,000-$6,000 to $12,000-$14,000 per bakery
Production methods: Scratch–breads, rolls, cheesecakes; mix–specialty breads, pudding and pound cakes; frozen raw–variety breads/rolls, pies, cookies, croissants, Danish; frozen par-baked–bagels; frozen fully finished–muffins, decorated cakes, cookies, donuts
Major equipment: vertical mixers, spiral mixer, dough divider, sheeter/moulder, roll-in proofer, rotary rack oven, revolving tray oven, bread slicer, walk-in refrigerator/freezer
Plans: continue remodeling stores, including retro-fitting bakeries; open one to two stores in 2007
Bakery supply distributors: Inter-County Bakers Supply, AC Bakers Supply, White Rose