Located in the fertile Willamette Valley, this seven-unit chain takes
advantage of its agricultural resources to produce high quality
bakery products from scratch. Natural and organic ingredients form
the core of the in-store bakery’s philosophy.
When Christina Jessie stood at her mother's elbow as a child and watched her decorating wedding cakes, little did she know that she was in training for her future career. For the past five years, Jessie has been bakery sales manager for the seven-unit Market of Choice supermarket chain based in Eugene, Ore.
The chain takes its name to heart. “That's the whole concept of the store, to be the Market of Choice,” Jessie says. In the bakery Jessie and her team strive to offer what the customers want. “If they have a family recipe that they don't have time to make, they can bring it in and we'll make it up for them,” Jessie says. “The customers have been really instrumental in pushing us forward into new and different things.”
Market of Choice, owned by the Wright family, began implementing a format change a decade ago. The former box store chain switched its focus to natural and organic products while retaining its central grocery products. The perimeter departments, including bakery, were included in this shift.
As part of the chain's commitment to natural and organic product, sustainability was important. The Willamette St. location features on-site composting and the company is adding solar energy panels to all locations. The paper bags are recyclable, and Market of Choice is eliminating plastic grocery bags. The bakery also uses as much environmentally friendly packaging as possible. Because food containers aren't recyclable, the bakery switched to corn-based packaging that biodegrades on its own.
In another effort to maintain sustainability, the in-store bakeries buy from local suppliers. All of the fruit is from a company in the Willamette Valley, the flour is grown in the Columbia River basin, butter is from local dairies, and even the spices are sourced locally.
“It has saved us in so many ways by having local suppliers. We jumped in and paid a little extra to buy local and support the local farmers,” Jessie says. “They've really stood by us in this flour crisis. With prices hiking up, they held the price. If you have those local relationships, then you take care of each other a lot.”
In addition, the bakery only uses fair trade vanilla and direct trade coffee, which is a step beyond fair trade coffee. Fair trade means producers only have to pay their workers a minimum living wage, but direct trade ensures the workers are provided for even in the event of a bad crop.
Conversion to scratch
When Jessie was named director of bakery sales, she was charged with bringing the bakeries in line with the chain's new natural focus. The best way to do this was to switch to primarily scratch baking.
“The focus on scratch baking came in with me. Some locations did a great job of it before me, but as a company, we weren't very standardized,” Jessie says. “So, I said, ‘OK, this is the way we're going to do it.’ It takes a lot of managing; everyone has to pull their weight to make it work.”
One of the first products Jessie switched was scones. The bakery had been using a mix, but with only three ingredients in a basic scone formula, she knew the change would be easy. And, they've taken off like crazy, Jessie adds.
The bakeries also are developing natural starters for breads. The previous bakery sales manager thought starters were too difficult for in-store bakeries and turned to frozen bread, Jessie says. “I'm the one who stood up and said, ‘we can do that.’ And, we can incorporate it without upsetting production.”
Her next step was to remove dough conditioners from the bread. Dough conditioners, used to accelerate proofing, are unnecessary if the proper fermentation time is incorporated into bread production. At first, the bakers thought she was crazy, that the process would never work. But once they discovered it did work and customers loved the resulting products, they willingly came on board. “I knew they could do this,” Jessie adds. “They can bake beautiful loaves of bread, and they can do it the right way. As a manager, I had to organize it so they had everything they needed and give them the confidence to do it.”
However, the switch to scratch baking was not an be-all end-all proposition. “It's kind of a journey, and as we switch over, I want to make sure it works logistically to have the bakers make the products from scratch. I don't want to be so idealistic that it doesn't work for us.”
Laminated dough items, such as croissants and Danish, are made from all-butter frozen dough. Although some locations have a butterfly sheeter, which would make scratch-made croissants and Danish possible, not all locations have the equipment and Jessie is satisfied with the frozen product. The bakery uses only a few mixes, and those that it does use must have clean labels.
The clean label initiative has extended throughout the bakery. Customers requesting ingredient labels on products brought about the move. While listing the ingredients, Jessie noticed several products contained high fructose corn syrup, dough conditioners and other ingredients she deemed unnecessary.
“I was typing the information in, and I was like ‘what the heck is this? I don't even know what this ingredient is.’ My mom used to make whole wheat bread, and I know none of that weird stuff was in it,” Jessie says. “It really goes back to basic ingredients, which gives a lot of flexibility. You can make a lot of things out of butter and flour.”
Only natural ingredients
The bakeries use only fresh cream and absolutely no shortening. Instead of shortening, all products are formulated with butter. This switch eliminated trans fat as well as improved product flavor, Jessie says. All icings are made from scratch; the buttercream is simply butter and confectioners' sugar and the cream cheese icing contains only butter, cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and vanilla.
Market Catering, the chain's deli commissary, is formulating the bakery's fillings. “I'm finally going to get fillings exactly the way I want them,” she says. “I don't know why I didn't think of using Market Catering before.”
While most of the products are made with natural and organic ingredients, Jessie refuses to label them as such. “I'm very black and white on what's organic. Just because I'm using organic flour, I'm not going to say it's made with organic ingredients because I think that's misleading people,” Jessie says. Flour may be the only organic ingredient, and if the product is worked on a table that previously had non-organic ingredients on it, the product is no longer organic. For those specific types of products — organic, gluten-free or vegan — the bakery sources products from other area retail bakeries.
Scratch baking also allowed Jessie to standardize the product line throughout the chain's seven bakeries. With four locations in Eugene (the remaining locations are in Ashland and Portland), it was possible to buy a product in one location and not be able to find in the other locations, which was frustrating for customers, Jessie admits.
“Now, if you come and want a Chocolate Lover's cake, you can get a Chocolate Lover's cake from any location,” she says. The bakeries' have free rein to decorate the cake any way they want, but the basic product — cake, icing and filling — needs to be available.
While a standardized product line is important, Jessie leaves about 20 percent of the line open for products specific to each location. This allows employees to feel empowered to come up with new product ideas. “The employees will come to me with ideas, and that's what I love about this place because anybody can get an idea. We can make it and put it in the case; nobody is stopping us from having that kind of flexibility,” she says. “I don't ever want to be so standardized that I stifle creativity.”
The bakery department is divided into two distinct categories: service bakery and retail bakery. Service bakery encompasses all of the products made on site, while retail bakery includes all of the products that Market of Choice sources from area retail bakeries. These products run the gamut from vegan donuts to ciabatta to cookies.
Volume and equipment play a role in what products are purchased from local bakeries. The in-stores would be hard pressed to keep up with demand for chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter cookies. Market of Choice also outsources white chocolate macadamia nut cookies because the nuts are so expensive. For products requiring additional equipment, such as donuts that need fryers, it is cheaper and easier to outsource them.
The retail bakery products are extremely popular and customers appreciate a centralized location. One reason, Jessie says, is that a lot of the bakeries may not have ample parking or they may be located too far away from the customer, which has increasingly become an issue with current gas prices.
Focus on quality
In addition to sourcing local ingredients, Market of Choice in-stores focus on producing the highest quality products. The double layer cakes have three layers of filling, so they have plenty of good stuff in them, Jessie says with a laugh. The angel food cake is hand-mixed and folded, and then gently poured into the pans. “I love the whole training process because where other companies say it can't be done, I say yes, it can,” she says.
Service bakery items also meet Market of Choice's high standards. One cookie vendor was hesitant to go into the stores because with a high price point, the cookies had not done well in supermarkets in the past. However, they were so good that Jessie knew they would sell in Market of Choice stores, and she was right. “Quality wins over price,” Jessie says.
Cakes epitomize the bakery's commitment to quality. “We're known for our cakes. People come to Market of Choice for cakes, and that's true for all of our locations,” she says. “We're the ones that make wedding cakes where every last bite gets eaten. So, they're not just pretty, they actually taste good.
“People have certain perceptions of grocery store bakeries, and I think we go beyond that. There's only certain bakeries that I will even compare us to because we use such different ingredients and prodution methods than any other grocery store,” Jessie adds. “What our people do is just incredible, and they want to do everything the right way.”
Market of Choice
AT A GLANCE
Headquarters: Eugene, Ore.
Founded: 1979 by Richard Wright Sr.
Web site: www.marketofchoice.com
Management: Richard L. Wright, C.E.O.; Rick Wright, president, Heinz Beirerling, general manager, buyer bakery; Christine Jessie, bakery sales manager
Bakery contribution to store sales: 5 percent to 7 percent
Number of stores/bakeries: 7/7
Market served: western Oregon from Ashland in the south to Portland in the north
Number of in-store bakery employees: five to 28 (in Willamette St. location that includes four decorators and seven bakers)
Production method: mostly scratch/mix with frozen laminated dough
Product line: full line of cakes, breads, pastries, smoothies and coffee
Plans: open an eighth location
Major equipment: mixers, sheeter, rounder, rack oven, freezer
Bakery supply distributors: Bakemark, Peterson, Umpqua Dairy DPI, Mountain People, Glory Bee, United Grocers
Market of Choice
…A SAMPLING OF PRICES
|Lemon Burst cake, 8-in. single layer||$14.99|
|Chocolate Lover's Dream cake, slice||$3.99|
|Key lime tarts, single serve||$4.99|
|Primavera — strawberry, pistachio bars||$4.99|
|Deep Dutch brownies||$2.49|
|Triple berry cake, 8-in. double layer||$28.99|
|Strawberry pie, 9-in.||$15.99|
|Oatmeal raisin cookies, 12 count||$6.99|
|Whole wheat hamburger buns, 8 count||$3.99|
|Focaccia, 11 ozs.||$3.99|