IN-STORE BAKERIES DO NOT OPERATE IN A BUBBLE; trends affecting the supermarket as a whole are often reflected in the bakeries. And the same is true for wider consumer movements. Trends come and go, but some have more influence and staying power than others. Modern Baking takes a look at the 10 trends most influencing in-store bakeries now. While not all deal directly with baking, many of them are strong enough to resonate with in-store bakery customers.
Back to scratch
In-store bakery employees with their hands in dough is not a standard sight in most of the large supermarket chains. However, the tide is slowly turning in several regional chains as they go back to baking from scratch. For some stores, such as Portland, Ore.-based New Seasons Market, scratch baking has been integral to the department from the beginning. But older, more established stores, such as Hy-Vee Food Stores, West Des Moines, Iowa; H.E.B., San Antonio; and Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, are revamping their bakery programs to offer freshbaked artisan breads produced on-site, often in view of customers and not in a commissary. This requires a commitment to training bakery employees to create a high-quality product.
“You have to execute with an artisan bread program; the quality and consistency have to be there,” says Bill Mihu, vice president of bakery, Schnucks. “We wanted to produce 12 to 13 varieties of bread really well; we didn’t want to take on 25.”
In the case of Hy-Vee, its house-produced Baking Stone Bread artisan line contains only the basics–flour, water, yeast and salt, with a few varieties requiring the addition of eggs, sugar or spices. The dough is mixed and rests overnight before bakers arrive at 3 a.m. to begin baking off the loaves. Varieties include asiago batard, honey whole grain and seed, honey raisin pecan and focaccia.
Scratch bread baking is not something every chain or location can provide (both Hy-Vee and Schnucks only feature scratch-made bread in select stores), but as customers become more concerned about what is in their food, it is a trend that will continue to grow.
It's good for you
Supermarket nutrition programs are not new phenomena– they began appearing about two years ago–but added attention is being paid to them as the programs expand to a wider audience, with a slate of commercials about how the programs can help shoppers make more healthful food choices. The programs run the gamut from Safeway’s SimpleNutrition and Supervalu’s nutrition iQ® shelf tag systems to Whole Foods’ Health Starts Here and Kowalski’s Good Food for Good Health programs.
Supervalu’s nutrition iQ, which has rolled out in more than 1,000 locations, features color-coded icons on shelf tags and signs to help shoppers find healthful options. Products that receive a tag are at a basic level “good for you,” with low levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, fat, sodium and added sugars. Once past this level, products are evaluated to see if the first ingredient on the ingredient list is a whole grain. Fresh departments, such as bakery, feature signs that highlight key attributes, such as excellent/good source of fiber. While bakery is not over abundant in healthful products, a few breads do carry the signage, said Craig Stacey at the recent Whole Grain Council conference. Stacey is director of health and wellness marketing for Supervalu, Eden Prairie, Minn. Tagged items saw a 2 to 4 percent lift in sales over untagged items in the same category, he added.
All 303 Whole Foods stores feature the Health Starts Here Program, which offers products, education, practical tools and wellness resources to promote healthful lifestyles. The bakery departments feature sprouted grain breads made with 100 percent whole grains and contain no refined flours, added oil, refined sugars or processed ingredients.
“Health Starts Here is not about deprivation or counting calories,” said Margaret Wittenberg, global vice president of quality standards and healthy eating, Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas. “By offering in-depth information, education and services to help support healthy lifestyle changes, we are going beyond just selling healthy foods but also taking action to help provide practical and delicious solutions to diet-related issues in today’s society.”
As Americans continue to grow ever heavier, more are looking for help in trimming down. And they will continue to turn to those who provide their food for sound advice and guidance.
Bigger isn’t always better, and as the effects of the Great Recession continue to resonate, many supermarket chains are looking to shrink their store footprints, which often means smaller bakeries as well. H.E.B. is putting in smaller bakeries, about 1,200 to 1,500 sq. ft., in its new stores, which requires more output from less footprint, said Thierry Reunbrouck at the recent BEMA Winter Summit in Chicago. Reunbrouck is regional merchant, bakery operations for the Austin, Texas-based chain.
The nation’s largest grocer, Wal- Mart, Bentonville, Ark., also is downsizing. It has stated plans to open 30 to 40 medium-size stores–from 30,000 sq. ft. to 60,000 sq. ft.–similar in size to the chain’s Neighborhood Market locations and some even smaller stores with a footprint of less than 30,000 sq. ft. Quite a switch for a chain that just a few years ago bet on the larger-footprint Supercenters.
Tops Markets, Williamsville, N.Y., also is looking to small for growth. The chain opened its first small-footprint store this summer, which was 40,000 sq. ft., and its newest store in Buffalo, N.Y. is half the size of its conventional stores with only a 27,000- sq.-ft. footprint. The smaller stores feature the same departments, including bakeries, as the larger locations. The range of store sizes gives Tops more flexibility to move into smaller segments of the market.
Marketing on the go
Consumers have quickly adopted smartphones and other mobile devices, such as the iPad. The technology, with all the requisite apps, has made it even easier to communicate with customers while they are on the go and even while they are in your stores. For example, Schnucks’ app allows customers to plug in a desired product, and then the app directs them to the product’s exact location in the store. Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine, redesigned its website to allow customers to create a shopping list on the website, which customers can send to their mobile phones for consultation while in the store.
Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, make it easy for chains to update customers on the latest happenings, and as many consumers regularly check the sites from their mobile devices, the transfer of information is often instantaneous. However, the opposite is also true: consumers can instantly post or tweet about their experiences in your store. In-person customer service becomes even more important even as communication becomes more non-personal.
Every five years, the government releases its new standards for what Americans should be eating. The 2010 version was released last month, and new guidelines always cause some consternation. While in-store bakeries are full of foods that contain large amounts of sugar and fat (both of which are recommended only in moderation), the new guidelines’ focus on whole grains can be a boon for bakeries.
This year’s guidelines focused on two overarching principles: maintain calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight, and focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages. Nutrient-dense foods are described as foods that provide vitamins, minerals and other substances that may have positive health effects with relatively few calories, and whole grains fall into this definition.
For in-store bakeries, this opens the door to marketing whole grain products (and other products, as well) with what positive attributes they contain–a departure from recent efforts to showcase what they don’t contain, i.e. trans fats, sodium, etc. Many bread products contain healthful vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, iron, magnesium, selenium and fiber.
The guidelines also cite moderate evidence that whole grain intake may reduce cardiovascular disease, and that adults who eat more whole grains, particularly those higher in dietary fiber, have a lower body weight, as presented by Eve Essery, USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, during the recent Whole Grains Council conference. She went on to state that limited evidence shows that consuming whole grains is associated with a reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes.
If it’s not one thing, it’s another. No sooner than the egg recall finally fades from memory that news breaks of another food recall, this time a specific brand of peanut butter. The widespread nature of many of these recalls prompted the federal government to sign into law the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act earlier this year. This marks the first time the country’s food safety laws have been updated in 70 years. The new law gives the FDA expanded powers, including the authority to order a mandatory recall. It is anticipated that the new powers will lead to safer ingredients and quicker recalls to reduce the occurrences of food poisoning.
While the new law will likely have little impact on in-store bakeries, which remain under the jurisdiction of their local health departments, it places renewed focus on sanitation programs.
Shrink control has long been an issue for in-store bakeries. Finding the perfect balance of full product displays and items sold can be a challenge. Customers’ demands for fresh foods prepared in-house led Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., to turn to a business-intelligence (BI) system to help lower shrink costs. The system connected the previous 15 systems, such as warehousing, supply chain, sales and accounting, into one database accessible by employees, who are in the need-to-know category from corporate down to store-level department heads. They now see all the same information in one database, allowing everyone to be on the same page.
While this particular system is geared more towards the perishable departments, it can be translated to the in-store bakery to make the most of display space.
Loyalty programs, with key fob or credit card-like iterations, have been a staple with frequent shoppers for the last two decades. When introduced, the programs often offered customers lower prices on select items; without the card, they had to pay regular price. Larger chains, like Safeway and Kroger, have been able to reliably track what customers purchase, and within the last few years have stepped up the savings for customers by sending them coupons for products they purchase regularly. The coupons can be downloaded from the supermarkets’ websites or sent directly to the customers’ smartphones.
The latest version of the loyalty card is the partnership between Foursquare, a popular mobile checkin app, and Safeway-owned Vons stores in Southern California. Customers link their Safeway loyalty program to their Foursquare account and earn rewards by swiping their cards at the checkout, which also launches an automatic check-in.
Show & tell
In-store bakery purchases are largely impulse based, and sampling has always played a key role in generating sales. United Supermarkets, Lubbock, Texas, takes sampling to the next level by hosting a series of expos throughout the year. Each expo has a theme to focus the event, and this past year’s themes were Bridal Expo, International Food Expo, Best of Texas Expo, Entertaining and Celebration Expo and Health and Wellness Expo.
The two-day events, held in the company’s 10 Market Street locations, showcase each department, including bakery. During the most recent event, Healthy New You, the chain emphasized the rollout of the NuVal nutrition scoring system, United’s nutrition program. The expo featured food samples, coupons, recipe cards, preparation tips and nutritional information, as well as blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. The bakery department sampled its all-natural Italian Heartland, oatmeal and ancient grain breads.
H.E.B. is committed to building greener stores and part of that is efficient bakery equipment, Reunbrouck said. Customers are demanding it, he added. The company is not alone. It was one of the supermarket companies named by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as being among the top 50 users of green power in the EPA’s Green Power Partnership program. Other chains included Whole Foods Market, Wal-Mart Stores, Safeway and Giant Eagle. Green power, either solar or wind, is just one aspect many stores are looking at to help reduce emissions and make their facilities more environmentally friendly.
When Sendik’s Food Market, Whitefish Bay, Wis., recently remodeled its flagship store, it wanted the store to be as green as possible. The company installed new E1 insulated thermal break glass windows, used low VOC- (volatile organic compound) paints and installed high-efficiency HVAC rooftop units.