Fresh pastries and desserts are driving all-day snacking, helping to keep bakery sales active well past the morning daypart.
By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor.
Keeping the doughnut and muffin displays filled and fresh in the morning is pretty much a no-brainer. But, in many convenience stores, these bakery displays look picked over and just plain sad the rest of the day. And that, said Mike Jones, merchandising and foodservice manager for the Anderson, Ind.-based, 49-store Ricker’s chain, is just like
leaving money on the table.
“Our bakery cases take up a good amount of prime real estate in our stores, so we can’t afford to just have them working for us in the mornings until 10 a.m. or noon,” Jones explained. “That real estate has to work for us all the time through afternoon and evening.”
Ricker’s general bakery layout consists of a three-to-four-foot end cap with 4-6 shelves. The display is situated in front of the store, or in-line with or on the way to the coffee bar.
Bakery items are produced to Ricker’s specs by an outside vendor and delivered each night. Signage promotes the fact that everything is made fresh daily.
For the commuting crowd, Ricker’s has a wide assortment of coffee-complementing sweets, including 10-12 varieties of cake and yeast doughnuts, long Johns, muffins and pound cake. But, he pointed out, the appeal of these traditionally breakfast-centric items does not pale after morning drive time.
“Doughnuts and muffins can sell well beyond breakfast if the store has an ordering and merchandising plan that it executes correctly,” he said. “You can’t ever have four shelves with only a few items on each one. We keep the shelves filled with as many options as possible for snack opportunities throughout the day.”
More for the Money
To further expand Ricker’s day and night snacking selections, the company is now testing large cookies. Both thaw-and-sell and bake-off varieties are being tested to accommodate stores that have ovens and those that do not. He noted that both concepts produce similar taste profiles.
The stores offer 4-5 cookie SKUs. “Anything beyond that doesn’t seem to move the needle,” Jones said. When the concept is fully up and running, he said he would like to see one of the options be a seasonal limited-time offering (LTO), “like we do with our cappuccino flavors.” “LTOs attract attention and bring more new consumers to the table by piquing their curiosity.”
Jones sees cookies as strong snack drivers for mid-afternoon and evening. Special discounts on half-dozen and dozen quantities are designed to encourage customers to purchase enough to share at the office or take home after work.
Bakery industry statistics confirm that Ricker’s is on the right track by adding cookies to its product mix. In the 52 weeks ended March 31, 2012, U.S. cookie sales climbed 5.6%, according to Nielsen Perishables Group FreshFacts. The report also noted that the cookie category has grown consistently for the past five years.
Doughnut dollar sales also climbed 5.6% in the 52 weeks ended March 31, 2012, Nielsen reported. An article in Flavor & the Menu magazine recently noted that a growing number of consumers are opting for “breakfast as dessert,” including doughnuts and sticky buns.
Don’t Cut Corners
Family Express, which operates 58 units in northwest and north central Indiana, has long been an all-day bakery destination, building on a reputation that began with a proprietary square doughnut. With the tagline “The reason they’re square? We don’t cut corners,” the company captured consumer attention with a whimsically stated, yet seriously committed quality message.
“The unique shape allowed us to immediately differentiate our product from others in the marketplace, even though we had never been in the bakery business before,” said company President and CEO Gus Olympidis. To make the brand even more memorable, Family Express created a signature teal blue bakery box (inspired by the blue box used by Tiffany’s & Co. jewelers) “which implies that there is something precious inside.”
For Family Express customers, though, the proof is in the freshness of the products, which are delivered from the company’s commissary every day. The approximately 7,000 square-foot commissary turns out around 15,000 bakery products per day; each store features over 60 SKUs daily. Doughnuts, brownies, muffins, cupcakes and cookies are made from scratch.
Doughnuts definitely anchor the morning daypart for the company’s Cravin’s Market fresh foodservice concept bakery with at least five varieties of yeast squares, four round cake doughnuts and six specialties, such as long Johns and glazed twists. But, Olympidis pointed out, the stores’ “mega muffins,” in at least five flavors, are also a star attraction. (Nielsen found that nationally, muffin dollar sales rose 4.1% during its 52-week reporting period.)
Keeping sales high throughout the day are also six types of cookies, including a signature frosted sugar cookie cut into shapes and decorated to reflect the season or holiday. In between special occasions, the cookie is cut into a round and decorated with a smiley face.
Three kinds of cupcakes are always available. In fact, Olympidis said, they have become so popular that Ricker’s now offer six-packs of mini versions.
He pointed out that the bakery menu is continuing to expand. Recent additions include French and Danish pastries, the latest being cherry and apple turnovers and a praline croissant. Next up is a maple pecan Danish. These items, which arrive at the commissary frozen to be baked and finished, are available individually in the bakery case and as a take-home two-pack.
Arousing the Senses
To bring the sense of smell into the merchandising mix, the stores have just begun to offer warm cinnamon rolls in the mornings and warm chocolate chip cookies in the afternoon. “You have to constantly introduce new products,” Olympidis said. “Even if you ate at the Ritz-Carlton every day you would get tired of the same food no matter how great it is.”
Ricker’s merchandises its U-pick bakery items in four-to-eight-foot cases. Three-foot chrome racks hold grab-and-go multi-packs and an additional three feet of display is allotted to individually packaged brownies and cookies.
Bakery treats are also available in baskets near the cash registers and each store’s Java Wave coffee bar as well as adjacent to the fresh sandwiches. “Our displays are always full with fresh product because that’s how we show our bakery is in business all day every day,” he said.
With sales increasing 63% between 2007 and 2011, cupcakes remain one of the strongest-growing product groups in bakery, according to Nielsen. Recently, York, Pa.-based Rutter’s Farm Stores added cupcakes to its bakery line-up and, according to the company’s Vice President of Foodservice, Jerry Weiner, they are a hit despite the fact that he had to price them above his under $2 comfort zone.“We wanted a high quality, ready-to-sell cupcake, and the ones we liked the best happen to weigh five ounces—they’re made for restaurants—rather than the two-and-a-half- to three-ounce size we would normally carry,” Weiner explained. “These are so big we have to price them at $2.49.”
He is still on the lookout for a smaller cupcake that meets standards to lower the price. But, for now, the five-ouncers are becoming an all-day go-to treat.