Whether it’s a bagel, muffin or fritter, Americans are sweet on pairing their morning coffee with a fresh pastry.
By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor
Breakfast customers are increasingly looking to convenience store bakery cases for a doughnut or pastry to help them kick off their day. C-stores that feature bakery cases and keep them well stocked are reaping the sales benefits.
At CST’s Corner Store, customers never know what sweet treat they will find on the doughnut display. Sure, there are always standard glazed and chocolate ring varieties, but new products—like watermelon glazed in the summer—are constantly being featured as limited time offers (LTOs) to keep the category interesting and fun, said Richard Poye, CST Brands’ director of foodservice.
“Doughnuts are the core part of our bakery and we continually do things like LTOs and value pricing on boxes of six to drive awareness of our fresh bakery category,” Poye said.
The doughnuts as well as other bakery products, such as long johns and apple fritters, are prepped in a central kitchen, then baked and glazed in the stores. Over 400 of the chain’s 1,000 stores throughout the Southwest are equipped with proofers and convection ovens.
The stores’ hot breakfast bakery offering is the signature kolache, sweet dough wrapped around a savory filling. Corner Store produces six core varieties with fillings of sausage or bacon and egg and different types of sausages. There is also usually an LTO. The kolaches are hand-made in the central commissary, then proofed and baked fresh in the stores.
When customers come in for their morning pastries, many also pick up a bakery snack for later in the day. Among the selections at Corner Store are just-baked cookies, which are available singly or in multi-packs and signature whoopie pies (individual-size cake layers sandwiched with clouds of butter crème filling), which are available in regular or mini size. Beyond breakfast, bakery products, including doughnuts, continue to sell well throughout the day, Poye noted.
The number of new Corner Store locations is growing quickly. It plans to build another 40 new-to-industry stores with kitchens over the next year alone and has others on the drawing board.
“Having kitchens in our stores demonstrates to customers our level of commitment to freshness and the highest quality,” Poye said. “And having bakers in those kitchens tells them we care about every detail.”
“Ooey Gooey” Caramel Rolls and fresh-baked muffins are among the signature sweets that attract breakfast seekers to Valley Dairy Convenience Stores nine locations in Grand Forks, N.D. Three of the stores have their own baking areas, two with a pair of stacked full-size ovens and one with a smaller oven. One of the chain’s Grand Forks locations produces the baked goods and has them delivered every day to the other six that don’t have in-store baking areas, said Monica Musich, Valley Dairy’s CEO and president.
The sauce for the caramel rolls is made from scratch and the dough is proofed in the production stores. Muffins come in large six-ounce portions, available in at least five and usually six varieties. They are baked fresh daily in the production stores and delivered daily to the rest. In addition to the core flavors, a seasonal LTO muffin such as pumpkin is also available.
Doughnuts are also made in the production stores. At any one time, the stores may offer 6-8 different kinds, including long johns, cake doughnuts and apple fritters. Doughnuts are sold singly or in six packs.
For the holidays, Valley Dairy also makes pumpkin bread and it “flies off of the shelves,” she noted. The scratch-made breads are available in mini or full-size loaves.
The stores’ signature four-ounce cookie is another basket builder, often purchased in the a.m. along with the breakfast pastries.
Lubbock, Texas-based United Express convenience stores have a unique source for their bakery products. Twelve locations share a site with one of the company’s larger United Supermarkets, which supply the c-stores from their in-store bakeries.
On each site, the supermarket provides the doughnuts, long johns, muffins and scones that are sold at the c-stores fresh every day, said Tandy Arrant, the company’s convenience business manager.
“Freshness is a key part of our identity,” Arrant said. “So it’s just as important for us to have fresh bakery products at our convenience stores as it is for our larger markets.”
In the morning, the stores offer about 20 breakfast bakery items. Muffins, which are available in four different flavors, and cinnamon rolls are the c-stores’ hottest sellers.
“Made Fresh Daily” signs on the cases assure customers of the freshness of the products.
For Friendly Express convenience stores that dot southeastern Georgia, a proprietary commissary produces bakery products for 30 stores every night. The facility provides two lines of DeDe’s Doughnuts pastries, a regular and premium line, at two different price points, said Gary Sellers, director of foodservice at Waycross, Ga.-based Friendly Express.
The regular doughnut line includes glazed rings, chocolate-covered and cream- and jelly-filled. Cronuts (a hybrid of croissant and doughnut), fritters, cinnamon rolls and eclairs fall into the premium line. Both lines go to all 30 locations.
A third-party distributor delivers the pastries, which also include packaged cakes, large (five-and-a-half-ounce) cookies, doughnut holes and brownies, on a daily basis except for Sundays and certain holidays. The stores usually carry between nine and 10 different regular variety doughnuts, plus a seasonal LTO. For the seasonal variety, the doughnuts may be cut into shapes such as leaves for fall or decorated in the colors of competing football teams “to add color and attention to the case,” Sellers said.
The premium line consists of up to five SKUs. The hand-cut fritters in a variety of flavors, such as apple, raspberry and blueberry, are among the most popular. Bakery products account for 40-50% of the stores’ breakfast sales.
Typically, the pastries arrive at the stores between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Friendly Express customers purchase doughnuts all day. After 7 p.m. any that are left are sold at half price.
Last year, the company gutted a 3,000-square-foot store and moved its bakery into the site. The bakery also has a 300-square-foot retail area. Customers who arrive early enough—around 3 a.m.—can observe the bakers at work through a large glass window.
Sellers said that the sale of the company’s packaged line of pastries is “growing by leaps and bounds.”
“Packaged bakery products enable us to get a good margin without a big risk of waste because customers can buy them and they’re good for the next day,” he said. “In my opinion, the grab-and-go section of the business will continue to account for the majority of our bakery category growth.”