Proprietary bakery products not only boost convenience store breakfast sales but can be a game-changer all day long if retailers emphasize the freshness factor.
By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor
It was no surprise that one of the most popular booths at the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association’s (IDDBA) Show and Sell in June was the one making doughnuts on the spot, according to Eric Richard, IDDBA’s education coordinator. Consumers, he said, simply can’t resist the sight and smell of fresh bakery products.
A customer might come into a convenience store for just a cup of coffee, but put a tempting-looking doughnut, muffin, pastry or breakfast sandwich on house-baked bread in front of him and a breakfast sale is likely to follow. And even when a morning treat is just a sweet memory, the delicious impression it left will bring that customer back for more and not just for breakfast, but throughout the day, said Paul Servais, food service director for about 600 Kwik Trip and Kwik Star stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
A recent week’s unit count from the stores showed that 3.5 million bakery items (excluding bread and buns) were sold.
With the opening of new stores (the company added 70 new stores in the past year) and strong pastry and bread sales in existing locations, Kwik Trip and Kwik Star have maxed out the production capacity of their 160,000-square-foot proprietary Kwikery Bake Shoppe. The company is building a second 200,000-square-foot bakery that will open later this year dedicated to producing breads and buns.
Bakery products are delivered to the stores from the current facility to be thawed, some baked off or heated in a TurboChef oven and some finished with icing or other toppings. The products are displayed in a 10-foot, three-shelf, self-serve display case. Two or three tables are also placed throughout each store to merchandise three- and six-packs of popular items such as doughnuts, muffins and cookies.
Doughnuts are by far the stores’ best sellers, Servais noted. For its premium line of raised-yeast doughnuts, the bakery produces a dozen items including long johns, Persians, fritters and bismarks. In addition, it offers a signature glazed doughnut, three kinds of fried cake doughnuts and four old-fashioned dunkers.
Every day, the stores display eight different types of cookies; 10 flavors of muffins, a cinnamon roll, four varieties of bars, four kinds of bagels and 16 different breads and rolls. The bakery just added an apple turnover as part of its premium line and introduced a caramel icing to complement its chocolate and cinnamon pastries.
“We regularly add new items to our bakery section to keep things fun and fresh for our customers,” Servais said.
The apple turnovers are thawed and finished in the stores’ ovens. Bagels are thawed and given a few minutes in the oven “to bring them back to life,” said Servais.
“Finishing items in-store adds time and labor, so we limit the number of items that require it,” Servais said. “But we also want to offer our products at their best.”
Kwik Trip and Kwik Star are working on a limited time only (LTO) program for their premium and cake doughnuts, cookies and muffins. LTOs remain on the menu for three months at a time. LTOs can be a great way to engage and communicate with customers to find out what products and flavors are trending, IDDBA’s Richard said.
“Ask customers when they’re in the stores or through a social media contest what products and flavors they would like to see featured,” said Richard. “It’s a way to test the waters and, if the items are a hit, they can be added to the permanent menu.”
Kwik Trip and Kwik Star stores do “tons of sampling” and use colorful signage to make sure customers are aware of their bakery products. Every day, they also run a price promotion for one of the items.
While doughnuts have long been, as Richard described it, “the white board of bakery,” allowing retailers to innovate with frostings and toppings (a Velveeta- and Spicy Cheetos-topped doughnut was the talk of the Show and Sell), soft pretzels also offer countless opportunities to show creativity and set stores’ programs apart.
“Doughnuts are still king,” said Chuck Moyer, food service category supervisor for York, Pa.-based Rutter’s convenience stores. Each day the stores showcase eight varieties, including glazed, cream-filled and iced sprinkle-topped to appeal to kids.
But, for the past 15 years, sweet-dough soft pretzels have been so “hugely successful” that they are also a signature item for the stores. Pretzels are available pre-wrapped at the register for grab and go or through the in-store
restaurants’ ordering kiosk.
Customers choosing the kiosk option can have their pretzels heated up and/or adorned with a sweet or savory topping such as cinnamon butter or garlic butter. Side dipping sauces are also offered for both the regular-size pretzels and baked-to-order pretzel bites.
Rutter’s baked-on-site cookie program is also robust, Moyer stated. It features four varieties that are baked every day, three core flavors and an LTO that changes at least three times a year. Single cookies are sold from the standard-size, 16-tray bakery case. They are also packaged in threes and displayed in multiple areas such as the coffee condiment bar and check-out area.
“The majority of our volumes come from strategic positioning of packs,” Moyer said.
Door clings on the milk cooler promote the classic pairing with cookies.
Muffins are more than a breakfast item at Rutter’s. Three core flavors and a seasonal LTO sell all day as breakfast to customers who work the second and third shifts and many shoppers eat them as an anytime snack, he said.
Some desserts such as tiramisu and cheesecake come in frozen to be thawed and portioned. They are available in the bakery case and through the kiosks as upsell items throughout the day.
“Bakery is oftentimes an incremental sale, an easy catch for convenience stores,” Moyer said.
For sandwiches, Rutter’s stores bake their own sub and ciabatta rolls.
Earlier this year, Moyer added two kinds of loaf cake slices to the bakery selection. He noted that the appeal of the slices spans all dayparts from breakfast through dessert, which makes it a strong c-store item.
By early August, Rutter’s will have 71 locations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia with four more expected to open in 2018 and will enter the Maryland market. Fifty-seven of the current stores bake on site in pre-programmable TurboChef ovens.
In-store, bakery products are promoted through television programming and a music and messaging system that also reaches the gas pumps. Special prices on the products are also featured as incentive for customers to use their VIP loyalty cards.
Dysart Travel Stops do all the baking for daily delivery to their 10 Maine stores at their Colebrook Road restaurant location. Carole Brooks, the company’s bakery manager, explained that the restaurant produces white, wheat and sweet breads; dinner rolls; cake squares; whoopie pies; bars and pies including chicken pot pies, for the stores.
“In addition to selling well on their own, our homemade breads really drive our breakfast sandwich business,” Brooks said.
Brooks noted that cookies in 10 different varieties are the stores’ top sellers. Depending on the store, they may be sold in the self-service bakery case or a wooden case made specifically for them. They are also packaged seven to a bag and, in some stores, also available by the cash register.
Other items such as cream horns, Swiss and pumpkin rolls, bars and whoopie pies are also offered pre-wrapped. Sweet breads are wrapped as whole loaves and in two-slice packages.
At the stores, bakery products are promoted with a TV scroll of various items. The company also uses Facebook and Instagram.
Bakery will always have a place in retail because even consumers who have a generally healthy lifestyle like to indulge in treats, IDDBA’s Richard pointed out, especially ones that can claim that they are “baked fresh for you.”