April 27th, 2022 - by Keith Loria, Supermarketnews.com - Fresh bread is back at the supermarket bakery as stores resume pre-pandemic operations and customers return to stores. Whether baked in-store or delivered fresh each day, artisan breads are a draw for shoppers to visit stores and get the bakery department humming again.
Janell Schleeper, bakery category manager for Schnuck Markets, a family-owned supermarket retailer with 111 stores in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin, is happy to report the grocer is seeing strong sales in all breads offered in the bakery department, with artisan-style crusty and take-and-bake breads growing at a faster rate than the overall bread category.
"Schnucks is adding artisan bread fixtures to in-store bakeries being remodeled to support continued growth in this category," she said.
Maria Brous, director of communications for Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets, noted fresh-baked breads have been a staple for the Publix bakery department, and a signature product for decades.
“As a child, long before I started working at Publix, I can remember entering my Publix and the smell of fresh baked breads filling the air with that delicious aroma,” she said. “We mix and bake our breads on premise fresh, each and every day.”
Publix has seen sales of fresh baked bread boom over the last year, and any fears caused by the early days of the pandemic have mostly been assuaged, as sales are better than ever.
At Albertsons Companies, French bread, sourdough and artisan dinner breads and baguettes are baked in-store fresh daily
Jewel Hunt, group vice president deli food service, bakery and branded concepts for the company, has seen great growth in the fresh bread category in the first quarter of 2022, with its sourdough bread showing the highest growth among the varieties the stores carry.
“French and sourdough bread are the most purchased items in our categories of fresh bread,” she said. “During the pandemic, we saw consumers increase their purchasing of fresh bread, and in 2020, we saw more consumers preparing meals at home. During 2021, the category growth slowed down slightly, yet it is still growing with a two-year stack at 4.5%.”
Chris Mentzer, director of operations for Rastelli Market Fresh, with locations in Deptford and Marlton, N.J., hasn’t seen the return he would like in the category, citing the cost of flour combined with limited staffing has caused bakeries to limit production on breads being made.
The stores offer a wide variety of artisan breads, baguettes, bagels and rolls, and it depends on local bakeries for the majority of selections. Some items have been cut until pricing comes down, with certain costs beyond the customer threshold of spending.
“The biggest impact concerns the selection reduction, compounded with rolls having to be pre-packed or individually wrapped for safety reasons because of the pandemic,” he said. “It has taken the flexibility of mix and match away from the customers, which in turn has reduced sales.”
Paul Baker, founder of St Pierre Bakery based in Manchester, UK, noted both the center store bakery and perimeter bakery have grown in sales year on year, but what’s key is that perimeter is also growing in volume by 3%.
“This provides an opportunity for the year ahead, with savvy retailers able to look at where growth is coming from and merchandise accordingly,” he said. “Innovative displays can provide trip triggers, impact the route of footfall to increase basket spend but also offer inspiration to demonstrate the versatility of different products, which is another key shopper demand that emerged in the past 24 months and will continue to impact shopper behavior for some time yet.”
To get people back to buying fresh bread, Schnucks purchased mobile merchandising fixtures for French bread to be merchandised in strategic locations throughout the store and implemented a “great low price” strategy on select bread SKUs.
“Merchandising fixtures were placed in delis, near front entrances, adjacent to pasta and sauce displays and near meat and seafood — placement varied by store; each store had one fixture,” Schleeper said. “Schnucks also introduced a line of sandwich loaf breads and positioned them in the deli department under slicing deli cases.”
The company is also utilizing its Schnucks Rewards app to promote bread to customers and connecting with customers through social media.
“Schnucks has planned promotional campaigns throughout the year with a national brand partner that include point-of-sale signs, social media, displays, rewards coupons, ad placement and temporary price reductions to continue to drive sales in the category,” Schleeper said.
Albertsons combines digital online products and marketing with its in-store offerings to provide options for customers and the way they enjoy shopping.
“Digital and social media have been great assets that we use to highlight quality, freshness and selection,” Hunt said. “Providing fresh, delicious, quality products is the key to success.”
While Rastelli Market Fresh is still struggling with its bread sales, Mentzer knows that until loose, grab-and-go options become a choice again, it’s going to take some time for bread sales to recover.
“The best we can do is still promote fresh breads in our weekly ads with the hope that they remind customers that fresh breads are still an option and safe to buy,” he said. “Once customers feel safe and markets can sell loose rolls, then I think we will see a change in the department.”
For now, Rastelli Market Fresh will continue to bag rolls and wrap breads to assure its customers’ confidence, and will continue to use advertising and specials to keep the bread category front of mind.
And as long as grocery stores continue to highlight their fresh baked offerings, they should continue to be bringing in the bread.
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