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By Kate Rockwood
When it comes to getting grocery customers in the door, in-store bakeries should be front and center: Fifty-six percent of retailers view in-store bakers as a foremost destination driver that differentiates their store from the competition, according to a 2016 survey by the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association.
But to actually be a differentiator, bakeries can’t rely on cookie cutter events and traditional lures. “The downside we see typically is that the experience isn’t there,” says Darren Tristano, president of the restaurant industry research firm Technomic. “In-store bakeries don’t have a focused events strategy to drive sales.”
For managers who want to make the bakery a one-of-a-kind destination, here are four inspiring ideas.
Socially sharing food photos is a trend that seems to be here to stay, so give people a reason to come in and take some Instagram-worthy shots. When the Baltimore Ravens were on a roll during the 2015 NFL season, Jason Hisley, owner of La Cakerie in Towson, Maryland, took celebrating to the next level.
"Football and tailgating are really big here, so we designed and custom-built this Raven's head smoker" to promote the store’s fresh bread and deli offerings, he says. He and his crew wheel the metal contraption in front of the shop during football season, selling fresh, hot sandwiches. "It draws a lot of attention from people driving and walking by," Hisley says. “People stop and take their photo with the smoker, then order a sandwich. It’s drawing a new kind of clientele.”
There’s no reason to limit photo opportunities to game season. Timing impressive, massive displays around holidays (think a six-foot cupcake heart for Valentine’s Day) and other annual events where bakery items sell well can also bring in local shoppers.
And with ample parking space, grocery stores are in a great position to replicate the La Cakerie idea, but elaborate in-store displays also get customers in the door. At Eataly in New York City customers can shop for provisions or stop into the Nutella dessert bar to snap pictures in front of the floor-to-ceiling display of Nutella jars.
Novelty ingredients and baked goods needn’t even be front and center to draw a crowd, either. At Little Cupcake Bakeshop, customers frequently pose in front of the store's oft-changing graffiti wall, where commissioned artists leave their mark. And while grocery stores likely don't have an entire side of a building to devote to a massive mural, smaller, even temporary, selfie walls can help engage customers and create free publicity for the bakery. To create a selfie wall that works, Hisley of La Cakerie suggests devoting enough space to it to ensure the backdrop is big enough to fill the typical photo frame, and then picking a visual that will really stand out. As he plans a selfie wall for his future third location, "I was thinking about a giant donut with a bite mark out of it," he says.
Samples may sway a customer to buy a particular product, but that alone may not be enough to get them off the couch and into the store. However, when those free bites are paired with exclusive opportunities, the combination can create a destination. “There’s tremendous opportunity for bakery and deli to combine to be more custom-focused toward consumer interests,” says Tristano. One idea: Invite local chefs or cookbook authors to co-host an event. In November, Chicago-based Floriole bakery sold $8 tickets to a reading by Malika Ameen, author of “Sweet Sugar, Sultry Spice.” Attendees feasted on bakery treats, which put a unique spin on the usual author reading.
These types of co-branded events offer another marketing boost: Those guests of honor can promote the event to their own fans, and a regular cadence for the events can help build a base of repeat customers.
From Williams-Sonoma to Whole Foods, national retailers have capitalized on in-store cooking classes and demonstrations to grab customer attention. And once students are done learning, they’re often hungry to shop.
Baking may be too time-intensive, but decorating is a quick, low-cost experience that can be tailored to any age. A Mariano’s location in Frankfort, Illinois, hosts hour-long cookie-decorating events during the holidays. In addition, when the regional chain turned five, some stores marked the anniversary by offering kids free sugar cookies and the chance to decorate them with individual icing tubes. For Mariano’s, creating an event that aligned with its anniversary instead of a regular holiday set the in-store bakery apart because it didn’t have to compete for space on calendars crowded with other commitments.
It worked for Bobby Flay, right? Inviting customers to compete against bakery pros in challenges like decorating a small sheet cake or icing a cupcake is a fun, immersive way to draw a crowd and spotlight bakers’ talents. Featuring novelty goods can take these competitions one step farther. For example, Hisley enjoys getting creative with outrageous milkshakes—an ice cream confection that’s topped with piles of donuts, candy and even full slices of cake that look like they’ll fall over any minute—that delight customers. An outrageous milkshake competition could easily draw a crowd, he says. "No one necessarily is going to sit down and eat the whole thing,” Hisley says. “You might share it. It's really about having something over-the-top and being able to take a picture of it and talk about it."
From these types of throwdowns to selfie walls, going beyond the traditional baked goods displays and samples with in-store experiences that are interactive and photo-worthy can position the bakery as a go-to destination—and boost sales.