5 Steps To Boosting Menu Transparency

Now more than ever, consumers want to know what’s in their food. Wary of artificial ingredients, they're examining labels and menus, seeking terms they recognize, as well as buzzwords like “all-natural” and “organic.” This is a huge opportunity for bakeries, but it’s also complex. These five tips can help owners identify what customers care about most, and offer it profitably.

1. Educate Yourself

“Artisanal bakers are artists, and they’re [passionate] about their products, but they have to dedicate time to understanding the market and getting educated on ingredients,” says Marc Fintz, director of business development at  Davidovich Bakery, a Woodside, New York, operation specializing in all-natural bagels.

Fintz recommends asking vendors for technical support and insight into consumers’ preferences. “They have technical people and educational programs,” he says. “They can help the small baker understand the ingredient, why it’s beneficial and the industry standard.”

2. Know Your Crowd

Bakeries need to know which food claims resonate with their customers. That’s where, in Davidovich’s case, certifications come in. “Consumers may not understand everything about the certification, but they feel a greater comfort level knowing that there’s a higher level of scrutiny involved in making the product,” Fintz says.

Many of Davidovich’s products are certified kosher and Non-GMO Project Verified, which attracts specific consumers. However, for bakeries targeting other demographics, certifications may vary or be unnecessary. The best way to collect this insight is through customer surveys.

3. Start Small and Simple

Before cutting certain ingredients entirely or seeking certification, thoroughly examine processes, sourcing and pricing. The bread Frogs Bakery sells at Los Angeles-area farmers markets and to wholesale customers is certified organic, but its pastries are not.

“Bread is a very simple product: We use organic flour, salt water and an organic, natural starter,” says owner Marc Lory. “With pastries, you’re getting into complications because of two problems: the sourcing and the price.”

Lory provides the example of Frogs’ almond croissant, sold for $5. If the bakery made the croissant organic, it would have to raise the price to $8 or $9 to cover the ingredient costs. “Nobody would ever buy it,” Lory says.

4. Talk it Up

Whether bakeries decide to revamp recipes or better communicate the ingredients in current offerings, they need to think beyond menu boards.

Lory maximizes his interactions with customers at farmers markets to explain his products’ quality. He also hands out samples and offers first-time buyers a discounted price. “It’s better than advertising,” he says.

Be sure all customer-facing employees can answer questions about the menu and that the bakery’s website includes ingredient information. Vendors and certification organizations offer a variety of educational materials that can help.

5. Don't Underestimate Branding

Pair the bakery’s efforts to be more transparent with packaging, bags and other branding elements that subtly highlight products’ qualities. Consumers typically associate greens, tans and browns with natural products while white symbolizes simplicity and freshness.

If the bakery expands its focus on certain label qualities like GMO-free or organic across product categories, consider including these natural colors and visuals in the overall brand. For example, Frogs’ logo and website feature white text, olive green accents and a pattern of wheat icons.