Bakery departments are the crown jewel of many grocery stores: Nearly 70 percent of supermarket decision makers polled in Progressive Grocer’s 2017 “Retail Bakery Review” said their bakery department’s sales increased last year—up from the 53 percent who reported a sales jump in 2015. In addition, nearly 40 percent said they view their bakery as a destination department. However, what separates a shopper’s so-so experience from a memorable one often comes down to the department’s brand identity—how effectively the bakery sets itself apart from competitors with a clear brand promise and consistent delivery.
“In-store bakeries have this huge opportunity to establish a clear brand that connects with consumers,” says Phil Lempert, consumer behavior analyst and founder of Supermarket Guru. But without a clear brand identity, departments risk losing business not just to other grocery store bakeries but also to competitors on all fronts. “Today, people eat baked goods for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, and the number of places you can buy them is staggering,” he says. “Whether it’s a dollar store, department store, corner bakery or vending machine, you won’t be wanting for competitors.”
To increase loyalty and become a household name, bakery managers must focus on consistency and communication.
Bake the Brand
At Raley’s, a supermarket chain with 114 stores in California and Nevada, the bakery’s brand positioning came straight from the top: Company owner Michael Teel called a leadership meeting and shared his vision and brand values with the team. “Consumers are looking for minimally processed foods and to know where their food comes from, and that became our brand promise,” says Elias Lara, senior category manager for the bakery.
This companywide commitment to health and happiness, also known as “The Raley’s Way,” led the company to drop some private-label brand sodas last year. On the bakery end, the philosophy inspired the team to roll out a line of cookies made with butter instead of margarine or shortening, and “clean up our ingredient deck” on breads and rolls, Lara says. The bakery product evolution is also ongoing: Raley’s is working to swap out table salt for sea salt in all of its breads. The reaction from customers has been positive, with shoppers often commenting on the made-with-butter cookies specifically, he says, and the initiative helps the bakery stand out from competitors.
But brand consistency doesn’t mean that Raley’s small bakery teams have to make everything from scratch. The department partners with local manufacturers that tailor-make goods for the in-store bakery. These collaborations result in premium exclusives that boost the chain’s bakery brand, such as a forthcoming program for locally made sourdough bread containing five or fewer ingredients. Raley’s also carries fresh fruit tarts and strawberry-flavored cakes unique to its brand.
Connecting the in-store bakery to the larger supermarket brand and marketing internally is a must, says Maria Brous, director of media and community relations at Southeastern supermarket chain Publix. Publix’s bakery supplies bread for the deli’s popular subs, for instance, and calling that out to shoppers both strengthens the bakery’s brand and amplifies the overall messaging.
Connect It to Customers
Knowing your brand doesn’t mean much if you can’t signal it to shoppers. At Raley’s, packaging leans heavily toward clear plastic and transparent boxes, evoking the clean, simple ingredients inside the baked goods. Handwritten signs and fonts are commonplace for menus and signs. In addition, team members are trained to make suggestions and offer easy ways to customize bakery orders.
Customization is a key component of the Publix brand as well. With 1,156 stores, the retailer has a large footprint, but that’s not what the bakery brand is built on. “It’s not mass-produced products; they’re tailored to the individual and what he or she is looking for,” Brous says. “We play such a significant role on special occasions, in particular, in creating memories around food and celebration.”
To highlight both the bakery’s custom dessert capabilities and the celebratory part of its brand, the bakery department has a dedicated page on the Publix website, which includes a photo-rich gallery of wedding cakes and other themed desserts. Some locations invite couples to in-store cake tastings “so they can understand what that final product will be like,” Brous says.
And with a strong brand, bakeries can become the go-to for both once-in-a-lifetime celebrations and middle-of-the-week dinner rolls without looking inconsistent. "Raley's is a brand that has appeal across the spectrum, from premium to conventional consumers," Lara points out. “Consumers … still want things under one umbrella, so they’re not going from shop to shop to shop to get their weekly shopping needs.” Offering delicate French pastries alongside hefty wedges of carrot cake or rustic sourdough bread has the potential to look chaotic, but consistent packaging and signage—and a through-line of simple, better-for-you ingredients—create a cohesive brand experience.
With the right approach to product offerings and messaging, in-store bakeries can turn their department into a household name.