For many bakeries, the holidays are an all-hands-on-deck, uber-hectic blur. However, after New Year’s Eve comes a long, quiet six-week stretch until Valentine’s Day. Not helping matters is that many people are watching their wallets and their eating habits during this period. Three common 2018 New Year’s resolutions—to eat better, exercise more and save money, according to Statista—don’t exactly jibe with a jump in bakery visits.
But that doesn’t mean January has to spell bad news for bakeries. The post-holiday slowdown can actually be an opportunity, says Bernadette Shanahan-Haas, director of operations for the Retail Bakers of America. “Sometimes that dip is almost a welcome dip,” she says. “Bakeries have cash from the holiday season and they can take stock and plan for the future.”
Of course, there are still bills to pay while you explore opportunities for innovation. To make the most of the post-holidays sales slowdown, bakery owners need to get creative. That can mean trying special promotions, upping your social media game and targeting resolution-minded customers with baked goods that embrace health trends.
The best time to lay the groundwork for the post-holidays slow period is during busier times. “If you’re able to build a fantastic experience around the holidays, you’re going to keep that traffic throughout the year,” says Eric Richard, education coordinator at the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association.
When consumers come in for their Thanksgiving pies or Christmas yule logs, in addition to providing strong customer service, offer them samples of your signature offerings and encourage them to sign up for your bakery’s loyalty program and follow your business on social media. You can also hand out coupons for discounts redeemable after the holidays.
One method Shanahan-Haas sees among many bakeries is the “red envelope” promotion, in which customers who make a purchase receive a red envelope that might contain a prize—but to collect it, they must return to the bakery at a later date to open the envelope. Shanahan-Haas suggests offering a variety of prizes, like coupons and gift certificates, to build excitement. “It’s a great way to get people in the door and then bring them back again when it’s slow,” she says.
Discounts can be another strong way to market post-holiday promotions. “People are asking themselves, ‘How much did I spend on the holidays?’ If they feel like they are getting a great value for something like a specialty cake, customers seems to appreciate that.’” Shanahan-Haas says.
At Peters Homemade Bakery in Manchester, England, owner Shirley Ryder rolls out buy-one-get-one-free promotions and discounts some of the bakery’s best-sellers during January.
Though consumers may be watching their diets, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not interested in baked goods. “I really don’t think there’s a bad time to launch a product,” Richard says.
In addition to focusing on items’ “freshness factor,” Richard recommends bakers lean into the cleaner foods trend by clarifying products’ ingredients and promoting the natural aspects of recipes. “More and more people are attracted to products that are simple,” he says. In fact, nearly three-quarters of respondents in an Innova Market Insights survey “strongly agree” it’s important for food labels to contain mostly recognizable ingredients, and 91 percent consider foods with recognizable ingredients to be healthier.
Bakers can also experiment with goods that meet certain dietary needs, such as gluten-free or low-sugar, or with ingredients that offer nutritional benefits. Richard sees consumers gravitating toward ancient grains and whole wheat. In a 2018 survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation, whole grains topped the list—along with fiber and Vitamin D—of nutrients consumers consider healthiest.
Richard also notes that bakeries can appeal to health-conscious consumers by focusing on portion size and offering single or smaller servings. “Bakeries serve an important role in indulgence and that’s not going away. People still want to treat themselves, and that includes health and wellness consumers as well,” he says.
Of course, to make the most of a promotion or new product, you have to advertise it, and in-store marketing is a crucial part of that equation. In addition to making attractive product displays and signage that clearly communicates your offerings, ensure staff are well-versed in them, too. Educate them on the ingredients and properties of your health-minded products, and be sure they know the details of any discounts or promotions.
And don’t let your social media accounts go quiet just because the holidays are over. In fact, slow season is when bakeries have to work hardest to stay on customers’ radar. Shanahan-Haas encourages bakery owners to use Facebook and Instagram—highly visual platforms—to show off the interior of their shops, record fun Q&As or tutorials and promote new products.
“We’re a visual industry and you have a case full of yummies,” Shanahan-Haas says. “Our bakeries are so creative. I’m always amazed what comes out when you think it’s a slow time or a bad economy.”
As the holidays wind down, make sure one of your bakery’s resolutions is to tackle the slow season with enticing promotions and health-minded products, as well as in-store and online marketing.