Natural Foods Merchandiser

Baking Demos Transform 'Humbug' Into 'Hallelujah'

Todd M. Brown is just putting the finishing touches on a Partridge in a Pear Tart for Oryana Natural Foods Co-op in Traverse City, Mich. Todd's flaky cutout partridge sits nestled among delicate comice pears. The tart, a featured bakery item, is being sampled out on the floor, where enthusiastic patrons marvels at the taste and ingenuity, picking up recipe cards and filling their carts with ingredients. It's the holiday season, when even those of us who avoid cooking like a stint in the gulag start to think fondly of holiday baking.

Whether your store has an in-house bakery or not, November and December can be fantastic times to make your store a destination, to establish character and brand and to win substantial incremental sales. The cornerstone of this winning strategy is the power demo. More than just a tabletop display with samples on toothpicks, the power demo is strategically designed to showcase a range of products from inside and outside your store and to delight customers with quality.

Manned Power Demos
To feature her organic hokkaido and delicata squash, I. Enjoube, produce manager of Aqua Vita in Tucson, Ariz., each November asks local chefs and caterers to come up with a dish customers can make from scratch. Enjoube has the cooks bring in the finished squash casseroles, dumplings and turnovers so that customers can sample the completed dish while they witness the work in progress. Aqua Vita keeps its customers informed of upcoming cooking events, which are extremely well attended. They help make the shopping experience fun and the store a regular destination. The store sells lots of squash, as well as all of the related ingredients that go into the creations.

When the store gets really busy, she and her staff walk samples around the floor.
Unmanned Power Demos
Gina DaKorte, baked goods coordinator at New Leaf Community Markets in Santa Cruz, Calif., uses demos each weekend for three weeks before both Thanksgiving and the December holidays. She first establishes relationships with a number of local bakeries that make wholesome and organic baked goods for her store. She then features their pumpkin pies, pumpkin cheesecakes (dairy and soy) and cookies that people can preorder for the holidays. When the store gets really busy, she and her staff walk samples around the floor, so the demo doesn't get overlooked. It's a great way to initiate the customer dialogue that can lead to large preorders and happy holiday shoppers.

For many stores, the purpose of a holiday baking demo is to suggest ways for patrons to bake using ingredients found in the store. For others, the demo showcases items produced by the store or its community partners. In either case, there are some general principles to keep in mind in setting up holiday baking power demos.

  • Extend your store. Don't feel limited by your own resources. Cooperate with local chefs, caterers and bakeries to provide holiday flair and new product ideas.

  • Be consistent. Whether you can do a single demo once a week or can run a three-ring circus all day, be consistent throughout the holiday period. That will give your customers a reason to keep coming back. Keep it fresh with new features every day or every week.

  • Be unique. Use unusual ingredients, and pay attention to language. A "cardamom apple pie with pistachio crumb topping" is more exciting than an "apple pie." A "medjool date roulade" or "Mexican wedding cookies" are more interesting than "gluten-free wafers." And unique ingredients are usually more profitable than flour and rolled oats.

  • Make it easy. Sell the ingredients at or near the demo site so your customers don't have to search the store for them. At the regular "home" for the ingredients (e.g., organic pumpkin puree), post a small sign that says "See this item in a Boxing Day Bread demo at the deli." Always have a take-home recipe card, and if the ingredients have particular health benefits, include that information on the card.

  • Cross sell. In addition to the ingredients themselves, think about garnishes and sides. It may be that the almond muesli bars taste really great with a little organic blueberry jam. Put it out and sell it at the demo.

Not everyone loves to bake, but almost everyone loves to eat. So here are a couple of thoughts to make holiday baking attractive to the committed nonbaker.

  • Combining and presenting. If I buy a premade vegan pound cake, I can pour raspberry sauce over it, present it on a green plate, and feel like I prepared it. Give your customers who are slackers like me a chance to feel like they are baking even when they aren't. Consider selling pie shells next to high-quality pie fillings, or merchandising complete gingerbread-house kits.

  • Just buying it. Even if the focus of your cranberry-walnut bread demo is to encourage folks to bake, you should probably sell finished loaves right then and there. You can lead a horse to water ...

  • Gift items. Consider displaying some items with longer shelf life that are well suited for gift baskets and stocking stuffers, such as biscotti, ginger candy and shortbreads.

Sherwood Smith is president of Blue Sky Marketing, a full-service firm serving the natural products industry in Traverse City, Mich. Reach him at [email protected].

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 10/p. 20-21

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