Skill, inventory and space. These are the secret ingredients to a successful in-store bakery—skill for creating recipes that bake into attractive, mouth-watering goods; a diverse inventory of products; and plenty of space for equipment, says Rick Bittner, executive director of the Retail Bakers of America, a McLean, Va.-based trade organization dedicated to helping bakeries succeed. But what if you’re working with limited resources and space? Below are a few tips from industry experts.
Keep it simple
Focus on low-skill goods or items that can be purchased frozen, then thawed, baked and finished, Bittner says. From-scratch cupcakes are a good option, as are many other quick desserts like brownies, cookies, muffins and pies because none require advanced pastry skills or expensive bread-making equipment.
If you’re determined to offer fresh breads and pastries, par-baked (partially baked and then frozen for storage) and frozen breads are convincing substitutes if you can’t bake from scratch in-store, Bittner says. “Frozen breads have dramatically improved in the last decade so that the loss of moisture through freezing is almost nonexistent,” he says. “You can’t tell the difference” between frozen and fresh bread. This shortcut also allows retailers to get around skill, large equipment and space issues while expanding inventory.
As for potential profit margin, Bittner suggests retailers mark up frozen unbaked breads by 60 percent after cost and par-baked bread by 50 percent. Still, these potential profits can’t compete with breads made in-house, which, after labor and equipment costs, are quite cheap to produce; usually only 20 percent of the item’s cost comes from ingredients, he says.
Start from scratch
North Coast Co-Op in Arcata, Calif., makes fresh pastries and artisanal breads from scratch, baking a dozen different hearth breads every day. The bread shift arrives at 1 a.m. to start the mixing, proofing and baking process. “It is essential to hire the right people,” says Cheri Strong, bakery manager. “Early birds who want to bake and don’t need much supervision are best.”
Strong advises retailers interested in launching their own in-store bakery to start small. “Don’t get too wrapped up with buying expensive ingredients,” she says. “We began by selling a small selection of breads and pastries.”
At her store, sourdough bread and baguettes, both of which are easy to make, offer the best sales margins—around 80 percent. “Customers get excited about our sliced sourdough,” she says. “Sometimes they wait around to get it as fresh as possible.” Strong says specialty breads like blue cheese–walnut and jalapeño-cheddar also fly off the shelves, along with gluten-free berry muffins and chocolate chip cookies.
Feature a local bakery’s goods
If you’re not quite ready to batter up, store bakeries that feature the artisanal breads, pastries and quick breads (which don’t require yeast) from other bakeries are a big trend and another way to promote local goods in your store. PCC Natural Markets in Seattle sources vegan pastries from Mighty O Donuts and artisanal breads from Essential Baking Co.—both popular local chains—at a volume discount and then marks up the price for consumers. “People understand that if they want the very best, they’ll pay more to get it in one place,” Bittner says.
Succeed with par-baked or frozen breads
Tony’s Finer Foods, a grocery chain in Chicago, offers tried-and-true lessons on using frozen or par-baked breads in an in-store bakery. Tony’s gets its product from Berwyn, Ill.-based Turano Baking Co., which makes rustic Italian and French loaves along with rolls, buns and sliced breads. “Even if you have no baking experience, par-baked goods are no trouble to pull off,” says Tony’s Bakery Manager Barbara Ramiam. “We put the frozen loaves in the oven and set it to bake. Customers drop by the counter when the aroma of fresh bread wafts through the store.”
Ramiam cautions that some frozen breads should be placed in a proofing box, which allows the bread to rise undisturbed, before going in the oven. She suggests asking the manufacturer about equipment requirements before buying a specific product.
Jay Galasso, director of marketing at Harvest Time Bread Co., a natural and organic frozen and par-baked bread manufacturer based in Woodbridge, N.J., suggests retailers stock up on top sellers like pumpernickel, rye and rustic baguettes.
Other trends in this category include gluten-free par-baked breads and biodegradable wrapping—a new technology from Europe that encases par-baked bread in a vacuum pack. “Also consider offering smaller portion sizes for smaller families and singles,” suggests John Kirkpatrick, a professional bakery consultant and founder of bakeryconsulting.com. “Instead of rolls in a six pack, pack them in fours or twos, or a half loaf of bread.”
However you develop your baked goods (scratch, artisanal or frozen), be sure to taste-test the finished product. Experts recommend you try a variety of bread preparation techniques to test for texture, taste and ingredient quality. After all, the best part of starting a new bakery is experiencing flavor, scent and enjoyment the way your customers will. Ah, the taste of sweet success.
Equipment for a new bakery isn’t cheap. Rick Evans, founder of bakeryequipment.com, which sells refurbished and new bakery tools, suggests three basics.
Convection oven. This oven accommodates up to five standard sheet pans. Price range: $2,500 to $4,500.
Mobile proof box. A moveable box provides the ideal conditions for bread to rise. Price range: $1,000 to $2,800.
Planetary mixer. An industrial 30- to 40-quart mixer does the same job as the countertop mixers many people have at home. Price range: $2,500 to $3,500.