Rustic, naked, local and gluten free are just some of the buzz words of the bread and bakery category, and there is a surprising amount of excitement surrounding this basic food item

When it comes to bread and bakery, c-stores have pretty much 
conquered this carb-centred category.

While the wider market has seen a drop in bread sales for the past three years (Mintel), convenience is rising to the occasion and pulling in a massive £307m [Nielsen] for retailers every year.

Along with milk, bread is a key c-store buy. In fact, it’s the number one reason shoppers visit their local shop, according to HIM Research & Consulting. And that’s not the only driver for the category’s convenience success. The truth is that today’s retailers are using their loaves and harnessing local suppliers and innovative new products to grab a slice of the action.

“Bread is very important for us as a store because it’s a real staple part of people’s diet,” says Ajay Chapanery at Hawkhurst Road Spar in Preston, Lancashire.

To meet their customers’ daily needs Ajay stocks a core offer of everyday brands (“There’s a generation that won’t touch anything other than Warburton’s,” he says). However, alongside this solid branded range he also features a selection from regional specialists Clayton Park Bakery.

“That really works for us,” he says. “I think Clayton Park hits the nail on the head with pricing and freshness. Despite this, it’s still essential to get all the well-known brands in there, too, and cater for the customers who want value products.”

Providing the local touch is also a big selling point with Jerry Tweney from Warners’ Budgens, Moreton-in-Marsh.

“We have a local supplier, a company in Tewkesbury, which bakes bread for all of our sites,” he says.

“It’s very artisan, all made seven days a week, and we display it on a purpose-built display table which sort of peaks in the middle. You put the bread into trays and it’s all naked, with brown bags around the outside for people to put it in.

“The offer is a key feature of our first aisle. So once you’ve come through and you’ve walked through the produce the next thing you hit is this massive display table of locally-produced bread. That’s really big for us now because it just draws people into the area.”

Jerry believes that in many ways the bread and bakery category has come full circle. While in the past customers might have ditched traditional bakery for plant loaves, today they see the local, made-by-hand feel as a sign of quality. To capitalise on this the store has started offering a slicing service for their local loaves – just like a traditional bakers shop.

Feeding the sugar rush

Coming up to three o’clock? Expect a host of sugar- and caffeine-starved customers coming through the door right about now. It’s an occasion that Stephen Clifford from Country Choice says is one of the secret drivers in the sweet bakery market.

“The mid-afternoon (or mid-morning) coffee and sweet snack combination is a growing occasion,” says Clifford.

“That’s when the cookies, the cake bars, the muffins and the doughnuts all come into their own. If someone’s on the road then that’s when they go to a forecourt-based store to get a coffee and a sweet snack.

“With this in mind you’d really be missing a trick as a retailer if you’re out of stock mid-afternoon and fail to have some of these products by the coffee machine.”

He adds that impulse purchasing is key to unlocking the occasion as one-third of bakery sales come from off-shelf units.

It’s also worth taking advantage of coffee shop-style till upsells (asking customers direct if they want a pastry) which he says can more than double sales.

The old-school feel also extends to sweeter bakery treats. The store has a whole bay dedicated to staples such as cookies and brioche, a particular favourite with Jerry’s four-year-old son, yet there’s also room for stock from a local father/son cake maker with a premium range of muffins and Victoria sponges.

“They’re not cheap,” says Jerry. “But when you open one up it looks as though you’ve made it yourself. It’s all hand-prepared and they are quite unique. I think that people probably try to pass them off as their own, which I can well understand!

“What we’re trying to do here is to create a business where you’ve got all the old elements of the High Street all in one shop,” he continues. “That’s the direction we’re heading because we see that that’s what our customers here in the Cotswolds want.”

As well as sourcing locally, c-stores are waking up to the potential of gluten-free bread. Once a specialist health store product, today the gluten-free bread and bakery category is a driving force behind Free-from’s 24% year-on-year growth [Mintel].

Often the impetus for including gluten-free bread on the shop-floor comes from responding to a customer’s enquiry – or even the needs of a staff member.

“One of my staff’s husband has to have gluten-free bread – and that’s encouraged us to have a look at doing our own range,” says Ajay. “We are seeing more and more demand for it at the counter.”

At the moment, his approach is to put in special orders for Warburton’s products in their gluten-free range as a special service to customers. This way they can keep a careful check on rising local demand and spot when it gets to a tipping-point, he says.

Add a special touch with artisan bakes

As interest in artisan bread continues to rise, c-stores are more likely to take inspiration from Prêt a Manger’s chillers than sarnies at the local greasy spoon.

“We’re seeing growth coming from premiumisation and through our artisan speciality breads – that’s very much where we’re coming from at Cuisine de France,” says Vincent Brook, UK commercial manager at Aryzta Food Solutions.

“For instance, last year we launched a range of rustic baguettes made using a longer proving process and higher quality, so they really reflect that artisan and speciality growth. Also, we launched our spelt roll, which fits in with that category.”

While these products slot into a premium sandwich offer, Brook says that a typical bakery range can be tweaked throughout the day to get the most out of changing demand.

“It’s about making sure that the offer is relevant throughout the various day parts,” he says. “So the morning is around your croissants, pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins and Danish selection. Getting those out as soon as possible is obviously really important.

“Then in the afternoon it’s about adapting the offer, and our Cuisine de France concept is really good for this. They have units that are attachable and detachable so that the stand still looks full when you’re reducing the offer as the day goes on and food-to-go starts to die off a little.”

Meanwhile, at Warner’s, Jerry is cautiously optimistic about the category’s place in the store.

He says that while previously the store merchandised gluten-free bread with the other bakery lines, now it’s included in a dedicated one-and-a-half-metre bay near the checkout.

“It’s definitely a bigger feature than it used to be,” he says. “I was talking to a lady last Friday who was saying how she switched to a gluten-free regime just for a healthier lifestyle. I think that nowadays that’s where the growth is.”

The trend is forcing suppliers’ to ensure their ranges are evolving – although Stephen Clifford from Country Choice says that the overall success of gluten-free bakery often depends on the size of the store.

“We now have a 15-strong gluten-free bakery range,” he says. “So 
that includes brownies, flapjacks and iced fruit cakes and apple crumble. However, it tends to be the bigger stores that experience the demand to support the gluten-free range.”

If you’re dipping your toe in gluten-free it’s worth bearing in mind that a gluten-free bakery range has to be wrapped. Clifford advises that even though the people buying may not be coeliacs, manufacturers have to take the correct steps to avoid cross-contamination.

Overall, brands have cheered the rise of gluten-free for the way it’s bringing younger, health-conscious shoppers back to the bread and bakery category. And creating excitement around new products is a must if stores want to bring in a fresh generation for their daily bread.

In the future, Mintel tips sourdough and hot or spicy flavours as a way forward. Right now, Ajay is having success with a new line of branded flatbreads.

“We’re always trying new things in the store,” he says. “What we see is that the younger customers who come in aren’t afraid to go for something different. We recently got in the Pizza Express handtopped flatbreads with mozzarella, which we tweeted about through the store’s Twitter account. It’s going really well.”

Ajay reckons that the appetite for fresh tastes and formats that are slightly out of the ordinary is feeding into the wider trend for c-store food.

“The whole food thing is changing for us trend-wise,” he says. “Previously, people might not have chosen Spar for food particularly. But now they’re shopping more locally – they want to see something that excites them and they want the best.”

Unwrapping wrapped bakery shoppers

66% of wrapped bakery shoppers in convenience stores are women.

26% are couples with young children.

75% are on a top-up mission.

32% are also buying milk. Senior New Business Manager