The opportunities for c-store retailers in the bake-off category have moved on a lot in recent years. Our café culture and the ever-increasing number
of places selling food to eat on the go mean that retailers need to keep up with the pace or they'll risk missing out on vital sales. In fact, that single counter-top unit containing the odd steak slice just won't cut it anymore.
Fortunately, new concepts such as Country Choice's Bake & Bite 'Shop Within a Shop' have upped the ante in food to go in the sector. And while not every store will have enough space to take on the entire concept, a lot can be learnt from the success of this and other similar set-ups running throughout the country.
Take retailers Dilip and Bhavana Patel, who own a Londis store in Regent's Park, London. One year
on from installing the 'Shop Within A Shop' fixture, their business is booming.
The installation was timed to coincide with the symbol group's Genesis refit and Dilip says he's sure his customers are happy with the makeover. He certainly knows it's been good for business at the 2,100sq ft store.
"I can see bake-off style food to go growing even more popular in
c-stores over the next few years," says Dilip. "My store now looks bright and eye-catching, and everyone loves the freshly baked smell. One customer told me he even followed the smell all the way to the store!
"I now make about £2,800 from bake-off in a week, which is about 10% of my turnover. Before the new set up I was making only £300-£400 from a couple of counter-top units."
Dilip had been contemplating offering more food to go via bake-off for a couple of years, but says he held off until he knew he could do the section justice.
"I think it's only worth doing if you do it properly," he says. "In the end, I decided I could afford to take on the extra dedicated staff that the section needs. I also recruited someone who could commit to the job for at least six months. I definitely believe it was worth cutting down on a few tinned lines to create space for more food to go. It's also worth retailers remembering that they don't have to go for the full concept."
The store is now churning out a steady supply of goods from the three metre x five metre section. Dilip explains that the range can be as extensive as he wants. "The basics that customers expect to see range from freshly baked bread and filled baguettes, through to snacks such as sausage rolls, doughnuts and Danish pastries," he says.
"But I'm also keen to keep trying new things. We recently introduced paninis and have also offered jacket potatoes with various fillings. Adding new lines keeps everything looking fresh."
Dilip's trade comes from a variety of shoppers, although it's clear from a quick scan of the store and the Londis bags being carried down the street with baguettes poking out that the offering has gone down particularly well with the builders working in the area.
Dilip explains: "A lot of people take advantage of being able to pick up something quick on their lunch breaks. The huge amount of building work going on around here at the moment means we get a lot of trade from the builders. People will also pick up a soft drink, some crisps and a newspaper from the main section of the store, so it's also adding value to other categories."
Dilip warns that it's vital to stay on top of levels in order to avoid wastage and adds: "The trick is to cook little and often. Wastage can be an issue if you don't keep on top of things, but if we get it right we can get margins of 50-70%."
Quick off the mark
Bake-off and food to go is also going great guns for fellow London retailers Mohammad and Farhana Saleem, who recently launched their second Café Nisa store in the up-and-coming area of Creek Road, Greenwich.
Having tasted success with the café format at their flagship store in Isleworth, the couple opened their second store in January. This time around the café has been incorporated into the store (at Isleworth the café has its own entrance next door).
It offers similar products but Café Nisa has a different approach to the Bake & Bite's 'Shop within a Shop'. Rather than counters keeping products hot, customers can pick and choose what they want from a chiller unit and have it cooked in front of them. Food is still pretty instant, though - a pizza can be ordered and with a customer in a matter of minutes, explains Jerome Housiaux, who has teamed up with the Saleems to develop the Café Nisa brand.
"I was originally a chef," says Jerome. "I then became a salesman for Cuisine de France, before helping Mohammad and Farhana set up their first Café Nisa.
"Here we bake baguettes throughout the day, but customers can select the exact sandwich they want. We can also cook fresh pizzas for customers in about two minutes. People like the fact they can see their product being prepared in front of them. The idea is to have everything as fresh as possible."
He adds: "We can also offer a lot of promotions by linking into the products we are buying in already from Nisa. We try to use as many Nisa products as possible."
The Greenwich store is still building customer numbers, but Jerome says a typical day will involve three main bakes for products such as baguettes and pastries. "It's obviously important to keep an eye on levels and top up products if there is a rush," he explains.
Making a name
Nearby college students have been quick to spot the new café format. New property developments also ensure a steady influx of lunchtime traffic from local builders and office workers, who all contribute to the 200-300 café customers a day.
"At the moment we have one member of staff in the morning and one in the afternoon with a one-hour crossover," says Jerome. "All the other store staff are also trained, though, so that they can help out if it gets really busy."
Jerome is confident bake-off and café-style offerings have a bright future and adds: "Everyone knows about bake-off, but retailers are starting to look at how they can improve their offering. The food-to-go category as a whole is going to grow and grow, and the use of chilled and frozen products that can be prepared for the customer extremely quickly will offer retailers a huge number of opportunities to boost sales.
Straight from the oven
BAKEHOUSE has introduced new lines to its Continental breads and pastries. Recent launches include apple crumble tarts, an authentic American recipe pecan pie, as well as a cheese & wild garlic and chocolate & hazelnut twist.
Wastage is kept to a minimum as the product can be cooked from frozen in trays of 10 in 15 minutes. The tarts and pecan pie products can also be cooked from frozen in about 15 minutes.
New to CUISINE DE FRANCE is a range of seasonal confectionery lines in time for Easter.
There are four to choose from: a chocolate-coated Easter egg-shaped shortbread; a chocolate mallow nest; chocolate sponge cup cakes with
mini eggs; and the traditional favourite of six hot cross buns.
Retailers will be supported with merchandising suggestions to maximise shelf impact.
KLUMAN & BALTER has developed a collection of ingredients to help retailers add finishing touches to breads, cakes and other bake-off lines.
Glazes and decorations are available to add to sweet lines, while frozen bread dough can be dressed with seeds including pumpkin, sesame and blue poppy, to create a unique offering.
Managing director Danny Kluman says: "Adding extras to the standard bake-off product won't only make it more appealing, it will also add value, meaning retailers can charge a premium price."
CUISINE DE FRANCE (CDF)continues to be a popular choice for c-store retailers who are looking for a wide range of bake-off products. CDF bosses are confident the company can offer baking and display equipment to suit any store size. It also runs three dedicated training academies.
Spar retailer Colin Landsburgh has teamed up with CDF to offer bake-off products at his store in Carnoustie, near Dundee. He's certain the move has boosted sales and says: "Cuisine de France's presence has increased our sales, footfall and helped develop customer loyalty, with regular purchases of fresh-baked goods from a loyal customer base. We enjoy a steady trade throughout the day from morning commuters purchasing hot savouries, right through to the late-lunch trade. We're keen for our staff to benefit from the baking academies. It's a fantastic facility and a must for other stores in the same situation as us."