Now more than ever bake-off sections in-store haveto offer a wide and professional range of products. Mark Wingett talks to retailers taking up that challenge.

Mix ’n’ match is the message for the future of in-store bake-off. Got the hot food part of your store fixed and profitable, then what about the pastries side? Consumers now expect the best of both worlds and retailers have to rise to the challenge.

Standards set through concepts such as Wild Bean Café have highlighted the need for a high-class and varied range of food on the move, whether it’s hot or cold, and while bake-off companies are looking to push their equipment and product ever further, retailers are also keeping up with the latest trends and investing more.

“You just have to look at the latest partnership between BP and Marks & Spencer to see that the local corner store image cannot be expected to be successful anymore,” says Arjan Mehr, who runs a Londis store in Bracknell, Berkshire. “We had a good bake-off section in the store before but the need to take it to a better standard was clear.”

The opportunity to improve his bake-off offer came at a time when Arjan was looking to refurbish his whole store. A bake-off section was already in place and was popular with customers but by working with supplier Country Choice Arjan was able to take advantage of the company’s new ‘Shop Within a Shop’ model.

The concept is aimed at retailers who want a professional bake-off section but don’t want to source through a number of different equipment suppliers.

Country Choice managing director Raj Tugnait explains: “Retailers neither have the time nor the expertise to source equipment solutions so ‘Shop Within A Shop’ provides them with a low-cost, easy entry into the foodservice arena via a complete range of branded equipment solutions that are modular and allow the Bake & Bite identity to be delivered to any store, regardless of its size, location or product range.”

Arjan’s store is one of the first to incorporate the solution. He says: “Before refurbishing the store last autumn the bake-off section was contributing 10% to the store’s average weekly turnover but I felt we could get more out of it, so I decided to invest £20,000 in it. The latest concept fitted perfectly what we were after. It now has four dedicated staff and is up and running from 5am, ready for our first customers at 7am, and able to deliver food until 7pm. Everything is freshly made on site and weekly turnover from the section is already up and rising.”

The next step for Arjan is to try out meal solutions, an idea he got from a field trip across London. He continues: “You just have to look at what some of the food retailers such as M&S or the multiples are doing to realise there is a market for meal solutions, especially those that are ready to eat straight from the store.”

Again help was on hand from Country Choice, which has launched Bake & Bite Hot Box. It allows retailers to offer hot breakfast, lunch and evening meals for customers to take away.

Tugnait says: “Sausage and mash, pie and mash, curry and rice – they can all be eaten straight from the box, which is easy to assemble and is capable of holding hot sauces and gravies without leaking. The Hot Box is ideal for displaying in a self-serve hot unit for customers to grab and go.”

The initiatives have meant Arjan’s store has strengthened its position and customers make a special journey to visit him.

He admits, though, that the professionalism of the offer would not have been possible without help from a supportive supplier, and urges other retailers to take up the opportunity of a similar union.

He says: “If a retailer wants to move forward I believe they need to do so with a supply partner who is capable of delivering a high standard of product and offer.”

Bakehouse marketing director Kate Raison believes retailers should react to the growing trend of “flexi-eating”, where consumers are increasingly fitting food consumption around their needs and lifestyles.

“The British are far more likely to miss breakfast than other Europeans, many replacing it with ‘deskfasts’ – a Danish and coffee bought on the way into the office,” she comments. “In most cases it is the convenience store that consumers look to in order to purchase freshly baked pastries or fresh sandwiches.”

Although healthy eating is still high profile, Raison believes that in the long term consumers will still value good taste. She says: “Current concerns about the levels of fat, sugar and salt content in products may have a knock-on effect in new product development in the short term, but consumers still want food that tastes good and is easy to eat on the go.

“Reducing preparation, baking and finishing time in the store as well as enhancing formats and shapes to make products easier to handle on the move will become increasingly important.”

When it comes to the Costcutter store in Lynton, Devon, it’s smell rather than taste that is the first weapon used by owner Howard Marshall to entice customers in.

He says: “You just have to walk along the street outside to smell the pastry and bread from our bake-off section. Anyone going to work or the school nearby is immediately drawn into the store.”

The store, which has been trading in the seaside town for the past 20 years, has been reaping the benefits of a Cuisine de France in-store bakery for the past five years.

Howard says: “The bake-off section is worth a third of the total weekly turnover in terms of the footfall it brings in. The store is heavily affected by seasonal trade and varies from turning over on average £15,000 in the winter to £40,000 in the summer. However, the one constant during the year is the success of the bake-off section.”

While Howard confirms that its initial success was down to the locals’ love of pasties and pies, it is the younger generation that is driving footfall through the store’s growing pastries offer.

“The trade during the school run hours of 7-9am is phenomenal and is based around sales of croissants and cakes, which the school kids buy to complement their lunch,” says Howard. “Whereas before we may have concentrated on one part of the bake-off offer over the other, now it really is a case of both sharing space and sales.”

Like Arjan, Howard is quick to praise the help of his supplier – Cuisine de France.

He continues: “We could have continued with a smaller section supplied by a local supplier but making the change to Cuisine de France has allowed us to move up a level and we are seeing the returns from that.”

The message is clear – to attain a successful bake-off offer you need professionalism, a perfect partnership, and the right mix of pastries, pasties and pies.

As the bake-off section gets more professional and varied so do the ranges of products and equipment entering the market to give retailers and consumers more choice.

Rational UK has developed a muffin tray that helps retailers with in-store baking equipment make the perfect muffin. The new tray has up to 24 muffin moulds and is made of a specially developed material that prevents sticking.

“Everyone loves the taste and aroma of freshly baked muffins,” says Rational UK managing director Vic Brown. “They can help build up your morning business.”

There are two sizes of muffin tray: the 400x600mm holds 24 muffins, while the 400x300mm makes 12. The moulds in the new tray can also be used to bake or cook other products such as mousses, desserts and bread puddings.

Bakehouse has added a lemon croissant variant to its pastry range aimed at the breakfast bake-off market.
Available in a 95g version, the new croissant takes 20 minutes to bake off and is pre-topped with sugar nibs, eliminating the need for finishing the product in-store.

Cuisine de France has launched a new marketing campaign to increase brand awareness.
Fronted by a new TV commercial, which will run throughout March, the campaign will also feature new pos material, swing signs and posters carrying the tagline: ‘For the taste’.

Cuisine de France marketing director David Girdler says: “Through this investment we hope to drive growth throughout 2006 in the Cuisine de France brand and enhance the relationship between ourselves and our retail customers, and they in turn with the consumer.”

Country Choice has launched a new labelling system for its entire Bake & Bite range. The labelling package includes Bake & Bite branded labels, a ‘ready to go’ printer with pre-set data, and full after-sales support.

The system includes information such as use-by date, product name, product description, holding temperature requirement, price, barcode and the customer’s own trading name and address. It holds data on a memory card and automatically calculates the use-by date per product category for the current Country Choice portfolio of up to 1,400 products. The memory card can be updated for free to take into account new product launches.

Country Choice managing director Raj Tugnait comments: “Labelling is one of those essential jobs that nobody likes doing because it involves so much hassle, such as locating a product’s price, sell-by date and holding temperature. As a consequence it is often done in such a hurry that the information on the finished label is either wrong, unclear or in some cases missing. Aside from this, a poorly presented label does nothing for the retailer trying to present a professional in-store image.”