The last two years have created some very big questions for consumers and businesses alike. Plans that once worked must now be reassessed to navigate staffing issues and the ebb and flow of consumer wants and needs.

As suggestions to think creatively are becoming more of the norm, those in the instore bakery must innovate to find new ways to deliver fresh, tasty baked goods while working within new parameters. This arrangement is finding many choosing to focus on continuous improvement – working with what’s available and reducing complexity wherever possible.

With so much in a state of flux, there’s no better time to cultivate a collective approach to doing business. This includes working closely with equipment and ingredient suppliers to help navigate the unknowns and manage the ongoing stress of a strangled supply chain.

Implementing new ways to work can be further complicated when different stores have disparate policies in place. Day-to-day functions are also dependent on staffing and onsite leadership, according to Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator for IDDBA, Madison, Wis.

Richard cites several options for meeting consumers where they are in the moment while still ensuring a quality experience. The commissary model, a popular pre-pandemic option, offers a way to make product offsite for several stores within the chain. Another is the creation of a robust ecommerce platform with a strong focus on fresh bakery products.

“A lot of stores who weren’t prepared for online and ecommerce are still playing catch-up,” he said. “It’s important that a platform represents as much of the store as possible, and consumers are looking for fresh options, too. Work to create an engaging experience because this won’t be going away. People are buying online.”

Bakery de France, Frederick, Md., finds its customers looking to the company for its product innovation and ability to convey benefits to the consumer. The company offers ready solutions to merchandise products and is ready to explain why the product they’ve chosen to carry is best-in-class – by developing packaging that exudes the look, feel and information desired by consumers, according to Alexander Salameh, the company’s chief operating officer.

“We have found our retail partners preferred tailored solutions designed to best fit their needs, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach,” Salameh said. “Even if the turnkey solution does not fit their needs at the current time, we have found it provides a great launching point for conversation around future retail planning.”


Aligning best practices

This starting point often includes implementing a team approach when matching professional sales and marketing efforts with technical guidance and service after a sale, according to Roger Daniels, vice president of research, development, innovation and quality at Stratas Foods, Memphis, Tenn. Applying a continuous improvement approach, Stratas team members can ensure its shortening, margarines and oils are tailored to each customer’s recipes and unique needs.

This begins with a critical review of the bakery to understand its unique application needs. Stratas then identifies the optimal match for the need with its recommended option(s), backed with internal applications data to validate the recommendation. Customers also have access to the company’s culinary and technical bakery application experts to address any questions that arise or to seek counsel. Proactive check-in sessions with the dedicated sales team help to further troubleshoot any issues.

Belshaw Adamatic, Auburn, Wash., is an equipment supplier that understands how bakeries can imagine the next generation of products. Mike Baxter, product information and marketing coordinator for the company, is known for offering cost-saving tips to Belshaw’s instore bakery customers and advice on how to repurpose current equipment for new uses.

Recognizing innovation and freshness as a key appeal of bakery products, it’s also vital that instore bakeries have a packaging system in place that preserves the taste and freshness of the product through proper barrier properties and reliable puncture-resistance, according to TC Transcontinental Packaging, Chicago.

The company’s Fresh N Tasty Bakery Pouch enforces trust and transparency between the supermarket and the consumer by protecting freshness and quality and providing direct visibility to the delicious goods inside. The pouches offer added consumer convenience in the form of reclose features and handles for shoppers on-the-go. The flexible packaging uses less plastic – offering a smaller carbon footprint than clamshell packaging and ease of packing and shipping.

“Consumers greatly value transparency,” said Julie Lichtman, director of market development, consumer and pet food, TC Transcontinental Packaging. “They want to know what’s in the product, and they want a clear indication of the ingredients on the product label.”


Streamlining operations

Working toward the goal of greater transparency, bakeries are tasked with many roles including staying up to date on clean-label ingredients, offering well-maintained, informative displays (as permitted by supply chain issues) and managing ongoing staffing challenges. An ABA Bake to the Future podcast highlighted how staffing issues can be an incentive to make cleaning and sanitation roles less complicated while still supporting employees, according to podcast guest Karl Thorson, global food safety and sanitation manager, General Mills, Golden Valley, Minn.

In addition to maintaining a strong instore presence and a robust ecommerce site, instore bakeries can also benefit from technology most consumers are already carrying with them into the store. Geomarketing collects data that can be used later to send out coupons and timely information about holiday specials.

“Geomarketing allows companies to target customers within a geographic area via mobile devices with relevant, timely messages,” said Bethany Boehm, group account director, Unreal Digital Group, Seattle. “This form of marketing helps brands reach customers at the right place and in the right moment.”


Building partnerships

With demands coming from all sides, trust and relationship building are key for both instore bakeries and their suppliers to succeed. Bakery customers are collaborating with their suppliers and sales reps to discuss what’s working and offer troubleshooting tips and innovations to meet consumer demand.

Dawn Foods, Jackson, Mich., sees this relationship as something more than the exchange of products. The company leverages its bakery expertise, in-depth consumer insights and data-driven research to ensure instore bakeries reach their core customers. Guests visiting Dawn’s Innovation Studio can attend training sessions, receive customized operational consulting, see new product development and receive consumer insights and trends information.

Dana Sosnowski, trade marketing manager, supermarket channel for Dawn Foods, shares four tips to create a better instore bakery consumer experience: 1) Get to know your customers and their unique needs. 2) Make the bakery employees experts by offering tips and tricks to improve offerings and operational efficiency. 3) Identify ways to measure success to demonstrate profitability for the customer. 4) Add value by collaborating with the supplier to best display products and make packaging stand out.

Located near its corporate headquarters in Minneapolis, Cargill’s Food Innovation Center houses its best scientists under one roof. This includes a Certified Master Baker, experts in the ingredient space and a wide range of bakery equipment all available to help customers. Additionally, its IngredienTracker consumer research gauges consumer perceptions of more than 300 food ingredients.

“We found that by working collaboratively, we can accelerate our customers’ R&D efforts, helping them reach solutions quickly,” said McKenna Mills, senior technical services specialist for bakery, Cargill.

While it’s not always possible to work side-by-side in the lab, Cargill’s customers can also send projects to its application scientists who can directly mimic conditions in their facility, saving weeks or months of development time. This includes support for smaller customers who might not have the in-house equipment to run small-scale trials.

Saving time and money also can come through an investment in bakery packaging that’s sustainable and recyclable. In acknowledgement of the growing consumer trend of sustainability, TC Transcontinental Packaging established the ASTRA Center (Art, Science and Technology Research & Applications Center) in Menasha, Wis., to continually develop innovative packaging that meets the evolving environmental concerns of the consumer.

“Bakeries can communicate the sustainability attributes of their packaging through on-package information,” Lichtman said. “Brands can effectively share their sustainability commitments right on the package itself. They can also implement the How2Recycle Program, which provides a label on the package that clearly indicates the recyclability of the package and conveys how to recycle it to the consumer.”


A two-way relationship

With an eye toward a future emphasizing innovation and sustainability, Sosnowski predicts personalization and customization will continue to be critical elements in the supplier and instore bakery relationship. This will be particularly true as consumers re-evaluate value beyond prices.

Mintel, Chicago, found re-defining quality includes new definitions of “trust,” “quality” and “essential,” offering new opportunities to offer moments of comfort and support. Research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI), Gladstone, Mo., shows consumers today evaluate those responsible for growing, raising, producing and supplying their food on a growing list of attributes – safety, sustainability and social responsibility among them.

“They want to know that you’re providing them with products that align with their values,” said Roxi Beck, director of consumer engagement for CFI. “In particular, we see younger generations becoming more discerning and curious. They’re asking more questions about food and how it’s produced so it’s important that instore be able to answer their questions transparently, and if you don’t have the answers, do your best to find a credible resource for them.”