There isn’t anything much better than the smell of something baking – sweet cinnamon, fresh bread or warm fruit filling – right from the oven. A baked goods offering as part of your foodservice program has the power to entice customers to make sweet, indulgent, impulse purchases.
As the boundaries between grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and bakeries continue to blur, each competing for customers, c-stores have the distinct ability to deliver convenience as a competitive advantage, better than the rest. The key is to sell a wide variety of items to meet customer needs. For some convenience stores, that includes offering a variable foodservice program, including baked single serve and snack options. These items, sold at all hours, can include cookies, donuts, brownies, turnovers, cinnamon rolls, bread, buns and muffins – just to name a few.
Whether it’s prepackaged, thaw and serve, bake from frozen or DIY bake in-house – there are many options for C&G retailers to serve up sweet and savoury baked goods to their customers.
Mike Habib, owner/operator of Jubilee Junction in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been offering a complete foodservice menu at his convenience store since 2014. In addition to traditional c-store items, Jubilee Junction is also known for its french fries, onion rings, chicken fingers, wings, sandwiches, subs, pizza, muffins, cinnamon buns, cookies and apple turnovers.
Habib believes that diversification is the key to staying relevant. He has developed quite the reputation for quality food, so much so, that loyal customers call in their order of rolls, muffins and cookies during the day for pick-up that evening. “I like to stand out from the competition,” says Habib, who takes pride in offering 10 different varieties of cookies from three basic cookie dough bases, such as mini eggs, peanut butter, double chocolate, and macadamia nut, in an effort to make it “fancier” for his customers.
According to Habib, smell and timing are extremely important for a successful baked goods program. “The smell of our baked goods creates a sense of curiosity and an interest to want to try it,” he says. “We bake different items throughout the day that appeal to different customers, such as cookies for students after school, cinnamon rolls or muffins for morning and evening commuters and donuts for late night snackers.”
Appealing to different clientele, building loyalty and remaining competitive are also reasons why Dale Mott, owner/operator of Irving in Willowgrove, New Brunswick, offers baked goods to his customers. Mott leverages wholesale and thaw and serve options for Nanaimo bars, donuts and rolls and bakes muffins, cookies and breads in-house. In the C&G business for over 40 years, Mott admits that margins of baked goods are not as great as his fresh pizza and pasta products but expressed concern that if he were to drop baked goods from his foodservice offering, his customers would miss it and go elsewhere.
Gerry Van Beek, director of Business Development at Saginaw Bakeries agrees that product selection is key to a successful baked goods foodservice program. Saginaw Bakeries, a wholesale bakery located in Surrey, British Columbia, provides a variety of indulgent and functional baked goods to the C&G channel primarily in Western Canada. Of its total baked goods product offering, donuts are their top seller – be it chocolate, glazed, or apple fritter.
“Keep your display fresh, clean and never, ever run out of your top sellers,” says Van Beek. “Offer some variety–be it products, ingredients or regional preferences, know your customers’ purchasing habits and offer baked goods during those times of day.” With a small tray and dome, serving utensils or toothpicks and serviettes, Van Beek believes that a sampling program is an effective way to introduce a baked goods program at a relatively low cost. “A C&G retailer can enter the baked goods market at a low entry-level dollar value,” says Van Beek. “However, it’s extremely important that you never, ever offer stale product as you will not be able to recover from that loss of trust.”
Habib advises C&G retailers to give it an honest trial period for at least a month. “Customers are in and out so quickly that it takes a while for them to notice anything other than what they came in for.”
While sampling is an effective way to entice customers, Bruce Beer, owner of Norma’s Bakery, advocates promotions as another means to drive sales. “Our single serve prepackaged rice crispy squares and butter tarts, which have survived the test of time with over 30 years in the market, sell well on their own and paired up with a coffee.” Product longevity is a testament to their motto: ‘Nice packaging can get people to purchase a product the first time, however the quality of what’s inside is what gets them to buy it again.’ BOGO (buy one, get one half off) promotions are also another means of consuming your baked goods inventory before their expiration.
Upselling techniques can be used throughout the day by the owner/operator of the c-store as another means to move product. “Drawing the customer’s attention to your hot beverage and baked goods offering is a simple way to drive sales,” says Karen Weldman, vice president, New Business Development at Country Style, whose top three selling baked goods include Boston cream donuts, apple fritters and a variety of muffins. “For example, you could say: We just brewed a fresh pot of coffee and have a wonderful variety of baked goods available. Why not start your day with a coffee and a muffin? If the customer has a good experience, it will result in repeat business.”
Foodservice within the C&G channel requires a commitment to food safety and quality. Done well, the bakery category can turn a well-located c-store into a destination that will attract new customers, encourage loyalty, drive sales and sweeten your bottom line – one sweet smelling snack at a time.
Meline Beach is a Toronto-based freelance writer.