Supermarket bakeries see sales peak during winter holidays, the Super Bowl and other occasions like Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day, but for Steve Anvik, who served as a bakery category merchant for more than 20 years at SuperValu, Meijer and Save Mart, the first weeks of summer are particularly busy.
“Graduation time is far and away the highest special order time," says Anvik, who’s now a bakery director at consultant agency Acosta. He estimates 40 percent of special order cakes flood in from May to June.
It was one particularly frantic graduation season that turned Anvik, a longtime scratch baker and cake decorator, into a believer of ready-to-sell dessert cakes. “That was when I first started buying premade cakes; and it was a lifesaver.”
To allow supermarket bakers and decorators time to focus on high-demand offerings and deliver high-quality products, in-store bakeries can lean on ready-to-sell dessert cakes as a secret weapon.
Using ready-to-sell cakes can ease the burden for bakery staff, allowing them to focus on trickier—and often more profitable—business without compromising day-to-day sales. “You don’t need Rembrandt to paint your house,” says Anvik. “You need Rembrandt to do your special, most complicated cakes that you're getting $20, $30 or $40 for.” Tiered, fondant-heavy, custom design cakes are enjoying a renaissance thanks to the foodie social media movement. Quality premade cakes free up decorators and bakers to focus on those lucrative, labor-intensive and visually striking orders, he says.
Ready-to-sell dessert cakes help in-store bakeries divert resources to other jobs, too. Dave Hay, a bakery buyer at BJ’s Wholesale Club, notes that buying premade cakes allows the team to spend less time scratch-baking and more time creating another popular entertainment staple: platters of pastries, cookies and brownies. Platters are assembled in stores based on local demand, and having the available labor to keep bakery shelves stocked is essential to the bottom line.
Buying ready-to-sell dessert cakes can ensure a level of consistency that in-store bakeries might not always be able to guarantee, especially if each store has only one or two skilled cake decorators on staff, says Anvik. “It’s a highly specialized skill,” he says. And training a larger team of cake decorators can be a time- and cost-intensive task. For in-store bakeries that don’t have the resources to train a larger team—especially for peak seasons that last only weeks—premade cakes are a solution.
And for customers, consistency matters—not just from one cake to the next but also from one store location to the next, says Hay. Using ready-to-sell dessert cakes helps keep quality consistent across all 215 BJ’s locations. “The skill of the bakery labor varies from club to club,” he says. “At one store, you might have too much filling, at the next not enough filling. Those inconsistencies are concerning at a cost level and for the customer experience.”
With ready-to-sell cakes, the world is the bakery’s oyster. Trying out new offerings and tweaking them based on customer preferences is easier and more cost-effective when it doesn’t require time-intensive baking processes.
Chocolate and carrot cake are popular flavors in almost every market across the country, notes Anvik, and vanilla bean is on the rise. But it’s not just trends that in-store bakeries should pay attention to: “The biggest advantages a bakery manager has are having the right assortment and knowing [their] customers,” Hay says. Each supermarket can sell market-specific flavors without having to develop recipes and source ingredients. “If your locations are in different markets, it’s important to know what flavors are going to work in those markets.”
In-store bakeries can also go the premade route for cakes with more complicated or unique ingredients like pouring chocolate. “If you buy a premade [cake], you don’t have to carry inventory on single-application small ingredients, whether it’s chocolate pieces or certain flavorings,” Anvik says.
Managers may worry ready-to-sell dessert cakes will look or taste different from items made in stores to discerning customers, but, Anvik says, there’s no reason to fear. “The premade product will be viewed as one seamlessly integrated part of a larger cake program—as long as you approach it that way,” he says.
That means training the team to use consistent shelf presentation for the ready-to-sell dessert cakes, as well as including those cakes in the store’s marketing efforts and promotions. In addition, staff should be prepared to speak in detail about each cake’s flavor and qualities.
“The bakery department or the category manager for bakery needs to think in terms of a holistic approach,” says Anvik. “You have to deliver quality hand work, support unique designs, offer special cakes made on site and, for many retailers, you can win with consistent premade cakes.”