Blue Goose banks on bakery's future
Blue Goose realized high demand for single-serve pastries.
Oatmeal walnut chocolate chunk cookies are among the bakery's top selling products.
Bakery Manager Scott Schwartz helped enhance the bakery's upscale image.
Customers are not as sensitive to price when they are buying gifts, Schwartz says.
For a supermarket that has had an in-store program for only eight of its 77 years of operation, Blue Goose has quickly become versed in the best practices of in-store baking. Blue Goose Supermarket, St. Charles, Ill., is among the last remaining independent supermarket operators in the Chicago area. The company added a bakery during its last renovation and expansion in 1996, but underestimated how popular the move would be with its customers.
Today, the bakery and deli are key draws for the store and have clearly outgrown capacity. Under the guidance of Bakery Manager Scott Schwartz, in-store baking has become an essential department for Blue Goose, which plans to dedicate more space to bakery and deli in its newly constructed store to open next year.
As part of a $40 million St. Charles revitalization project, the city wanted to use Blue Goose land for other projects, and maintain the supermarket that had become part of St. Charles' charm. So, city planners and Blue Goose owners worked out a deal to move the store to another location nearby, giving Blue Goose additional room for growth. The new store will be about 50 percent larger than its current 50,000-sq.-ft. location. Bakery, deli and produce departments will gain most of the square footage, but the center grocery aisles will remain about the same size as the old store, according to Dale Insteford, general manager. Blue Goose officials want to use the additional space primarily for its fresh departments, including bakery. In addition to more retail space, plans in the bakery department call for two rack ovens, a pan washer and freezers.
Founded in 1928 by Nancy Lencioni, Blue Goose originally sold only fruit and was named after a logo on the side of a fruit carton that featured a blue goose. Today, Blue Goose remains a family-run operation, owned by five Lencioni siblings. The family feel is evident throughout its operations and even in its company slogan: Blue Goose Supermarket-Where Service is a Family Tradition.
Blue Goose has thrived as an independent supermarket because it focused early on specialty foods and has evolved with changing customer needs and demographics. Its customer base is made up primarily of upper income families with a taste for quality foods and the discretionary income to pay for them. Blue Goose's main competition includes national supermarket chains, such as Jewel Food Stores (operated by Super-Valu, Eden Prairie, Minn.) and Dominick's (operated by Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif.) In addition, Wal-Mart Supercenters and Cub Food's Butera compete for Blue Goose customers, but the independent grocer draws customers seeking good food in a simpler shopping environment.
"It's not a corporate atmosphere here, and it shows on the sales floor," Schwartz says. Although Blue Goose considers itself a step ahead of its competition, the in-store bakery admittedly did not meet company standards when it was added to the store eight years ago.
"They (customers) come to Blue Goose because they expect better," Schwartz says. "Something more needed to be done in bakery. Bakery was the missing link." Deli sales, which also includes prepared meals, exceeded company expectations, so company officials realized the high demand for fresh, store-produced foods. But, in-store bakery sales fell flat during its initial years at the store. Why? Blue Goose's in-store bakery department offered similar products and quality as its competing supermarket in-store bakeries.
Blue Goose's bakery began its turn around three years ago with three key strategies. The company reworked its product line to offer more signature products, hired knowledgeable bakery management and staff and upscaled its bakery sales area through creative merchandising and packaging. With its renewed bakery focus, Blue Goose bakery sales have nearly doubled in three years, and bakery profitability is expected to continue with the greater production and sales capacity planned for the new store, Schwartz says.
Improve quality control
One of the first things Schwartz did when he joined Blue Goose was analyze the bakery product line. He targeted each product category by eliminating poor-selling products and adding new products that could not be found at competing bakeries. "We wanted to give customers something they can only get at Blue Goose," he says.
Several categories proved ideal for enhancement: cookies, decorated cakes and pastries. In the cookie category, bakery management tested a range of frozen doughs to find a gourmet cookie line that upheld renewed quality standards. In addition, Blue Goose bakers developed formulas for signature cookies not available elsewhere, such as its oatmeal walnut chocolate chunk cookies.
The cake decorating staff also plays a role in customizing Blue Goose's cookies with a creative line of decorated cookies. The bakery designs product promotions around themes beyond typical holidays. For example, the beginning of summer marks the bakery's caterpillar theme, and the end of summer denotes a ladybug theme. Cake decorators create cookies, cakes, cupcakes and other products with the bug themes. Even packaging and other sales material carry the theme.
Schwartz credits most of the bakery's improved decorated cake sales to its team of talented cake decorators, including Amy Theisen and Jessie Grote. "When someone orders a cake, they (our decorators) can do nearly anything," he says.
A promotional brochure explaining how to order Blue Goose cakes goes out with every order and helps to standardize cake orders. The supermarket also includes the brochure in customers' shopping bags just before graduation season.
Blue Goose's pastry line is another category that has improved due to more qualified staffing. The company hired Pastry Chef Kate Bjorkland to develop a diverse line of single-serve pastries. Customers needed time to catch on to this specialty, but they eventually embraced the new line.
"The first eight months, we had to throw away a lot of product," she says. Through active sampling and product testing, the bakery has developed a reputation for its fruit tarts, mousse cakes and crðme brulèe. Bar varieties, such as lemon bars and brownies, round out the line and appeal to customers seeking a collection of desserts for parties. Most pastry products are prepared in-store from scratch. But, with limited production space and labor, Bjorkland offers some ready-to-sell mini pastries as well.
The pastry line also contributes to the bakery's more upscale brand. "I don't want coupons or buy-one-get-one-free promotions," Schwartz says. "That cheapens our image."
The bakery carries its image through to its packaging and designs merchandising displays to encourage impulse purchases. It sells single 4-oz. chocolate chip cookies in open-topped bags displayed in a miniature toy shopping cart. The cookies sell for $1 each, and a sign on the cart suggests that customers purchase a snack while they shop.
Schwartz regularly changes product displays to keep customers interested and positions slow-moving products in hightraffic areas. He also cross-merchandises where appropriate, such as placing Blue Goose-prepared cream cheese next to the bagel display and stuffed animals and other party gifts next to decorated cakes.
Working the gift angle has proven a worthwhile strategy for the bakery as well. Single packaged bakery items and chocolates are displayed on a table next to a stock of small gift bags. A sign on the table asks customers to fill up the bag for themselves or to treat a friend.
"You need to account for your packaging costs in the price of the item," Schwartz says. "Price isn't as much of an issue when people are buying gifts for other people."
Schwartz grew up working in a retail bakery and also has experience with a national supermarket chain, a specialty in-store bakery and a major bakery supplier. So, he's seen many aspects of the bakery business and uses this background to scout out his competition and find new ideas. He and Bjorkland take regular bakery tours to keep abreast of the latest product trends.
"If you sell a muffin, I consider you my competition," he says. The bakery employs a staff of about 15, including two experienced bakers who work the night shift because of the limited space the bakery currently shares with deli. In the new store, the in-store bakery will perform more production throughout the day, particularly for breads and muffins. Schwartz also sees potential to expand Blue Goose's bread line with whole grain varieties and a higher quality artisan bread line.
Much of the bakery's plans are on hold until it can move to the new location across the street. In-store baking, however, has earned a new position in Blue Goose plans thanks to proven strategies that have generated sales results.
"You have to forget this is a supermarket," Schwartz says. "This is a bakery with a store in it.
Blue Goose Supermarket ...at a glance
Blue Goose ...a sampling of prices
Pound cake, 12 ozs.
Chocolate chip cookie, 4 ozs.
Muffin, 4 ozs.
Italian bread, 1 lb.
Apple tart, 4 ins.
Chocolate bomb, 5.75 ozs.
Opera torte (bite size), 0.5 ozs.
Key lime chiffon tartlet, 1.5 ozs.
Mini carrot cake loaf, 7 ozs.
Decorated cakes 1/4 sheet, double layer
8-in. round, double layer
1/2 sheet, double layer
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