Great Harvest Rising

When Tim and MariAnn Heeren opened their first Great Harvest Bread Co. store in 1995, product offerings encompassed all of six different types of bread and a singular cookie choice.

Fast-forward 13 years, and it’s perhaps a little easier naming items the Heerens don’t offer at their Wichita, KS, franchise, which earlier this year added a satellite location across town. In addition to a bread lineup that includes 10-12 choices on a daily basis, they now offer a veritable bakery and pastry potpourri featuring muffins, cinnamon rolls, scones, sweet goods of seemingly every sort, neatly packaged dry dough mixes, jams and even three different types of snack/energy bars.

Oh, and don’t forget the sandwiches. See, the Heerens are part of a growing number of Great Harvest franchisees that have taken their stores to another level. Wichita’s two Great Harvest locations are every bit as much a lunch dining destination as they are simple outlets for freshly baked breads.

The Heerens took the leap into the sandwich game when they moved their original store from a strip mall to a stand-alone location in 2004. The new site, with about 300 extra square feet in floor space, gave him the ability to expand the scope of the franchise.

The dine-in approach, Tim Heeren says, has exposed a whole new customer base to Great Harvest’s signature bread offerings while opening doors for additional business – including offsite catering opportunities.

At the same time, their foray into sandwich menu items has not dialed up the Heerens’ labor costs, and because they’re not involved in processing the meat and condiments accompanying the Great Harvest breads and buns on customers’ plates, food costs have remained reasonable.

"It’s been a pleasant surprise and very easy to manage," Heeren says. A pleasant surprise – to the tune of an immediate 25-30 percent bump in sales when the Wichita franchise first started offering sandwiches.

Since then, Heeren figures the decision has boosted the annual revenue by 10-12 percent. Lunch sales now account for 40 percent of revenue at the recently opened satellite location – a site adjacent to several national sandwich and sub-chain rivals.

Overall, lunches and sweet goods now account for the majority of sales at the two Wichita Great Harvest stores. "People just really enjoy coming in for lunches and sweets," Heeren says.

Looking to the Future

More and more, other Great Harvest franchisees are catching on. Kate Ord, director of marketing at the company’s Dillon, MT, headquarters, says about 80 of the company’s 220 stores now offer a lunch sandwich line. On average, those 80 have boosted their annual revenue by 15 percent.

All of which means Great Harvest Bread Co. has come a long way from the single Great Falls, MT, store that first began selling whole grain breads in 1976. Sandwiches, sweet goods and lunch dining aside, whole grain breads – Honey Whole Wheat, Dakota, Nine Grain, High-Five Fiber – remain the heart of the company’s business.

For instance, even with all the success the Heerens have enjoyed by branching out with their Wichita stores, carry-out bread sales still account for 45 percent of their business. Throw in the bread and buns baked every day for lunch customers, and it’s evident that even the most innovative Great Harvest stores haven’t strayed far from their roots.

In fact, with whole grain bread sales "totally recovered" from the low-carbohydrate diet phenomenon of a few years ago, Heeren says the future appears exceedingly bright for that portion of the business.

"We just have a more informed consumer," he says, adding that instead of focusing on carb content, customers now target healthful, high-fiber baked goods.

That said, Heeren would never go back to the limited product focus that marked the days of his franchise’s infancy. It simply makes too much sense to have sandwiches, lunches, sweet goods and fresh baked goods all complementing one another.

"When you have that basis of a good product," he said of Great Harvest’s core bread line, "it further enhances that (product) when you add sandwiches."

Plus, Heeren views opportunities to build upon Great Harvest’s signature bread heritage as a means of keeping the business from getting, ahem, stale. With sandwiches and lunches firmly entrenched in his franchise’s operation pattern, he most recently has turned his attention to the burgeoning business for packages of dry baking mixes, which are turning into a holiday season favorite.

"If you’re in business for yourself, you want to continue to try to motivate yourself," he said. "It creates a lot of excitement for me, my employees and my customers. No two days are alike when you try to do new things."

Lyle Niedens

"People just really enjoy coming in for lunches and sweets."

Tim Heeren, Great Harvest Bread in Wichita, KS

Great Harvest Bread Company

History:

A young couple fresh out of college hiked through Montana and decided to never leave. The first bakery opened in 1976 in Great Falls, MT. In 1978, the first wave of new bakery owners helped craft a unique business model. Individual owners have the latitude to customize their own stores, as long as the premium whole wheat is sourced from select family-owned farms. Today there are more than 200 Great Harvest bakeries across the nation.

Great Harvest bakeries are known for their 100 percent whole wheat breads made with daily-ground whole wheat blended with pure-and-simple ingredients. The bakeries also create legendary sweets and holiday specialty items. Many bakeries offer an array of products, including sandwiches, soups, rolls, gourmet dipping oils, jams, honey and peanut butter.

Great Harvest bakery owners take pride in knowing their whole grain products are life enhancing. The bakeries are family-friendly, upbeat neighborhood gathering places. And Great Harvest owners bake the difference in their communities every day by giving unsold products to local charities, and by supporting neighborhood organizations through fundraising efforts.

The Great Harvest mission statement:

Be Loose & Have Fun!

Bake Phenomenal Bread!

Run Fast to Help Customers!

Create Strong & Exciting Bakeries!

Give Generously to Others!

Premium Wheat from Family-Owned Farms:

Great Harvest purchases its wheat from family-owned farms, often third generation, located in the finest wheat growing regions in the world – America’s heartland. Our farmers provide wheat that’s rich in taste, nutrients, protein and has outstanding baking qualities.

Fun Facts:

Great Harvest products have been found on athletic training tables around the world from Olympic events to Super Bowl championships.

Great Harvest goodies have traveled in the space shuttle with NASA astronauts proving they are out of this world!

Most Great Harvest Bakery owners left corporate jobs or were former Great Harvest employees in college. It’s a fun and meaningful vocation.

In the course of a month, Great Harvest bakeries across the nation donate about 37 tons of product to organizations such as homeless shelters, youth centers, food banks, soup kitchens, and other nonprofits serving children and families in need.

Great Harvest has an exclusive lunch catering contract with the Dallas Cowboys! Great Harvest sandwiches keep the Cowboys in shape from the inside out.

Source: Great Harvest Bread Co.