Eighteen percent of Culprit Café & Bakery’s gross revenue comes from its wholesale accounts. The Omaha, Nebraska, bakery café currently supplies bread to seven Omaha restaurants and bars, and one in Harlan, Iowa. While a full breakfast, lunch and dessert menu make up the bulk of the business, Culprit’s wholesale accounts provide a nice income stream and an alternative form of advertising, says Luke Mabie, owner and baker.
To start wholesaling products out of an existing retail bakery takes work ethic and dedication. Bakeries must know themselves and what it is they want to do within the wholesale arena to get the most from their efforts. “Selling product wholesale is a big commitment,” Mabie says. “Your accounts will want to determine your baking schedule, but you have to look at the long term goal and try to find the buyers that fit into your wholesale plan.”
To set itself apart, Culprit starts preparing its wholesale products in the afternoon and has them ready by dinner. “Which means that we wouldn’t be delivering bread until 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. (just before service), but that also means that our product is almost eight to 12 hours fresher than most other wholesalers,” Mabie says. Another important part of Culprit’s wholesale success came by proving to restauranteurs that it was capable.
“I did a lot of pitching to restaurants before Culprit opened. I was talking to chefs and baking up samples, but nothing was ever confirmed before we opened,” Mabie says. “It wasn’t until we opened our doors and started baking bread on a regular basis that chefs began to taste what we were capable of.”
In addition to proving that you have what it takes to fulfill any wholesale accounts, it’s also imperative to communicate with potential accounts and figure out what they need and what they will continue to order through strong communication. While many artisan bakeries, including Culprit, specialize in rustic round loaves, batards and the like, Culprit and Mabie decided to go in a different direction for wholesale accounts. And it paid off.
“Sandwich loaves! They are a great way to get started,” Mabie says. “There are not enough bakeries exploring all of the varieties of sandwiches. It’s so easy to make a new bread that is exclusive to a new restaurant or pairs well with some new sandwich creation.”
Not Too Much
One way that Culprit has maintained its wholesale business, but not over extended itself to a point that hurts the retail side has been to control what it offers in the wholesale department. “We really try to push more product that we are already making,” Mabie says. This way ensures that the number of recipes does not become too much to handle, he adds.
In the case of Culprit’s production, smaller breads and rolls take larger amounts of time to make, and the profit margins often don’t make it worth the time and effort, Mabie says. “We are a 100 percent artisan bake house, but if you have a machine that can kick out 100 of some kind of bread, then by all means.”
Knowing who you are as a bakery, what products you feel comfortable producing on a wholesale level, knowing who you want to sell wholesale to, and knowing what those wholesale customers need and want all fit together in determining your wholesale program.
“I don’t like a ton of wholesale because it requires a lot of salesmanship. I want our accounts to seek us out,” Mabie says. Although Mabie likes to keep tight control over the somewhat limited wholesale business that Culprit does he does mention, “with every new wholesale account, we see an increase in store sales.”