B. Patisserie in San Francisco successfully transitioned from a pop-up to a  permanent location in 2012 

From pop-up bakeries hitting bustling streets across the country to branded signature products popping up on more and more supermarket shelves, the traditional route of retail bakery items sold to the public is no longer a conventional one. And the reason behind this trend is fueled by America’s insatiable appetite for new products. People nowadays are more receptive to experiment with new flavors of sweet and savory pastries and subtly sweet desserts, as bakery transitions to the forefront of culinary conversation.

Pop-up bakeries afford aspiring bakery owners to try their hand at gauging demand for the unique products they have to offer.

Supermarkets, on the flip side, present a gateway to the mass market for unique items from retailers that may have already made a name for themselves.   

It is vital that bakery owners understand these emerging marketplace trends to identify opportunities to expand your business, as well as develop new markets, by thinking outside the brick-and-mortar confines of traditional retailing.

Making the Transition

There are numerous stories of pop-up bakeries making the successful transition from part-time to full-time business ventures.

In San Francisco, b. Patisserie showcases the combination of Belinda Leong’s talent with Michel Suas’ knowledge and expertise. The menu is composed of modern French style pastries along with American flavors and local influences. The pastry selection includes individual cakes, tarts, verrines, macarons, and a range of viennoiseries. Tartines (open faced sandwiches) complement the pastries. The tartines are prepared on levain bread specially created by Suas, founder of the San Francisco Baking Institute, for b. Patisserie.

In 2011, with the concept of b. Patisserie in her mind, Leong became the head pastry chef at Manresa. While at Manresa, she decided to introduce her pastries to the public through pop-ups and partnerships with select coffee shops. The success of her pop-ups encouraged Leong to focus solely on b. Patisserie. Leong and Suas kept in close contact and soon decided to become partners. In 2012 a permanent location for b. Patisserie was chosen. Today, the bakery is regarded as a rising star on the culinary scene in San Francisco.

Dozen Bakery in Nashville is popular among local farmers market customers.

In Nashville, Claire Meneely originally started a holiday cookie pop-up business that would exist for the last three months in 2009. Renting commercial kitchen space and shuttling around in a Subaru station wagon, Meneely figured a seasonal business would be a good way to test the waters to determine if Nashville was interested in organic, local baking. Thanks to strong word-of-mouth popularity, some good press and finding great help, Dozen Bakery was born, and soon the business took off. Her products are especially popular among the crowds at Nashville’s three farmers markets.

Dozen Bakery's focus is on using high-quality local and organic ingredients to make sweet bakery products including cookies, pies, breads, brown sugar shortcakes, and galettes in various flavors such as peach, strawberry or chocolate honey. Although the business started in 2009, baking and entrepreneurship took root many years before for Meneely. She began her food industry career in Nashville before heading off to San Francisco to attend the California Culinary Academy’s Baking and Pastry Arts Program. Upon graduating in 2002, she worked in various restaurants, resorts and bakeries in the greater San Francisco area.  In August 2008, Claire moved to Paris, France, to learn the art of baking from some of the world’s best bakers, before moving back to Nashville and starting Dozen.
Other retailers have used pop-ups or stands at well-traveled markets to spread their brand exposure to a wider audience. Sarabeth’s Bakery in New York City operates inside the popular Chelsea Market in addition to offering its popular jams, cookies, brownies, croissants, breads and cakes at its restaurants, online and a growing number of international locations. 

In 1981, Sarabeth and husband Bill Levine opened a small retail store on the upper west side of Manhattan, starting out as a bakery and jam shop where customers could see the jams being cooked in a kettle and ladled into jars. The aroma of fresh baked muffins, pastries, cookies and cakes wafted across Amsterdam Avenue, luring customers into the tiny space to savor the goodies emerging fresh baked from her ovens. Sarabeth's restaurants are now serving savory meals in nine different locations, and Sarabeth's legendary fruit preserves are available in stores around the world.

Super Motivated

Once regarded as the industry’s prime competition for bakery dollars, the supermarket sector presents a new opportunity for retailers to showcase new and unique items.

Pretzel Baron, a sister company to Servatii Pastry Shop, offers its pretzels through supermarkets.

For instance, Pretzel Baron is a new extension of Cincinnati’s Servatii family, in which three generations of Master Bakers have put pretzels at the pinnacle of the baking community. Based in Cincinnati, Pretzel Baron is a sister company to Servatii Pastry Shop, which operates 14 locations throughout the greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky area. Now available at leading supermarket chain Kroger, Pretzel Baron Pretzels feature only unbleached flour with no preservatives and are trans fat free.

“The greatest opportunity for retailers getting into supermarkets is with unique frozen, thaw-and-sell items. The product has to be unique and easily distinguishable,” says Steve Percifield, author and consultant with Allied Brokers & Consulting, which specializes in marketing and communications programs for volume bakery-supplying organizations. “There are certain products that supermarkets cannot afford economically to do themselves. Getting the skilled labor that is necessary for certain bake-off or complex products is becoming increasingly difficult. If you, as a retailer, have got something truly unique with signature item quality, you may have a tiger.”

In order to penetrate the supermarket sector, bakeries need to understand the distribution channels and identify the chain’s decision makers to get a foot in the door. Packaging becomes a whole different ballgame, Percifield adds, because a retailer needs to become versed in UPC codes, multiple containers, master shippers, case dimensions and pallet counts. Few grocery warehouses are going to handle anything less than multiple pallets of product from one supplier. “Getting the distribution challenge down is a key,” Percifield says.

As one example of a success story, 5 Generation Bakers of Zelienople, PA has announced that—with the addition of Jewel-Osco—the Chicago-land mega chain, its Jenny Lee Cinnamon Swirl Breads are now available in nearly 3,000 retail outlets from New England to Missouri.

According to Scott Baker, president and founder of 5 GB, “We are excited to have our product in Chicago’s largest chain. Our product’s unique quality, which can only be produced in a labor-intensive setting, has been a part of my family’s baking tradition since right after the Civil War. Toasted and buttered, there’s just nothing better. And the product makes the best French toast and breakfast sandwiches imaginable.”

Jenny Lee Cinnamon Swirl Breads utilize a sweet dough formulation, a Korintje cinnamon swirl from end-to-end, are coated in cinnamon-sugar and are baked in old fashioned “crimp” pans providing their unique cylindrical shape.

“At Jewel,” Baker continues, “our product is represented by a partnering of Allied Brokers & Consulting and Impact Sales-Midwest. This combination provides the legs necessary to service Jewel’s 176 supermarkets.”

Unique Sweet Treets

In other areas of the country, Tariq Hanna, pastry chef at Sucré Sweet Boutiques and Confection Studio in New Orleans, has created the Macbubl, an almond macaron covered in double-cream shelf-stable ganache and enrobed in 65% single bean Venezuelan dark chocolate. Three years in the making, the project hit full stride in 2014 with the rollout of the Macbuble at Whole Foods Markets across the country. “It is something that is traditionally French, but flipped inside out.”

By summer 2014, the Sucré Confection Studio was producing about 75,000 units of the new Macbuble each month, “basically coming from three people,” Hanna explains. “The investment was minimal because we already had equipment. We had an enrobing machine, a chocolate melting machine and a Robot Coupe for making ganache. We did buy a cooling tunnel. I have a phenomenal crew.”

On the West Coast, Schwartz Brothers Bakery has partnered with Ralphs grocery store to offer the company’s products on store shelves at 242 Ralphs’ locations throughout southern California.

“From Mini Pink Frosted Cookies with just the perfect amount of sweet to organic bread and savory focaccia, Schwartz Brothers Bakery is well-known throughout the Pacific Northwest for quality baked goods, and we are proud to bring this culinary tradition to the Ralphs customers,” says Lindsey Schwartz, president and chief executive officer of Schwartz Brothers Restaurants.

As part of the partnership, Ralphs carries 27 products from the Schwartz Brothers Bakery line, ranging from savory bread to sweet desserts. Products include brioche buns, jalapeno focaccia, carrot zucchini bread, peanut butter swirl brownies, mini angel food cakes, frosted mini cookies and more.

Schwartz Brothers said it uses “fresh creamery butter” as the cornerstone of its products, and ingredients are locally-sourced when possible, including grains, berries, nuts and dairy from Northwest suppliers. The bakery offers a new line of certified organic bread and bagels, and all products are made without trans-fat, high-fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors and colors. Most products are certified kosher.

Schwartz Brothers Bakery was established in 1973 to serve the Schwartz Brothers’ family of restaurants with bread and house-made desserts. The bakery currently provides all of the baked goods for Chandler’s Crabhouse, Daniel’s Broiler, Spazzo Italian Grill & Wine Bar and Gretchen’s Shoebox Express.