NACS 2018

Convenience store shoppers want ‘sophisticated’ baked goods, says Prairie City Bakery’s president

By Douglas Yu contact

- Last updated on GMT

Prairie City debuted its latest soft frosted cookie Pinkalicious at the BACS Show. Pic: BAS
Prairie City debuted its latest soft frosted cookie Pinkalicious at the BACS Show. Pic: BAS
According to Bill Skeens, convenience store shoppers want baked goods that are similar to those served in artisanal bakeries and in-store bakeries, such as Danish and butter cakes.

He noted consumers are transitioning to more elevated flavor profiles, moving away from children’s treats like Twinkies. However, time is a precious commodity, so many shoppers turn to c-stores for a quick grab-and-go.

“They have a one-stop shop at c-stores, where they can get gas, coffee and donuts to start their morning,”​ he said.

Flash-frozen

Prairie City supplies a portfolio of 90 fully-baked frozen goods to food service, c-stores and in-store bakeries, including cinnamon rolls and muffins. Skeens added 80% of its business comes from c-stores.

For the convenience channel in particular, he said: “We have a one slogan, which is ‘wow’. If the product doesn’t make us say ‘wow,’ it won’t make our customers say ‘wow.’

“We try to satisfy the needs of all three customers: The consumer who wants a great product at a fair price; the store that is seeking a product that’s easy to sell; and the distributor who wants an item that’s easy to deliver and beneficial from a cost perspective.”

Prairie City flash-freezes its baked goods, which locks in the freshly-baked quality from production until the retailer takes them out for sale.

“The thawing process usually takes about an hour. Once out of the freezer and unwrapped, the shelf life is 24 hours for bulk goods. We also have some items that are individually packaged, which can last as long as 45 days,”​ said Skeens.

“So they are fresher than some other ‘fresh products’ that were made yesterday and delivered today, or made last night and delivered this morning.”

Challenges with customization

Nowadays, higher quality products are often associated with customization, so Prairie City provides in-store bakeries with personalized items, which gives them a better position when competing with peer products on the market.

However, the company only supplies ready-to-serve baked goods to c-stores, added Skeens.

“It’s hard for them to be creative with products at the store level. The cost of labor is rising and c-stores across the country are cutting their staff, which places pressure on those remaining to take care of other things, such as cleaning the floor. That’s why we only make finished goods for them,”​ added Skeens.

Lori Bull, a sales broker and former buyer of Prairie City, also told BakeryandSnacks it would be challenging for bakeries to pin down the cost if they allowed customized items in c-stores.

“When an employee adds ingredients to products, you are not going to have consistency in your portfolio,” s​he said.

“For example, if Susie uses two tablespoons of frosting for a donut and Bobby uses one, you will not get a consistent cost on the same product… and your flavor profiles are definitely not going to be consistent when there is a chain of stores.”

New product launch

Prairie City debuted its latest product for US c-stores at the recent NACS Show held in Las Vegas from October 7 to 10, 2018.

Pinkalicious is a soft frosted cookie covered with pink icing and colorful sprinkles on top.

Skeens said the product has received positive feedback and believes it will be a growth driver for the convenience channel.

“C-stores are a booming area for us, growing double-digit in sales every year for the past four to five years. We will further penetrate this channel next year,”​ he added.

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