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Delibake is star attraction at Tom Thumb.

Business starts off with a bang every morning at the delibake department in the big 55,000 sq. ft. Tom Thumb-page in Garland, Texas. At 6 a.m., customers start trooping in for breakfast. The attraction is the big $1.89 meal of two eggs, sausage or bacon and great homemade biscuits. An a la carte menu offers fresh juices, hash brown potatoes, biscuits and gravy and other basics for a hearty Texas breakfast. An average of 70 start their morning at Tom Thumb each day--some ordering breakfast-to-go but many taking a more leisurely approach by eating in the decorative dining area adjacent to the delibake department.

Breakfast is available until 10 a.m. and then the hot table is changed for the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. serving of lunch. The luncheon menu offers a different $1.99 special meal for each day of the week--from beef tacos, sauce, beans and rice on Monday to catfish dinner, pinto beans, slaw, hushpuppies and a free 12-ounce drink on Friday.

All of that hot food activity, plus the all-day availability of buckets of fried chicken, barbecued meats and sandwiches is a good indication of what an active kitchen Tom Thumb operates in this prototype combination store. But that's only a sampling of this delibake department's productivity.

Located at the front of the store in the main flow of entering traffic, the department is designed to surround the shopper with displayed deli, cheese and bakery products, special merchandising, and the enticing aroma of the bakery. With a combination like that, a customer has to be in a trance not to respond to the department's special appeal. Graphics are not flashy but accomplish the assignment of effectively identifying the area and adding a touch of warming color. The real emphasis in the Tom Thumb delibake is on the presentation of the product.

As one employee said, "After all, it's not the decorations that we are trying to sell!"

As soon as shoppers enter the area, they are confronted by a midaisle display of hot foods. On the day of Progressive Grocer's visit, barbecued chickens were the point-of-interest in the display unit--selling as fast as the kitchen could produce them.

Beyond the hot-food end of the department, a 52-foot expanse of cases display deli and bakery products. Colorful day-glo signs form a border along the top of the deli refrigerators, offering price and identification of displayed items.

All cheese and meats in the service section of the deli are sliced on order only. "No matter how well meats and cheese move, if you slice them and they lie there any time at all, they're going to lose freshness and appeal," says Delibake Manager, Joe Martin. "We want to give full quality and quantity too. For example, we sell only full-sized slices of luncheon meat...stopping well before the slice becomes smaller at the end. There are plenty of ways that we can use the ends in the kitchen profitably, so why disappoint the customer! We don't try to sell any stale merchandise either. You'll never see any day-old bakery products here! It would only hurt our image."

Sanitation and efficiency are strong points in the Tom Thumb operation, too. All personnel handling product always wear disposable plastic gloves. "Customers notice this," says Martin, "One time one of our girls forgot the glove, and I had an immediate complaint from a customer." To make the slicing process more efficient, a small scale is positioned next to the slicing machines. "That way there's not a lot of running back and forth to get the amount of product that the customer wants," he points out. Final weight and price of the order is determined on the counter scale in the customer's view.

The service display of cheese is augmented by a large self-service section across the aisle. Highlighted by a stained-wood canopy and an array of flags, the department offers over 175 varieties of cheese--all arranged by national origin. Wooden barrels display related items along the front of the case.

The self-service area, manned during most of the day, is the scene of frequent sampling demonstrations. An ample-sized work area permits the slicing and wrapping of cheese and the construction of party trays in full view of the customer. refrigerated cases below the work counter provide convenient storage space.

The bakery, a combination of bakeoff and scratch, is located next to the deli. Its 24-feet of display cases feature a full assortment of cakes, pies and cookies. A large display of ready-to-go decorated cakes is maintained but custom-decorated cakes are available on order. All decorating is performed in a glassed-in booth at the end of the bakery display cases. Twenty-five varieties of bread are offered.

Martin is a firm believer in good packaging. "It can really affect the sales of a product," he says. "Take the donuts for example. Until recently we always packaged them bulk-style in plastic bags. Then we got these molded plastic containers that hold each donut in a separate slot. As soon as we put them out, sales went up. We're now moving six times the amount we used to."

Martin also felt that packaging used for the delivery of party trays could be improved. "We needed a package that not only was strong, but that also showed off the tray and clearly identified it as being from Tom Thumb," he said. "If people at parties like the trays, and can see where it came from, that can mean extra business." The result of his ideas was a new Tom Thumb party tray container with a round cutout in the top that fits snugly over the tray's plastic cover--opening up a full view of the tray. Strong identifying graphics were designed for the container and a Tom Thumb seal was designed for the center of the plastic cover.

Party trays are big business at Tom Thumb. During the holidays, extra personnel have to be hired to keep up with orders. An average of 80 to 100 a day are sold the week before Christmas. Preparing full holiday dinners is another specialty. During Thanksgiving, 157 turkey dinners were sold at prices up to $32.95.

Martin has 17 part-time and 7 full-time employees on his delibake crew. All training is done on the job and the result is a group that Martin is proud of. "Tom Thumb really cares about their employees and is interested in their future," he said. "We have a young high school student in our bakery that's shown a real talent for pastry and cake decoration. The company has learned that he's interested in pursuing this work as a career, so they're offering to help him to go to a culinary school to learn the trade. When a company has that kind of attitude it can't help but make people want to do a good job."
COPYRIGHT 1984 Stagnito Media
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Jun 1, 1984
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