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Frozen baked goods: nobody does it like Sara Lee.

Long before "Quality" was a business buzzword, it was the main ingredient in Charles Lubin's recipe for success. The man who created Sara Lee Bakery in 1949 had a simple philosophy: If you offer a top quality product, consumers will buy it, even at a premium price. Charlie's commitment to being "the best and distinguished above the rest" became the company credo that helped build a local bakery into an international industry force, and in the process created a new food category--frozen baked goods--and one of the world's most famous brands--Sara Lee.

Persistence Pays Off

Charlie's success story was one of hard work, persistence and determination. He owned bakeries in Chicago for 15 years before he began selling his line of top-quality bakery products fresh to area supermarkets and restaurants. His philosophy recalled his experience as a young baker's assistant, when he noticed that the top selling products were those that tasted best and had the most tempting aroma and appearance. His idea of using only the best ingredients and charging higher prices was unique in his industry where many people felt consumers would not pay a high price, even for the finest baked goods.

While other companies focused on keeping prices low, Charlie put product quality first, creating the best tasting baked goods possible regardless of cost. Instead of the vegetable shortening, powdered milk and dried eggs used by his competitors, he used fresh milk, pure butter and real eggs in his product. Each cheesecake used nearly a pound of top quality cream cheese. Initially he met retail resistance to his pricing. But Charlie persisted, personally sampling his cheesecakes and all-butter coffee cakes in stores where his competition sold these cakes for about half his price. His instincts were right-- contrary to industry opinion, the products caught on with consumers and Sara Lee Bakery was off and growing.

Charlie needed a name for his popular new cakes. He was delighted when his wife, Tillie, suggested the name of their young daughter, Sara Lee. "It was perfect," Charlie later stated. It's easy to pronounce and easy to remember. The name caught on and soon became the new company name.

Product/Packaging Innovation

Charlie's tireless quest for "a better way" led Sara Lee Bakery to many innovations in preparing, packaging and marketing its products. One of the first ideas to distinguish Sara Lee products was a whole new approach to packaging-the aluminum baking pan. In the early 1950s, most cakes were sold in cardboard boxes, which offered limited protection from damage and did little to extend shelf life. Although Sara Lee products lasted longer than their competitors, because of the high quality ingredients, Charlie wasn't satisfied. He sought a package he could bake in, cover and sell in, thus preserving the products' flavor and shelf life. Sara Lee Bakery became the first bakery in the food industry to package its products in aluminum foil pans with laminated covers. The original cheesecake and coffee cake products as well as chocolate cake, pound cakes and many other Sara Lee baked goods were offered in the new pans, which are still used for most products today. "Charlie Lubin insisted upon quality above all else, and instilled in each Sara Lee employee a desire for perfection that remains with us today," says Paul Lustig, president of Sara Lee Bakery. "He was as warm and caring about our people as he was about making the best products possible, and his enthusiasm for always doing something better is a credo we still keep."

In 1953, four years after creating Sara Lee Bakery, Charlie saw another opportunity for innovation. A Texas food distributor, who had tasted Sara Lee cheesecake while at a Chicago convention, called to order cakes for sale there. At first Charlie refused the order because the fresh cakes could not be shipped in time to retain their high quality. At the customer's insistence, he agreed to freeze the fresh cakes to preserve their quality during shipping; as a consequence, he saw how he could sell products nationally.

With the discovery that it could capture and maintain baked goods' peak freshness and flavor, thus allowing for mass distribution, freezing became Sara Lee Bakery's new focus. The company grew from marketing its products from a 200-mile radius of Chicago to supplying supermarkets and restaurants nationwide. Sara Lee products were promoted as "fresher than fresh," noting that even homemade baked goods couldn't compare to those frozen within minutes of baking.

Sales volume exploded from $400,000 in 1951 to over $15 million in 1958. To handle the demand, $4 million automated bakery was completed in Chicago in 1959 and in two years it was operating to capacity.

Fresh or Frozen?

Sara Lee Bakery needed to build a new facility and faced a turning point. Should they concentrate on fresh products sold in the bakery section where most consumers shopped for baked goods, thus maintaining their current routing, distribution and marketing systems? Or, should they risk taking a new direction--frozen baked goods--which would require all new distribution and marketing for a section of the store where fewer consumers currently shopped?

The difficult decision was put to a rather unusual vote. Sara Lee Bakery's management team met to discuss the company's direction and, at the coffee break, were asked to taste two Sara Lee Coffee Cakes, "A" and "B". Everyone agreed that cake "B" tasted better, then learned that it had been baked the week before and kept frozen until it was served. Cake "A" had been baked the previous day, but had not been frozen. The decision was made unanimously to go completely frozen. By 1962 all Sara Lee products were frozen and the company's highly successful route distribution was changed to a retail broker network to accommodate the frozen products.

Over the years, as the frozen baked goods category has grown, Sara Lee Bakery continued to create new products to meet consumer needs. "There is great opportunity in the frozen bakery business," says Dave Bryan, senior vice president of the Retail Division. "We will continue to pursue and create new products that fulfill consumers' needs, using the top quality ingredients Sara Lee is famous for."

Marketing Savvy

Charlie knew that even the best quality baked goods wouldn't sell themselves, and he invested heavily in promoting Sara Lee products. Advertising was instrumental in building the Sara Lee product name and helping to distinguish it above the competition. Newspaper advertising supported products in local markets and, as distribution expanded, national advertising reinforced the quality message. Over the years, Sara Lee advertising included one of the most memorable slogans in history, "Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee." And Sara Lee Bakery was among the first companies to make use of valuable celebrity endorsements--with such leading performers as Arthur Godfrey, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson.

A Word from Our Sponsors

As a product sponsor in the early days of commercial radio and television, Sara Lee quickly became a household word. Even before the company entered national distribution, its products were advertised on gourmet cooking shows in Chicago. "Creative Cookery,"a local show hosted by gourmet Frances Pope, included personal endorsements of Sara Lee products. As distribution expanded to other major midwest markets, Sara Lee Bakery increased its advertising and worked with regional TV personalities on top-rated women's shows to talk about Sara Lee products. Once its products were distributed throughout most of the country, Sara Lee Bakery purchased commercial time on top-rated programs such as the "Arthur Godfrey Show" on CBS radio network. Point-of-sale display materials, with Godfrey's picture, was used to help introduce the product. Retail buyers might not have heard of Sara Lee, but they knew that Godfrey only advertised high-quality products and connecting him with Sara Lee reaped great benefits for the company.

Advertising centered around quality themes, like "They're All Better Because They're All Butter." Sara Lee Bakery sponsored national election results on ABC-TV, the Captain Kangaroo show, The Bing Crosby-Rosemary Clooney Shows on CBS radio and top-rated TV specials such as "The Carnegie Hall Salute to Jack Benny."

Word-of-mouth and celebrity endorsements came through sponsorship of shows like The Tonight Show, The Today Show and The Dean Martin Show. During one segment of the Jack Paar Show, the host explained to guests that his wife felt Sara Lee was the best product they advertised. Another evening on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show, singer Kaye Ballard walked on stage and belted out a hilarious, unsolicited tribute to her favorite lady in the Midwest--Sara Lee.

A bite out of the Big Apple

Innovations didn't stop with Sara Lee products, as exemplified by the brand's introduction into New York City. Full-page advertisements ran in 24 newspapers for four months. Saturation schedules on New York radio and TV blitzed consumers with the Sara Lee name. The introduction created a sales momentum fed by word-of-mouth advertising--everyone was talking about Sara Lee. Once New Yorkers tasted Sara Lee products, the city soon became the company's largest market.

International Markets

Sara Lee Bakery began "exporting" its quality product when Sara Lee Canada, its first international operation, opened in 1963 in Bramalea, Ontario, outside Toronto. ln the 1970s, they added plants in England and Australia to serve the European and Pacific markets, respectively. Today, the company sells its frozen baked goods in 40 countries around the world.

Sara Lee Marketing Today

"The future promises to be bright for America's most popular frozen baked goods," says Lustig. Sara Lee Bakery is the nation's largest producer of fruit pies and offers more than 200 products to consumers and food-service operations around the world. Yet its worldwide expansion has not changed the fundamental emphasis on product innovations and quality. The Sara Lee Bakery Vision Statement reads, "We will always put our customers first by providing superior customer service and products that are best and distinguished above the rest. Quality and service will be the cornerstone of our company." This Vision Statement is posted in every Sara Lee Bakery office and is part of the corporate culture. "Our products have been successful because of an uncompromising emphasis on quality," Lustig says. "In Charlie Lubin's time, and today, our original cheesecakes, all butter pound cakes and coffee cakes are the best products we can make. We've been satisfying customers with this philosophy for more than 40 years. It's worked well for us in the past and we'll continue to follow Charlie Lubin's lead into the years ahead.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Frozen Food Digest, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sara Lee Bakery Co.
Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Previous Article:Lowfat/low-cholesterol products.
Next Article:About eggs.

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