Companion Bakery
One of Companion Bakery's top selling products at grocery is its French baguettes.

Take-and-bake takes off

One trend in grocery that’s starting to affect instore bakery, Mr. Allen said, is the adoption of a “component” model of meal preparation by people who may not have time to cook a whole meal from scratch, but who at least want to do some of the preparation themselves. In instore deli, it’s the shopper who buys a rotisserie chicken but makes a side or two at home to go with it. In instore bakery, it may be a twin bag baguette that you bake off at home for dinner.

“It goes with the semi-homemade mentality you’re seeing throughout grocery,” he said. “Bread is moving more and more in that direction.”

With applications like that in mind, Companion will soon install machinery that can create twin-bag and other take-and-bake packaging.

About 40% of Companion’s business is grocery, 60% food service. The top two sellers at grocery, by a clear margin, are French baguettes and pretzels, Mr. Allen said. They are followed by hearth and sandwich bread. In the frozen category, the mix is closer to 70/30 in favor of grocery. Whether a store buys frozen or par-baked depends on the store, its size and its mentality, Mr. Allen said.

“If they want to sell baguettes, maybe as a loss leader, for 99c or $1.49, they’re going to buy a 50c frozen, not a $1.50 par-bake,” he explained.

Companion Bakery
About 40% of Companion’s business is grocery.

About half of the grocery instore product Companion ships is fresh, half frozen, Mr. Allen said. Geography determines whether product is shipped fresh or frozen: everything that travels an hour or more outside the St. Louis metro area is frozen. And since St. Louis is a mature market, the main opportunity for growth in instore, Mr. Allen said, is in frozen. Companion partners on frozen distribution with US Foods, PFG Performance Food Group and Kuna Foodservice. 

Companion’s $5 million, 41,000-square-foot, two-year-old facility is modeled on a manufactory that baker Lionel Poilane created in suburban Paris in 1983. The open floor plan of Companion is designed so that wherever workers are, they can not only see the outdoors but see grass. A glass wall is all that separates bakery from retail cafe — something that not only customers, but also workers like, Mr. Allen said. Employees love to see people enjoying the things they make, he said.

“The open kitchen concept works both ways,” he said.

Two years after the move, Mr. Allen is happy with his decision to move, especially when he thinks about Companion’s former home, of which he notes drily, “Other than having one bathroom and no windows, it was a great place to work.”