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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Instore Bakery

John asks: When is an in-store bakery like a life-support machine?

This is a great example. Many large supermarkets have inauthentic bakeries at the back, with the following features.
  • They are always situated at the back of the store, where they produce the smell of baking bread. The air circulation is deliberately designed to send this smell to the front of the store. Shoppers are thus attracted to the back of the store, buying more stuff on the way. (You don't get quite the same smell in a real bakery, which prompts me to think that the supermarket smell may be chemically modified or enhanced.)
  • The machinery is simple to use and highly automated, with preprocessed ingredients, to avoid reliance on skilled bakers.
  • Bread is commoditized. Shoppers expect a complete range of breads, plain or fancy, white or brown, finest, organic, free trade, nut-free, wheat-free, kosher, diabetic, you name it.
When John first spoke to the baker in his local supermarket, the baker didn't know one or two things.
  1. What were John's exact requirements.
  2. What was the exact content of the oven.
As a result, the baker gave a true but unhelpful answer, and John was given false hopes of organic white bread. The store achieved its tactical objectives (John went to the back of the store twice) but what of its strategic objectives?

In the UK and elsewhere, the large supermarkets are taking an ever-larger share of the food market, and are invading many other retail domains. Doubtless bread is a life-support system - symbolically important as well as real - and the supermarkets would love us to visit them not just every week but every day, to satisfy our demand for "daily bread". Unconsciously programmed by the bakery smells we increasingly associate with a supermarket visit, we may start to think of the supermarket as a life-support system as well. This is a dangerous belief - because if we stop supporting the small shopkeeper, the belief may become true. To the extent that John has embedded the supermarket system into his life-support system, it has become his chosen technology for embreading his life.

John, you have three authentic responses to this situation.
  • Eat wholemeal bread. (It's better for you, anyway.)
  • Go to a real bakery.
  • Bake your own bread.
In Scimitar, we could draw a stakeholder map showing the power (low), proximity (high) and interest (questionable) of the baker, both in relation to the customer (tactics) and in relation to the company (strategy). Bread is a small purchase for most of us, but the same technique helps us to think about questions of trust in very large procurement situations.

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