Are we sure about pastries?

Are we sure about pastries?

Countertops are precious space. It’s a beautiful, effective point to merchandise a product. Close to the till, a great moment for a last minute impulse purchase. What we’ve chosen to do with that space, in pretty much every cafe, is sell pastries. Im not sure I agree that this is a good idea.

I like pastries. Rare as it is, a well made croissant is a thing of beauty. I think I’ve eaten three or four in my life. a The almond croissant, as someone who loves almonds, always seems like a good idea. Then, halfway through the sweet, soggy experience the regret kicks in. The pain au chocolat does its best to legitimise breakfast time chocolate, but I spend most of the time wondering where the faux-chocolate is hiding and I can’t think of a memorable one.

Every cafe sells pastries, as if there’s a line in the contract of every coffee shop lease ever written demanding they be available. We sell them because everybody sells them. Which is a pretty good place to start my short list of why I am skeptical of them:

  • Everybody sells them. You’ve chosen to sell a product and you’ve got no USP in the market. Price expectations are fixed, and fixed quite low, and there’s nothing you have that no one else has. Butter-laden french pastries go well with coffee, but they are not the only thing that goes well with coffee.
  • The margins aren’t that good. If you’re buying them in then you’re probably not making much money on them. You’re making less when you look at the wastage. Not much margin on a low priced product does not, in my book, earn it the best spot in the house for retailing and merchandising. Of course you can bake off premade ones in house but the margin is only a little better, there’s still wastage and there is now some added staff cost.
  • The people selling them often don’t love them that much. No one is excited to sell yet another pastry, and I think that reluctance is somewhat shared by the consumer. They’re a last resort, a replacement for a forgotten or skipped breakfast. Acceptable sustenance. We all know that they are so rarely excellent, yet we continue to sell them knowing they’re not that great.

So, what is the solution? Unsurprisingly, I don’t have a complete one. I don’t think we’ve really had a conversation about what else we could be doing. I’d suggest the following:

  • Evict them. I don’t think they pay their rent, and I don’t think moving them would dramatically impact sales. They don’t deserve the best spot in the whole cafe. Something more profitable does.
  • Start looking for alternative options. Imagine they were no longer for sale. What qualities would you look for in an add-on item, aside from a better margin? Fat and sugar, and not too much acidity, are about the only requirements when it comes to being friends with coffee. There are choices, explore them and then own the ones you choose.
  1. Places like Du Pain et Des Idées and Lune Croissant are excluded from this argument for being wonderful  (back)