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“With pandemic, we had to revisit our expansion plans”
Monday, 26 October, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Magnolia Bakery started their first ever outlet in 1996 on a quiet street corner in the heart of New York City’s West Village with their classic American baked goods, cookies, brownies and bars, corporate gift packages, vintage decor and warm, inviting atmosphere. They expanded their bakery into different locations worldwide.
In 2019, the brand started its first-ever franchise outlet in Bangalore, Nischay Jayeshankar, partner, Spago Foods, and co-founder, Magnolia Bakery India, in an email interaction with Vijetha Iyer, discusses the challenges while launching the brand in India, the kind of sales they have in New York and how different it is in India, plans in India to develop the brand and more. Excerpts:

How is your brand’s presence in New York? How different is it in India?
Ours is an iconic brand, which my wife and I have loved for a really long time. It is known for its wide variety of freshly baked high quality desserts. We have been sure to keep all the favourite elements of New York bakeries the same in Bangalore. We make sure to bake fresh in small batches every day. At any given time, we make sure there are at least 40 different desserts for our customers to choose from. We have also introduced some products that are unique to India that showcase the local ingredients or traditions. Recently, we launched an entire range of mango products that was curated especially for our market - we had a vanilla cheesecake that was topped with a fresh mango topping that our customers absolutely loved. For Christmas, we also launched our versions of a plum cake that again, developed just for India. Lastly, we created eggless versions of some of our most beloved products like the red velvet cake and classic cupcakes.

How did you go about the franchise?
When my wife Zonu Reddy and I found out about the brand’s vision of opening a branch in the Indian market, we knew instantly that we wanted to give it a shot. After various discussions on our vision and goals, we realised that there was a lot of synergy and we would be great partners. After the initial discussion stage, it took about 10 months for the store to go live.

Are there any challenges which you faced while launching this brand in India?
Our bakery is known for its standards when it comes to quality. Our goal was to source as many good quality local ingredients as possible to match these standards. We were able to identify a good blend of local and imported ingredients with the help of our bakery’s corporate chef from the US. The next challenge was to build and train a team of talented pastry chefs according to our bakery standards.

How is the brand different from that of competitors?
Our bakery prides itself in using fresh and high quality ingredients. Something that really sets us apart is that we frown upon using preservatives to lengthen the shelf life of our products. We bake fresh smaller batches of products every day. One thing that sets us apart is that we only do American desserts. Most of our competitors focus on French desserts and many of our products are exclusive.

How is the bakery industry affected in this pandemic?
A trend that has become apparent during the pandemic is that our customers are very visual buyers - they like to come into the store, smell the aroma of the baked goods, see all the scrumptious desserts on display and interact with the employees, before buying our products. We have seen a 40% drop in our sales since the lockdown and we attribute this slowdown in sales to customers being wary of coming into the stores. We also noticed that people tend to purchase more products but at a less frequent pace. However, we saw a rise in sales when the first Unlock was initiated. We were pleasantly surprised to see customers line up at the door when we reopened the store for takeaway orders. Post reopening the bakery, delivery orders only consist of 20% of our sales.

What kinds of sales are seen in New York? How different are they in India?
The biggest differences we see are the product mix that customers prefer in each market. In New York, the best sellers are the cupcakes and the banana pudding. Whereas in India, we noticed that the customers love our refrigerator products like cheesecakes and tress leches.

Are the products the same as there in New York or different?
A lot of the products are the same as the New York branch. However, we want to champion local ingredients so we have a range of desserts like mango-based products that cater to the Indian audiences. We also have eggless products for India. We are also one of the few brand outlets that has ice cream on the menu such as ice cream sandwich and sundaes.

What is the signature dish in your bakery?
We are famous for our banana pudding and our cupcakes. Every month we release a specialty flavour of our banana pudding - this month it is Java Chip. We also have a cupcake calendar that we follow each week where we showcase our seasonal cupcakes. Our customers in India seem to really like our cheesecakes and our Tress Leches has quickly become a must try.

Are your bakery items available on any food delivery platforms?
Yes. One can order our products through delivery platforms like Dunzo and Swiggy Genie.

What are your plans in India after looking at this pandemic?
Our bakery has left no stone unturned when it comes to ensuring a safe and pleasurable dining experience for its customers. With our monthly specials, cupcakes of the week, and take away menu, customers will always have a wide range of options of goodies that our brand will continue to offer. While the situation around us might be bleak, we aim to put a smile on our patrons' faces in all possible ways.

What are the precautions taken while delivering food during this pandemic?
All the delivery materials and ingredients are sanitised thoroughly before use. Along with temperature checks of the staff, temperature of delivery agents is also being noted down.

How are you ensuring safety of your employees?
We want to ensure the best dining in experience for our customers and are following all precautionary measures to ensure social distancing and customer and employee safety.

We have installed two Airsteril Safety systems in the premises. This is a product globally known to eliminate most airborne and surface viruses and bacteria. We have in place a UV based currency disinfector at the billing counter to ensure safe currency transactions. The counter’s surface is also wiped with disinfectant every hour. Customers are required to follow the mandated health regulations of wearing masks, sanitising their hands and maintaining social distancing while inside the premises. The temperature of staff is checked twice a day, along with temperature checks for delivery agents and customers when they arrive at the store. To ensure space for social distancing, we have plans on restricting the number of people that enter the store during peak hours and reduced the number of tables available for dine in. Each table and chair is thoroughly sanitised once the customers are done with dining. Staffs are provided with a UV steriliser box for sanitising their personal items.

How much time do you think it would take to fully recover from the impact of the lockdown and the pandemic?
We can’t really say at the moment about how long it might take for things to go back to completely too how it was. But here, our staffs are working hard to ensure a safe and happy dining experience in what might be considered “The new normal.”

What are your plans with respect to expansion, diversification, and collaboration and so on?
At the moment, we aim to bring our bakery across the country. With the current situation of the pandemic, we have had to revisit our expansion plans. We remain confident in the fact that online channels can only supplement our sales but our main channel will always be physical outlets.
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