Costco Helps Scale an Iconic Bakery With Big Ambitions

May 23, 2017

In the food world there’s a perception that high quality and high quantity food can’t co-exist.

An iconic San Francisco bakery wants to prove that theory wrong.

La Boulangerie, which has six locations in the Bay area, is launching its first line of goods in a dozen Costco (cost) stores in Northern California today with plans to expand to others after the initial rollout. The company is also in talks with several other major retailers, it says.

"The launch of three packaged brioche items and croissant buns in Costco is part of the bakery’s mission of doing “high-quality baked goods at scale,” said La Boulangerie partner Nicolas Bernadi.

In addition to its national ambitions in the grocery aisle, the company has plans to continue to open new locations. Bernadi says he doesn't see why they can’t have as many stores as Panera at some point. “We know how to scale delicious food,” he says. Having physical bakeries where they can test and try out products for grocery stores gives them a unique model, Bernadi says.

Bernadi and the bakery’s founder and owner Pascal Rigo are experts in producing high-quality food products at mass by blending science and the culinary arts. In 2013 they sold the then-named La Boulange to Starbucks (sbux) and worked on improving the coffee behemoth's food program. They then both moved to meal delivery company Munchery. About a year and a half ago, they bought the bakeries back from Starbucks, renaming them La Boulangerie (which is now completely separate from the La Boulange brand in Starbucks).

They use organic, non-GMO ingredients, no artificial preservatives, and cage-free eggs—all while trying to keep costs down. "We don't want to be a luxurious brand that people cannot afford," Bernadi says. Using ingredients like butter flavoring rather than real butter and chemicals that make bread poof up actually makes products more expensive, he explains. But you have to have the skills and R&D to make goods without them. Croissants, which have 21 layers of butter, are "one of the most technical products ever," he says.

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