Evolution is forever calling on the past to look at ways to improve for the future, but in some areas of bakery and café retail design, what the more distant past offered is seemingly now a good enough solution.

Product display has evolved in the same way as mainstream fashion taking the existing idea, but improving on it to essentially evoke the feeling of the good old days. With the invasion of the big four supermarkets to retail parks and now in smaller high street locations, the need to be creative in product display is increasingly important in grabbing the attention of the next sale for the smaller, independent retailers.

The solution appears simple: open up the counter to remove physical barriers, such as glass display screening and general clutter, so that staff and product are as close to the customer as possible. It’s reassuring in a ’we’ve-got-nothing-to-hide’ way and it’s personal, with an opportunity to build relationships with customers. Traditional display solutions, such as cake stands or open rattan baskets, can now be seen on the serve-over counters in many of the high street coffee chains, which are trying to build on both the ’local’ and ’deli’ trends.

Increasingly food-educated and critical, consumers like to see what they are going to eat. They want to make their own decisions and they want to pick and choose their own muffin and a return to open display supports this. However, they will also want to know who made it, how long it has been sat on the rough block chopping board and, most importantly, what precautions have been taken to prevent the exposed muffin from being contaminated by sticky fingers and passing cold germs. It’s this balance between close-up product and reassuringly good hygiene that is the most difficult issue to overcome in this developing trend and one that food hygiene guidance fails to shed much light on.

The operational challenges of an open product display are a further issue to contend with. A cake stand with a lid won’t have a lid for long and the fresh product on display will only stay fresh for four hours at best, which means regular refreshing and potential increases in waste. Some stores have opted to work on the basis of customers picking from the front of the display, so there is a one-off, one-on refresh of product to maintain quality, but this needs to be well-managed to ensure a constantly fresh product and a continually happy regular customer.

The solution actually isn’t quite so simple. The back-fill, served display fridge does have a place within a store, but it shouldn’t be the sole display unit. There should be space on the counter to get closer to your customers and there should be fresh product on display, but keep it covered; a simple acetate sheet will do and, where possible, offer a well-covered or wrapped alternative for customers.