By Max Jenvey of Oxxygen Marketing Partnership, a strategic business accelerator specialising in bakery, foodservice and convenience retail

We all know that positively differentiating a business from the competition is a great way to gain an edge. But what is the best way to achieve it? You can make the obvious superficial changes to your shop, but what about your greatest asset your product range? Instead of adding cost by changing the appearance of your bakery, why not expand your range by selling more speciality breads?

Focusing on speciality breads and sandwiches delivers huge success to businesses such as Panera Bread Company in the US, achieving a year-on-year increase of 30%, and others are catching on. According to Mintel’s UK Bread & Baked Goods Jan ’11 report, there was a 28.8% increase in speciality bread volume sales and a 18.8% rise in value sales from 2008 to 2010. Have you noticed the variety of breads available in restaurants and the way people gravitate towards unique flavours? Either way, this is your opportunity to have fun, experiment with your baking and increase sales.

Creating new and unique breads gives you something to advertise, and, more importantly, sets you apart from the competition. People want options, and experiencing changes makes customers feel like they are involved in your product, especially when you ask for feedback. Try a speciality bread-of-the-week, every week and give a few free samples in exchange for honest opinions.

To become your customers’ local favourite bakery, introduce interesting flavours, such as exotic herbs, ethnic cheeses like paneer and Spanish manchego. Consider meats and make some stuffed breads or twisting with a mixture of ingredients, bacon, ham, pepperoni.

Remember, differentiating yourself means bringing people something they cannot find elsewhere or a mass-produced version at their local supermarket. Creativity and fun will set you apart.