KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The case is closed on the Supreme Court food court concept at Ball's Super Food Stores here.
The concept, which was launched in a Ball's Price Chopper unit in March 1992, was one of the first programs to bunch together big names in fast food in a supermarket setting as a way to play into increasing demand for takeout food.
Two courts were ultimately built, the Price Chopper court and one in a store operated by Cleveland-based Riser Foods. Riser pulled out its Supreme Court because of poor performance and replaced it with its own food-service programs.
David Gryszowka, executive director of sales and marketing for Ball's, said the company has not renewed its one-year lease agreement with Philadelphia-based ARA Services, the contract feeding company that took over the operation of the court and acquired the name.
"Using our own concepts, we'll be able to control our own destiny better," Gryszowka told SN. The lease with ARA ended at the end of July. Officials at ARA could not be reached for comment.
Gryszowka said the company has not yet decided all the details of the change in the food court.
The physical setup of the food court will remain the same, with only cosmetic changes such as name changes on the awnings of the kiosks in the court, Gryszowka said.
One of the original brand-name programs in the court, Godfather's Pizza, will remain. So will Heartland Wingers, a chicken program Ball's created that has been part of the lineup since the beginning.
A new concept eyed for the food court is a barbecue program, which will use product from the retailer's in-store smokehouse. "We'll heat it to eat in the store or to take home and eat," Gryszowka said. A grill, which was part of the line-up for a time before ARA took over the operation of the Supreme Court, will probably be reinstated. "We were happy with the grill at breakfast," Gryszowka said. "They were all plus sales."
Gryszowka said the jury is still out on whether food courts, especially those with branding, are a viable concept for supermarkets. Asked if he had any advice for the many retailers looking to test food courts in their stores, he said research is key.
"Unless you're willing to make some experiments, go to the retailer that's got one going and can shout that they have a really successful operation," he said. "I haven't found one yet."
Ira Blumenthal, an Atlanta-based food service industry consultant who co-created the Supreme Court concept with consultant Victor Cascio, said he believes supermarkets should not be pursuing food courts as if their food store were a restaurant.
"If every table and chair in every supermarket food court disappeared Monday, it would be okay," he said, adding that he intended the concept to focus on take-out food.