SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Big Y Foods here has targeted rice as a destination department and vehicle to grow Center Store sales.
For the past two years, Big Y has been adding Rice of the World departments -- featuring over 235 stockkeeping units of rice merchandised in a 32-linear-foot space -- to all new and remodeled stores. The latest department opened last month in Big Y's newest store, in Newtown, Conn.
Anchoring the middle of the department are gravity-fed bulk bins where eight varieties of rice -- White Basmati, Brown Jasmine, imported Indian White Basmati, Brown Basmati, Arborio, gourmet quick-cook rice, White Jasmine and Sushi -- are offered for sale.
In addition to the supermarket-mainstay Uncle Ben's and Carolina rice brands, specialty rices -- including Vigo Arborio rice from Italy, Tilda Jasmine rice from the Orient and Tilda Basmati white rice from the Middle East -- are sold in the department.
"The rice is merchandised by region, such as Middle East, Asia, Caribbean and domestic," said Tom Yarrows, category manager.
"In our stores we practice category management and have included rice as a destination," Yarrows explained, noting that Rice of the World departments are now in 20 of Big Y's 41 stores and are being included in all new store locations and remodels.
"We view rice as a healthy food that will continue to grow in popularity as eating healthy becomes more prevalent. That is why it is a growing category at Big Y," Yarrows said. "Our sales have been great and the bulk rice sales have been up because more consumers have been cooking rice," he added.
Yarrows said a good thing about rice is that it appeals to just about everyone and helps build total store sales.
"Ethnicity plays a smaller role in rice sales than you may think. We are trying to appeal to our entire customer base, and rice is part of a larger meal. The customer has to shop other departments within the store to pick up the other components of the meal that would go along with the rice," he said.
The Rice of the World is merchandised in the same aisle as hot sauce and Mexican and Asian specialty foods. Ancillary items, such as rice steamers and sieves, are sold nearby.
"In addition, we feature recipes and special signage in the section," Yarrows said.
Yarrows said about half of the department sales are coming from flavored rices, including items from the Near East and Rice-A-Roni brands.
"The rice mixes are backed with ad support, and I think that helps add to the draw of the department," he said.