WOODBRIDGE, N.J. -- Pathmark Stores here has made a move into upscale, chilled entrees by bringing in a chef and an extensive menu of freshly prepared items at one of its units in a New York City suburb.
The chef and the large repertoire of entrees and side dishes -- numbering 40 on a daily basis -- are firsts for the chain. They were installed at a remodeled unit in Greenvale, on Long Island, where the deli and food-service department has been expanded by 25%, said company officials.
"We're trying to appeal to dual-income families who are in a hurry, to offer them an alternative format to the eat-in and take-out establishments in the market area," said Stan Sorkin, senior vice president of public affairs for Pathmark, which operates approximately 145 stores in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
The chain is apparently positioning the new chef-prepared program against competition from the food-service industry.
Sorkin mentioned Boston Market as one type of establishment the chain is now going head-to-head with when it comes to ready-to-eat food. He also said there are a lot of upscale restaurants in the neighborhood that could represent competition, too. He said that the Greenvale store is situated in an upper-income area.
The new menu, created by new head chef Nick Ruman, features entrees with emphasis on chicken and pasta, said Sorkin. "That's because of their universal
appeal," he added.
The prepared entrees and sides at the store are served up by the pound at the deli counter from a chilled service case. They are not offered in self-service form, nor are they available hot.
Sorkin would not say whether the program would be rolled out to other Pathmark stores, or whether the Greenvale store would supply other units with the products in the near future.
"It's really too early to evaluate [the chef-prepared entree program] and I wouldn't comment on that," he said.
The program was first introduced in August when the remodeled store was completed. The chain called attention to the freshly prepared products last month with a full page in its in-store circular. The ad featured photographs of Ruman and of the deli service case with platters mounded high with fresh products.
The headline read, "Pathmark of Greenvale Chef's Creations." This blurb followed: "A la carte chef's creations from our on-premises professional chef of culinary arts. From the deli department." Two items featured in the ad were Chef's Creation sesame noodles, featured for "half price" at $1.99 a pound, and Chef's Creation eggplant Florentine, at $2.99 a pound.
The ad also called attention to the Greenvale store's catering capabilities. It said, "Call or visit the Greenvale Pathmark deli department and let our experienced staff help make your occasion perfect!" Late last month, sesame noodles and penne with fresh tomato and basil sauce, both at $3.99 a pound, were selling briskly. The store manager, Ralph Cerbone, told SN that those two entrees made the best-seller list early and stayed there.
The most recent menu addition -- chicken enchiladas, $4.99 a pound -- also made the list practically overnight when introduced earlier this month, he said. While some items are made on a rotating basis, a handful of the strongest sellers are offered every day.
"Once we saw what sold best, we wanted to be sure customers weren't disappointed by not finding their favorites when they come back," Cerbone said. The "everyday" list includes black bean salad, $2.99 a pound; turkey loaf with cranberry chutney, $5.99; stuffed roast turkey breast, $6.99; baked chicken rollatini, $6.99, and meatballs, $3.99.
Roasted yam wedges, at $2.49 a pound, are the most popular side, head chef Alan Waldron said.
The entrees and sides are displayed in a 20-foot European style case with no risers. They are presented in large, black dishes of various shapes -- round, oval, square. Customer acceptance of prepared foods has been even better than expected. "People buy a quarter-pound of an item and they're back the next day for 2 pounds of it," Cerbone said.
"One customer said she's not cooking at all anymore. Every weekend, she orders pounds and pounds of food," said a deli staffer.
The prepared foods case and an adjacent deli case with a limited selection of slicing meats and cheeses are against the back wall. So are the open-prep service meat department and service seafood departments.
When the 45,000-square-foot store was remodeled it was not expanded, but more space was carved out for fresh foods. For example, imported cheeses were pulled out of line in the deli case and put in a 16-foot island that's set parallel to the prepared foods case, creating a wide aisle between it and the cases on the back wall.
Space was made for the cheese island and a kosher products island by slightly shortening four grocery aisles. To accomplish the shortening, facings of some slower-moving grocery items were cut back.