HOUSTON -- While super-markets across the United States experiment with different items in their food courts, Kroger Co., Cincinnati, has added something in a store here that most probably haven't tried yet -- cigars.
The division incorporated a Tinder Box Mini Store -- which sells cigars, as well as espresso and cappuccino by the cup and gourmet coffees by the package -- in its most recently opened signature-format store here.
The format includes a food court, featuring PepsiCo's Taco Bell Express and KFC Express and a Sara Lee made-to-order sandwich station, as well as a pizza program and other hot foods. Seating at tables and chairs accommodates at least 50 people.
The cigars, however, are strictly take-out items. Smoking is not permitted in the store, said a Kroger source at store level. The source also told SN that the Tinder Box name, which is associated with upscale cigars and, to a lesser extent, gourmet coffee, is definitely a draw.
"I know we get some first-time customers because of Tinder Box. They come in initially to buy cigars, or maybe coffee, and then come back to buy other items," he said.
Tinderbox displays 12 to 15 varieties of premium cigars, but will order others for customers from a roster of 53 products. Prices of single cigars range from $1.50 to $7.50. A box of cigars could ring up $100 or more.
The arrangement between the Kroger store and Bala Cynwyd, Pa.-based Tinder Box International is a straight lease, not tied to a percentage of sales or profits.
While the freshly brewed, trendy coffees served from Tinder Box's espresso cart add ambience and convenience for supermarket customers, the high-ring cigars make it particularly worthwhile for Tinder Box to rent space in the store, a local observer told SN. The coffee cart and display of cigars in humidity-controlled cases are positioned at the entry to the food court, which is situated at the front right of the store.
Neither officials at Kroger's corporate offices in Cincinnati nor at the Houston division office could be reached for comment. Gary Blumenthal, Tinder Box International's president, said he's happy with sales at the Kroger site in Houston. Blumenthal declined to reveal the percentage of sales there that are generated by cigars. He did say, however, that Tinder Box International, which has units located in other supermarkets, hospital lobbies, airports, and near colleges, rings up half its total sales volume with cigars alone. The other half is generated by coffee -- fresh brewed and in packages and gift baskets.
The Kroger source said there are no plans at this time to add a Tinder Box unit to other stores in the Houston division.