KINGSTON, Mass. -- Victory Super Markets, at its flagship fresh-format store here, showed off its merchandising know-how for the second time to a team of European supermarket executives and will host another such team this month.
The visiting executives from Delhaize, the Brussels, Belgium-based company that owns Food Lion, Salisbury, S.C., were hosted in this country by RL & Associates, a Rochester, N.Y., consulting firm. Consultants Jim Riesenburger and Mark Leenhouts, partners in the company, are working with both Leominster, Mass.-based Victory and with Delhaize on their evolving fresh-food and meals programs.
The six-member Belgian team included store managers and managers of fresh-foods departments at Delhaize. The idea is to give the executives maximum exposure to the American way of selling fresh foods before Delhaize opens its third fresh-format store this fall, said RL's Riesenburger. The consulting firm, which regularly organizes tours of retail facilities here and in Europe, also took the Delhaize executives to stand-out retail stores in New York City. At Victory's store here, the group got hands-on experience in operating a food court and in merchandising all fresh-food categories.
"They were particularly interested in our Caesar-salad stations and in the way we merchandise sandwiches, and also the stir-fry program," said Rocco Carlino, food-court manager at the Victory store.
The Delhaize team, working shoulder to shoulder with Victory's food-court staffers, had ample opportunity to get all their questions answered either by the staff, the management or by Riesenburger or Leenhouts, who were on-site during the visit, Carlino said.
"[The visitors] were surprised at the amount of fresh food we prepare in the store and sell here everyday and they jumped right in and helped with production. They were actually making panini sandwiches and chopping peppers and other vegetables for salads," he added.
Carlino said some of the questions were about sourcing equipment and kitchenware necessary to do the job quickly and efficiently.
"Some of the equipment we use, they said, they can't get in Belgium. So we told them where they could buy it here," he said.
For example, a counter-top tomato slicer impressed the foreign retailers as a great timesaver: the store associate just slides a tomato through it and sharp blades cut slices of identical thickness, in one step.
Delhaize's decision to open a third fresh-format store this fall is based on the success of the first two, one of which opened this spring, the other last spring, said Riesenburger.
"They're putting the new format in different quadrants of the country to make sure it will work everywhere, and the most recent is doing phenomenally well. It's in a rural, but upmarket, area," he said.
The first was in a mostly residential area and the third will be situated in an area that's part residential, commercial and industrial. Delhaize plans to unveil its fresh format at two additional stores next year, Riesenburger said. The new formats are a particularly radical change for Delhaize, which operates more than 400 units in Belgium and has 34% of the market share there.
"You have to understand that previously their stores were 100% self-service," Riesenburger said.
At each newly unveiled fresh-format store, Delhaize is adding more elements that add theater to its fresh-food departments, Riesenburger said. For example, at the first, the company anchored its fresh-foods aisle with a cappuccino bar. In the second, it put in a cappuccino bar and also added hot rotisserie chickens. The third will feature more elements that will add to the action, Riesenburger said.
The key to adequate sales and profitability is balancing outsourced prepacked products with different areas of service and theater and limiting action to certain times of the day, he added. Victory's Caesar-salad stations, which are staffed only during peak meal periods, are a case in point. So is a new element that Victory added a few months ago. It's a recipe-of-the-week demo station up front that includes a refrigerated case displaying all the ingredients, including the meat and vegetables already packaged up. The aim is to make it easy for the customer to pick up all that's needed at one spot.
The demo station is staffed three hours a day on weekdays and six hours a day on weekends.
"There are a number of ways for companies that have sufficient commitment to make their [meals] programs profitable, and to make them a draw," said Riesenburger.
But it's necessary to have a business plan spelling everything out, and then allow sufficient time for programs to blossom, he said.
Victory Super Markets, which launched its Market Square fresh format three years ago, now has the format in three stores and will put in in all new and remodeled units, Riesenburger said.