NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- Fairway Foods here is testing a new line of fresh, prepared entrees in four stores with hopes of a rollout to some 200 corporately owned and independent units it services.
Prices for the new seven-item line, called Chef's Promise, range from $3.99 to $5.99 for the single-serve homestyle meals, packaged in microwavable containers, according to Jason Herfel, senior deli specialist.
Meanwhile, the company is also developing a higher quality, restaurant-type line of fresh, prepared entrees with an expected introduction sometime this spring.
"We've been doing some experimenting to create homestyle meals that are the more familiar meals-to-go," said Herfel. And beyond that, "we are also looking at upscaling them a little bit and offering restaurant-style meals that are better tasting."
The meals are all made in the in-store delis and merchandised chilled in the self-serve carryout case, said Herfel. "We are dedicating about 4 feet of space at this point and it changes every day."
Fairway is also considering selling individual items out of the full-service case, "so they can buy a side of glazed carrots or a couple of portions of meat loaf," said Herfel.
Thus far, "it seems the meat loaf, the Salisbury steak and the more hearty meals are doing better," said Herfel. "It seems when they [consumers] are buying in that mode, they are taking the ones that are more homestyle."
Fairway's pricing on the Chef's Promise line factors in a profit margin of 47% to 50%, noted Herfel. "Because as far as preparing it in-store, it is pretty labor intensive. So it should get a full markup."
However, he said, there have been no new hires to help launch Chef's Promise. "We want to see how it will work before we do that."
Costing for the restaurant-style entrees, which will be handled as a Chef's Promise line extension, is still being worked out. "It is still in the planning stages," including the number of items and components, said Herfel. The line, now being created in conjunction with a professional chef, will most likely be brought in from the outside.
"Demand for these [takeout meals] is tremendous -- that is, the whole call for home replacement meals," said Herfel, explaining Fairway's growing activity in the area.
Since beginning the Chef's Promise program several weeks ago, "we have had some shrink," acknowledged Herfel. "But we knew when we went into this it would be an experiment for each store and each community. And it would cost some money. Perfecting the program will take a little while."
So far, the company has featured Chef's Promise in its advertising only once and at its regular price. "There was a good response," said Herfel.
"One of the key points to merchandising these meals -- the reheat at home kind -- is that it is fresh product, not something taken out of a hot case, or yesterday's leftovers," said Herfel. "It is all food prepared just for these meals." The entrees are given a two-day shelf life.
"We don't want to go into this using leftovers -- it is an upscale product," said Herfel.
"We are stressing cooling something down quickly after it is cooked to maintain its freshness, rather than keep it heated all day," such as what is typically done with fried chicken and rotisserie chicken.
In another step in the home meal replacement direction, Fairway for the first time this year offered cooked turkey dinners for Thanksgiving.
Success was marginal, said Herfel. "We had some response, but we were behind the eight ball. We only had the program ready about four weeks before Thanksgiving."
On the Menu
The selections in Fairway Foods new Chef's Promise program currently include:
Roasted turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, wild rice dressing, glazed carrots and a peach or apple cobbler or crisp.