BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Haggen, Inc. here is promoting its team-up with celebrity chef Graham Kerr in a big way with billboard advertising and TV ads, and has extended its exclusive line of Kerr-created deli salads.
The 21-unit chain also is orchestrating in-store cookbook signings by Kerr that serve to underscore the relationship it has developed with him over the past year.
Since it launched a four-item menu of salads made in-store from Kerr's recipes [see "Haggen Deli Is Stressing Health With Graham Kerr," SN, May 10, 1999], Haggen has added two dips and two winter salads, and plans are in the works for more items that Kerr will create or "reinterpret" exclusively for Haggen.
The salad selection, which includes red skin potato salad, macaroni/pea, penne/snap pea, and salmon orzo, ranges in retail from $2.99 a pound to $5.99 a pound. All the items Kerr has designed for Haggen have reduced fat and sodium levels.
"What's wonderful is the taste is great even though there is very little fat in them," a source close to Haggen said. She also said having Kerr's name associated with the salads easily convinces customers to try them.
Indeed, they've been selling extremely well, she said -- so well that the chain launched a Kerr salmon dip and spinach dip just before the Christmas holidays and, later, two more salads: orange/wheatberry/mint and asparagus with balsamic vinegar.
Meanwhile, Kerr commented enthusiastically about customers' acceptance of the salads even before they were advertised or promoted.
"The reaction to them just bowled us over. We were all really surprised. They weren't supported by commercials or anything. Just a little card in front, indicating that, for example, the product was Graham Kerr's signature potato salad," he said.
Currently, Kerr promotes the salads on Haggen-sponsored television commercials -- not only that, but in December he made his debut, six times life-size, on a Haggen billboard. Also, huge, cutout photos of Kerr hang from the ceiling in Haggen's delis. All Haggen stores -- those that operate under the Haggen banner and those that operate as Top Food & Drug -- carry Kerr's items.
Kerr stressed the importance of the supermarket as a venue for freshly made healthy salads and other prepared foods.
"You actually make the decision about what you're going to eat at home while you're in the supermarket. Since Americans are eating out only an average of three times a week, that means that most of their eating decisions are made at the supermarket."
While Kerr refuses to use words like "healthy" or "low-fat" to describe his salads, that's exactly what they are.
"If you [use those words to describe food] it's the kiss of death. Most people think lowfat food doesn't taste as good and that's probably because they've experienced products that have had their fat drawn out and no other changes made to enhance the flavor," Kerr said, explaining that he always thinks in terms of adding flavor before subtracting fat.
"We do put up a menu of the items in the deli and list the calories, and fat and sodium content of each. We don't even use the word 'healthy.' They're just called Graham Kerr salads, but my name has become relatively synonymous with what I like to call 'living within reason'," he added.
He explained that, in the case of Haggen, he took deli salads such as potato salad and modified or substituted the ingredients, focusing on high-fat binders.
"I'm working with their chef on these things. They tell me what their best-selling salads are, and then I reinterpret the recipes. For example, I've come up with a potato salad that's hugely different from their regular potato salad. Instead of mayo, I will strain yogurt. I make yogurt cheese and then add a little rice wine vinegar, put a little celery and green onions in it, and then a dash of nutmeg," Kerr said.
The Kerr-Haggen relationship was spurred by Haggen, who approached Kerr last year to see if he'd act as a consultant and/or promoter of the company.
"My response was that I'd like to talk to them about their deli, and we did talk, and came to an agreement," Kerr said.
"You see, as I looked around the country, I found that supermarket delis are not terrific from a health standpoint. Basically, they're full of cheese and mayo, and I wanted to give people something else," Kerr said.
Kerr, who's probably best known for his "Galloping Gourmet" television series, said he's particularly interested in creating good-tasting food that will not compromise anyone's health. He pointed out that there's a large percentage of the population who "need to eat differently because of their present or forecastable health conditions."
His wife, Treena, who is a diabetic and who has other health problems, is one such person, he said. For that reason, he's used to modifying recipes.
"The first of the criteria is 'Can Treena eat it without it doing her any harm?' Level one for me is that I simply won't create anything I think would put anyone at risk," he said.
Kerr is currently working on a low-fat, butter-type spread for Haggen and will give several of his modified comfort foods a trial run in Haggen's cafes later this year.
Of the Graham Kerr salads now at Haggen, the potato salad and his original wild salmon orzo salad are probably the best sellers, Kerr said, adding that those two are his personal favorites.
The products under Kerr's name are made to his recipes in each store by the deli team.
"Everything is prepared from scratch at Haggen. They're nearly manic about freshness and using in-season stuff. They work really hard at it," said Kerr. For that reason, he said, he doesn't worry about whether his recipes will be followed accurately.
"They [Haggen] are so thorough in their hiring practices that it gives me confidence in their employees. I also go in from time to time or send a friend in just to spot check. And not on a single occasion have we ever detected a drop in standards," he said.
Kerr, a Washington resident and Haggen customer, said he had been an admirer of the chain even before his relationship with the company developed. The agreement he has with Haggen works like this: In the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, Kerr works exclusively with Haggen. He may, however, develop similar relationships with supermarkets in other market areas.