CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Harris Teeter here has linked up with a gourmet caterer to create an in-store meals concept that's such a success the chain will take it into a second unit this spring.
The caterer -- a local, upscale business called Something Classic -- stocks a 6-foot, tiered self-service case at the front of the supermarket with its own gourmet entrees and staffs a made-to-order sandwich station at the same spot.
The store itself, called Harris Teeter Express, is the chain's smallest, totaling only 11,500 square feet.
"We imagined that this store would serve the on-the-go customer who wants to stop in after work to pick up something for dinner or to get lunch quickly. It does do that, and some people are also doing their main shopping there," said Sonya Elam, spokeswoman for 145-unit Harris Teeter.
The site, at a well-traveled intersection, is smack in the middle of an upscale residential section with some small businesses nearby.
Elam said the mini-sized store, opened last fall, is not necessarily a prototype for more Harris Teeter Expresses, but instead was seen by the chain as an opportunity to fill a need at that particular location.
"It definitely fills a niche in that neighborhood. We did it because people wanted another grocery store there." An A&P unit of the same size had once occupied the site, but it has been closed for some time, Elam explained.
Harris Teeter Express carries a limited selection of just about every category of product found in any other Harris Teeter store and the proportion of fresh foods to dry goods is approximately the same as it is in larger Harris Teeter units, Elam said.
With the Something Classic concept anchoring the fresh-foods aisle, however, the sharp focus is on fresh foods to go. The caterer's in-store presence, too, underscores a new direction at Harris Teeter -- a gradual move away from in-store, from-scratch food preparation, industry sources said.
While Elam would not comment on whether the chain plans to duplicate its arrangement with Something Classic at other locations, a store-level source at Harris Teeter Express said the Something Classic concept will be put into a unit near the chain's headquarters as early as next month. The chain's deal with Something Classic at Harris Teeter Express is a lease arrangement based on a percentage of sales, said Karen Teed, co-owner of the 10-year-old catering business that rings up $2 million in annual sales and is known here for its upscale fare.
The caterer operates a stand-alone retail store just down the street from Harris Teeter Express.
"This has been good for both of us. It gives us great exposure to be in a Harris Teeter store," said Teed.
Teed said Something Classic's sales inside Harris Teeter Express have exceeded projections. Teed and co-owner Jill Marcus were approached by Harris Teeter before the chain opened its Harris Teeter Express.
"They wanted to find a way to become more profitable in the home-meal replacement category and they wanted to offer something more upscale than the usual supermarket fare," she said.
Sherry poached chicken with artichoke fontina on wild rice is an example of a Something Classic entree. That item and five other selections are offered in Something Classic's self-service case at Harris Teeter Express.
The entrees, enough to serve two people, retail for $10 to $11 each, depending on the ingredients. They're packed in ovenable, rectangular packages with the Something Classic label and logo.
Teed said her company only packs entrees in the two-serving size because "it isn't worth it for us to pack in smaller sizes." The company also chose to go with a plain aluminum container with a dome lid for its entrees because the packaging is so much less expensive than dual ovenable containers, Teed said.
"We found, too, that our customers don't mind using the oven to heat these. It takes 20 or 25 minutes, but that's OK with them. It's ready by the time they're ready to sit down to dinner," she said.
Gourmet sandwiches are on the Something Classic menu, too. All are $4.99. A selection of seven are offered from the self-service case. In addition, everyday between 10 and 3, a Something Classic staffer makes sandwiches to order at a work station positioned right behind the low-profile self-service case.
Having a Something Classic staffer, dressed in a chef's jacket and black beret, at the work station is critical to the program's success in the Harris Teeter store, Teed said.
"That contact with the customer is necessary. Our people can talk to customers about the entrees and sandwiches as well as make up a sandwich just the way the customer wants it. It also just gives us more of a presence there," Teed said.
She said Something Classic sells up to 150 sandwiches and 75 entrees on a busy day at Harris Teeter Express.
Black bean lasagna is the best-selling entree and smoked turkey with havarti and cucumber mayonnaise is the top-selling sandwich.
Teed's take on why those are the favorites is that customers perceive them as healthy fare. They're also popular probably because they're familiar items with a little bit of flare, she said. "We have people who buy dinner from us every day at our gourmet shop and we're also seeing some of the same faces every day at Harris Teeter. So while they may splurge with something with a little more fat once or twice a week, they want to have some items like the black bean lasagna to choose from, too," she said.
"With the turkey sandwich you're taking a sandwich with a basic ingredient and just putting a different twist on it."
Harris Teeter does not have its own sandwich program at its Express unit, but it does offer its own self-service case of prepared, prepacked entrees there.
Sushi and pizza are offered as part of the fresh-foods lineup. So are sliced meats and cheeses and fresh-made salads at the traditional deli counter. All those elements, in-line along the right wall of the store, are headed by the Something Classic station.