MATTHEWS, N.C. -- Harris Teeter, who led the supermarket industry in the creation of in-store theater in the prepared foods department, has hired a professional chef to reinvigorate the meals program at select stores, emphasizing greater variety in prepared foods, more foods with ethnic appeal, greater service and more active salesmanship.
The retailer hired Philip Anderson, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, and is responsible for rolling out the new program at 44 of the chain's 141 stores.
The difference is obvious as soon as consumers enter the prepared-foods section at the retailer's sprawling store in wealthy Reston, Va., one of the first stores to roll out the program. There is a new cook's station and a chef's case that stretches across 40 feet, double the size of the old case. While company officials declined to comment, a store-level source said the setup combines service and self-service features, allowing consumers to choose an entree from a selection on the top tier, and tell the associate what they want. Then consumers pick out their own side dishes from the lower shelves.
The new emphasis is on teaching consumers how to put together a meal from the selection of prepared foods in the cases, according to sources. When the program was launched, Anderson spent time at the store working at the cook's station and schmoozing with customers on the floor, and that interaction appears to be making the program successful, the associate told SN, noting Anderson was scheduled to return to the store. The new menu has greater ethnic appeal, with more Mediterranean, Mexican, Italian and Asian items offered. The foods are prepared by an outside company according to Harris Teeter's specifications, and that's not new, the associate told SN. What is new is the broader selection of fresh foods, including new dishes like chicken marsala, chicken Florentine and chicken fajitas.
"The only thing produced here in the store are rotisserie chickens," the associate said.
In the past, demonstrations giving consumers a taste of the fare have been conducted in the store. Under the new approach, sampling and demonstration programs are far more aggressive.
According to the associate, customers appreciate the change in format. "They've gone crazy for it," the associate said, noting sales of fresh foods have gone up at her store. "The chef's program here has been excellent."
Last year, SN reported on Harris Teeter's update meals program [see "A New Menu", SN, May 21, 2001]. At that time, the retailer featured a menu that had been pared down, mostly offering old favorites like grilled chicken cutlets and meat loaf. The majority of dishes were prepared by outside vendors, and in-store personnel were re-directed towards service, rather than production.
The store-level associate SN spoke to has seen the fresh-foods department undergo several transformations in recent years.
"When I started working for the company, we had a full chef's program" with foods prepared at the stores, the associate recalled. "Then we outsourced. Now this is coming back full circle."
New signage will be added to make the fresh-foods departments more approachable.
"My goal is to have this program in all 44 stores by the end of the year, but I know that's ambitious," Anderson said.