ST. DAVIDS, Pa. -- Although already two years old, the most-talked-about market in the Philadelphia area is a Genuardi Super Markets store in this suburb about 25 minutes west of the city.
The store is the Norristown, Pa.-based chain's largest in terms of frozen food and total store square footage, and will most likely become a prototype, according to Peter Marino, Genuardi's director of frozen food and dairy operations. While much of the attention is focused on the store's impressive food court and fresh food areas, its frozen food department also stands out. Packaged into an alcove along with dairy, there's no stumbling across the department; frozens literally becomes a destination for shoppers. Two long rows of coffin cases are surrounded on three sides by dairy coolers and 29 freezer doors.
Marino said while department locations and layouts vary throughout the company's stores, he prefers the alcove.
"Operationally, this is easier for us because our responsibility is dairy, frozen and ice cream. It's all in one location, so it's convenient," he said. It's also more conducive to shopping, he added. "The alcove gives it more of a boutique-type look."
Jim Booz, the chain's frozen food and dairy specialist, likes the makeup of the department, but would like a couple more freezer doors. "Our ideal department would be half and half; half coffins and half doors," he said. "We feel some things will merchandise better in doors than in the coffins. Entrees, dinners and pizzas are best in doors. We'd like to see our breakfasts in the doors, too." Polybags and cans, Marino added, sell better in coffins.
While the food court has helped the store become the area's overall supermarket showplace, its presence raises another question: How can frozens compete with splashy departments such as food courts?
"That's a $64 question we've been asking ourselves for the last five years," said Marino. "Of course, promotion helps. Manufacturers need to improve the quality in some areas. They need to promote more; support the category; maybe educate the consumer about the quality of frozen food. "Frozen seafood, for example, is fresher than the fresh seafood when you come right down to it, because it's frozen right away when it's caught. I think it's really up to the industry and the manufacturers to educate the consumer a little bit better."
The frozen seafood dilemma is illustrated well in this Genuardi unit. Since the fresh seafood department is at the opposite end of the store, Marino and Booz put a frozen seafood display case directly in front of its fresh counterpart. Booz and Marino said even that hasn't helped spur sales of frozen products.
This store has one other unique characteristic: It's built on top of a department store.
"Because this is a second-floor store -- a dry goods store is under us -- we couldn't have any floor drains in case of leakage," Marino said. The coffin cases have pillars at each end, inside of which are pipes that go into the ceiling and to a pump that disburses the water.
To accommodate this, all the cases in the department are raised 4 inches.
"It changed the idea a little bit about merchandising because of what you can merchandise on the top shelf. Four inches is a big difference for the average customer."