WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Hy-Vee Food Stores here is planning a move that will put the produce sections in the front of its 166 stores by the year 2000.
Hy-Vee officials believe the future in the grocery industry is in the produce pool, and they say that the "Produce 2000" initiative is part of that company's dive-in philosophy, while many in the industry are content with just getting their feet wet.
"This is an initiative to update all our produce sections in all our stores," said Ruth Mitchell, a Hy-Vee spokeswoman. "We will be moving up virtually all our produce departments to the first aisle." The newer stores, and those undergoing remodeling, will be the first to capture the program's essence, she added.
At one Hy-Vee store, the produce department averages about 6% to 7% of total store sales, but a produce manager there believes that with this new program in place produce sales could account for "10% or higher."
For Hy-Vee produce managers, the move is a natural blessing. The produce department is, by nature, a "high-impulse" department. "I'd rather find shoppers in my department first than when they're near [finished]," said the source.
Though the company is still working out the details of Produce 2000, a preliminary implementation has begun, entailing changes in layout, presentation and service. "It will involve a physical reworking of the store," Mitchell said.
Modernization of food cases and use of European-style display tables are two of the options Hy-Vee is looking into.
"We can group them together, put them in the center aisle, or put them back to back," she added. "They give us more flexibility."
Hy-Vee also hopes to "lower the line of sight" in the departments, to give shoppers greater access to products.
"As we open newer stores, we find that we're a little behind [in older stores]," said an assistant store director at a Hy-Vee in Kansas City, Mo. "We want it to be the first thing you see when you shop. It sets the image of freshness and cleanliness."
Mitchell said most Hy-Vee stores older than four or five years would probably need to be revamped.
In addition to the Produce 2000 efforts, the company is focusing on the produce product mix, according to the assistant store director.
Precut salads, value-added items and organics are some aspects of the trends the company is watching, he said.
Hy-Vee is planning to release its own branded items, including a 1-pound salad mix, a 1-pound coleslaw mix and a 10-ounce Caesar salad mix, he told SN.
"We want to be able to see the trends and start hitting them now," he said. "If we can do that, we can be a couple of steps ahead of our competition."