BLACK MOUNTAIN, N.C. -- Ingles Markets here is conducting a test in one of its stores of a make-your-own pizza bar, which is outpacing sales of the department's premade pizzas.
Priced at $2.99 per pound, the average ring is $6 to $7 for a customer-designed, 12-inch pizza, a price customers see as a bargain, said Philip Grasso, director of deli operations for the 179-unit chain.
"As I watched one woman piling a crust high with everything, I thought she'd be put off by the price when it was weighed. But quite the contrary. She said she was pleased that it was only $5.90," Grasso said, adding that others express similar sentiments.
"If it continues doing this well, we'll certainly roll it out to more stores," Grasso said.
In the first three weeks of the test, which began at the end of June, 600 pizzas were sold. In the same time period, average sales for Ingles' pre-assembled pizzas were about 72 per unit, Grasso said.
"It's a big ring, too, compared to the component ones we make that retail two for $6, and the gross margin's the same, 50% to 55%."
The test grew out of a desire to distinguish Ingles' quality deli pizza from the lower-priced pizzas in the frozen and dairy cases.
"It's an attention-getter," Grasso said. "There's a video at eye-level that keeps playing, showing customers how to assemble a pizza, and how to bake it in their own oven at home."
An illuminated sign tells customers: "Make Your Own Pizza. Take It & Bake It." Demos were held the first weekend.
"The pizza bar doesn't take up much room, there's not much labor involved, and yet the action is there," Grasso said of the program, which was created by the manufacturer of the pizza bar.
The bar includes a scale. The pizzas can be checked out in the deli or at the front end.
Grasso emphasized that pricing by the pound eliminates the ever-present problem of making sure associates adhere to portion controls. "We have portion spoons that associates are supposed to use for ingredients on our component pizzas," he said, "but the measuring spoon sometimes gets misplaced, and they end up eye-balling it, or they get generous. It's very hard to monitor." Maintaining the pizza bar is no different from maintaining a salad bar, Grasso said. The bar, manufactured by a company that has made custom salad bars for retail stores, can be custom designed and also can be used for other make-it-yourself programs. The Ingles bar is 7 feet long by 3 feet deep. It's placed in the middle of the aisle in front of the deli service counter, which is situated in the left front corner of the store.
"In stores where there's a walk-around cheese island, I think I'd have it as part of that. Or in others, it could go in-line with the deli. That's because I think you still need to display some already-made pies nearby," Grasso said. "Here, we just put it where we had the space to do it."
The bar is refrigerated, but also has wells that can be heated. Here's the procedure: A glass-doored compartment, below the counter level of the unit, holds parbaked crusts in clear-domed packages. The video instructs customers to take a pack from the compartment, remove the lid, and then add ingredients in a recommended sequence.
Deli staff will bake the pizza on request, but most customers take them home to bake, Grasso said.
Ingles is offering one type of sauce and shredded cheese, and eight ingredients: pepperoni, sausage, chopped ham, fresh mushrooms, green and red peppers, onions, black olives and pineapple.
In addition to foccacia-type crusts, which Ingles buys frozen, French bread, bagels and rolls are available at the bar.