ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Kowalski's Markets here is joining old and new by bringing some of the latest deli-bakery merchandising trends to a store newly remodeled to evoke the local history.
The store was redesigned last month to help tie the five-unit, family-owned business closer to the community, said a spokesman for Kowalski's. The independent is supplied by the Minneapolis division of Supervalu, the wholesaler based there. Photo murals gracing the walls of the revamped Grand Avenue store take customers on a trip back to the roots of the neighborhood. The murals depict scenes of the 1930s, when Grand Avenue was the town's primary lane for commerce, stretching from the river to downtown St. Paul.
Old-time street signs and other nostalgic touches mark the aisles. The back walls of the deli and bakery departments feature photographs of local delis and bakeries from previous decades.
While the decor captures the past, the deli-bakery is capturing sales with 1990s' fare -- freshly prepared, ready-to-eat foods in a big variety for today's time-pressed consumers.
The back-to-the-future concept will be used in future remodels and in new stores, a company spokesman said. It will be tailored to the particular historical personalities of each neighborhood.
Another unit to be remodeled later this year, for example, will reflect the history of White Bear Lake, the old resort town in which it is located.
"It's a great idea. It helps identify the family's strong ties to the area and helps distinguish the store from other supermarkets," said Gary Zimmerman, president of the northern region of Supervalu. "And it's working. Sales at Grand Avenue are exceeding our projections."
Another factor that has pushed sales at the latest remodel is an expanded deli and bakery that made room for a larger selection of freshly prepared items, as well as an opportunity to build bigger displays in those departments.
The deli has been expanded by about 40% and the bakery by 25%, company officials said. The store itself got an additional 5,000 square feet, bringing its total to 23,000 square feet.
"Sales are way up since the reopening," said Terri Bennis, director of deli-bakery at Kowalski's. She noted that the sales jump reflects the addition of 25 to 30 new items between the bakery and deli department, not counting a new line of crusty European breads and an interesting variety
of foccaccias. There's also more space for more cross-merchandising and selling on the floor, she said.
"It's the first time we've brought the deli and bakery together to such an extent. And I think that's part of the success because it creates a fabulous opportunity for suggestive selling. Since the reopening, those two departments are contributing between 6% and 7% to total store sales," Bennis said. Prior to the remodel, the distribution for the two departments hovered at 3.5% to 4%.
While Kowalski's went back in time to bring comfortable ambiance into the store, it didn't lose sight of today's consumers and what they want. Bennis said the focus is on a variety of fresh, appealing ready-to-eat, good-tasting foods that can be obtained conveniently.
One example of a department featuring eye-appeal and a pairing of comfort and convenience is a rotisserie chicken operation that features a brick oven.
"We've offered roasted chicken before here, and still do so at our other stores, but it's just cooked in an oven, not with the action this provides," she said.
Bennis explained that with the brick-fired oven, you see flames shooting up behind the chickens. Bennis gave that feature credit for tripling sales of chickens at the Grand Avenue store's deli.
Asked if Kowalski's will add the brick-fired rotisserie to other units, Bennis said, "Definitely."
While Supervalu offers its customers the benefits of its research into the locales in which stores are situated, Kowalski's used its own research in this case.
"We have a customer sound-off session four times a year. For that, we invite 10 to 15 customers to dinner and ask them how we're doing, and what they'd like to see added," said Bob Kowalski, manager of another Kowalski's unit.
Kowalski's chef developed several eye-appealing products specifically to add excitement at the remodeled store. Among them are layered Italian pie and a Reuben rye bread that has sauerkraut as one of its ingredients. Sandwiches on the bread are big sellers, Bennis said.
One sandwich in particular is on its way to becoming a signature item. It's corned beef, provolone, alfalfa sprouts and honey dijon sauce on Reuben rye.
"We're cross-merchandising between bakery and deli at Grand Avenue to an extent we've never done before," she added. For instance, a new line of crusty European breads, baked at the company's commissary, is displayed in bulk in front of the deli counter, and tied in with signs and associate's suggestions to a new line of gourmet spreads in the deli.
The breads themselves are attention-getters displayed in bulk, she said. Some of the most exotic varieties of foccaccia, such as cheddar onion and sun-dried tomato with basil, do a good job of attracting customers, Bennis added.
Other products added at the store include 12 new varieties of salads. The top sellers among those are black bean and corn, and dilled potato salad, Bennis said. All the new additions are, or will be, tried at other Kowalski units, she said.
Service is a priority at the remodeled store. "We have 30 employees just in the deli with six or seven on at a time," Bennis said.