NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Heightened consumer interest in specialty foods has led H.G. Hill Stores here to install 600-square-foot gourmet/international sections in two of its units and possibly a third.
"Customers in Brentwood are more discriminating in taste and more sophisticated and knowledgeable," according to Ashley Caldwell, spokeswoman for the chain. Brentwood is the location of H.G. Hill's first gourmet/international department.
Another reason for the sections is to compete with Charlotte, N.C.-based Harris Teeter's first Nashville store, Caldwell said. As reported in SN, the new Harris Teeter unit has a wide selection of natural and specialty foods.
H.G. Hill's newest gourmet section was installed last month in its Belle Meade, Tenn., unit. A third section is slated to open in Green Hills, Tenn., by the end of the year, according to Caldwell.
Though both sections are about 600 square feet, the one in Belle Meade is slightly larger. Both are located in the left corner of the store, next to the fresh flowers.
"We wanted to create a boutique experience in the grocery store, and flowers contribute to the atmosphere of specialty foods," said Caldwell.
The sections are signed as "Gourmet and International Foods" and are decorated with about 20 flags of different countries. Products from Asia (including Japan and Thailand), Germany and the Mediterranean are included, according to Caldwell.
Selections include jelly; candy; teas; pasta; specialty grains, such as cous cous; vinegar, oils and other condiments, including garlic paste, pesto and anchovies; and imported beer.
Fresh bread is delivered daily to the departments from a local European-style bakery. The sections also feature two 4-foot, open refrigerated cases that stock such delectables as cheeses, pates and Greek entrees.
"The response has been wonderful," noted Caldwell. "Customers see this as a section where they can find ingredients for the more exotic dishes they are cooking. They also see it as a gift section -- for a housewarming or dinner gift, rather than buying flowers or a bottle of wine."
According to Caldwell, the stores get a lot of questions from customers eager to experiment with the products. To help educate its shoppers, H.G. Hill conducts weekly demos that incorporate more than one product, said Caldwell, like an olive spread with a bread, for example.
The demos have been so successful that the chain wants to hire someone to do sampling exclusively for the specialty sections.
"We want to go with a person whose main task would be sampling, since it really helps move product," she explained.