HOLLAND, Mich. -- The new D&W Market Square here has crowded many meal concepts into its busy and much-touted Market Square Meals Center -- but it takes different tack in other parts of the store, where the merchandising landscape for fresh food is being stretched creatively to meet consumer demand.
In a reversal of a popular design trend, most of this format's perishables departments are pulled out of the power aisle, to be spread around the store's periphery. It's partly a response of the designers and executives to consumer trends, as well as problems and opportunities presented by the site itself. (For coverage of the meals merchandising in the store, see Page 25. SN will report further on the store design and other departments in future issues.)
Arrayed across the apex of the store's right wing -- with three entrances, no 90-degree angles and few discernible "edges," this store makes big-box descriptions obsolete -- the fresh departments' new case and merchandising configurations have been created to sell fresh, frozen, value-added and fully prepared items, all from the same area.
Part of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based D&W Food Center's laboratory approach to solution selling and shopping, these sections have been redesigned and gussied up with the idea that consumer service and education is an essential part of the business.
"I wasn't really comfortable with the philosophy that all fresh departments need to go on one side of the store," said Mike Eardley, D&W's vice president of fresh foods. "This way, we got to spread things out, and a rectangle just didn't work. With the rectangular design, you can only have so much perimeter, and we're putting a lot of things on the perimeter."
While meat and seafood departments are set away from the high-concept Market Square Meals Center, the philosophy that informs the company's meals program is in play here as well.
At the Chef's Kitchen, an active demonstration facility where chefs prepare meals from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, ingredients are pulled from throughout the store to build a full meal around beef, pork, chicken, fish or seafood.
When demonstrating a recipe for pork tenderloin, for instance, the store chef distributes the company's Chef's Kitchen recipe card, which suggests rounding out the entree by adding store-branded Caesar salad, Parmigiano roasted red skin potatoes, grilled vegetables and baguette, as well as Driscoll strawberries, wine and even a flower vase. The recipe card also includes tidbits of culinary knowledge -- about sauteeing, Parmesan cheese, couscous and wine, for instance -- and the company's 800 customer-service number.
Chef's Kitchen is more than just a kiosk, though; it's a company program, complete with colorful book binder for storage of the two weekly distributed recipe cards, intended to teach consumers how to prepare seasonal food in both low-fat and creative ways. And the meals demonstrated always include center-of-the-plate items that are sold close by.
The demonstration Chef's Kitchen is stocked with a small selection of fresh and shelf-stable ingredients (although Mike Farrell, store director, said the items are stocked more for display than sales).
But a customer turning around while shopping in that section will find herself "surrounded by meat," as Eardley said. "The meat department is what I'm most proud of," he said.
The department is anchored by the ground beef service section and its prominent railroad motif "Ground Central Station," where clocks are set to indicate the time the last batch was prepared. The selection includes a 97% fat free Michigan variety, but except for it and cuts from Lexington, Ky.-based Laura's Lean Beef and Wichita, Kan.-based Excel's Sterling Silver brands, the most prominent meat brand is D&W's own, both in raw and value-added products.
The department's back wall is decorated like an old-fashioned small-town market exterior, as is the adjacent seafood and wine sections. An awning, banners, permanently decorated chalk boards and deliberately low-key signage give potential customers the feeling of being in a smaller store, not one with towering ceilings and bright steel beams.
In front of the Ground Central service case is low-profile cooler filled with about 15 types of store-packed sausages -- apple cinnamon, cherry pecan, Italian and bratwurst among them.
Next in the undulating line is a service case with about 20 value-added meats arranged in platters on top of granite-like composite slabs. Some of the meat items -- cracked-black-pepper-coated beef tenderloin, bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin and raspberry pecan chicken breasts -- are also merchandised in a self-service case in the meal department.
Company officials expect the wider selection of value-added meats to take some time to catch on with consumers, but they're confident from past product introductions that their customers are willing to learn.
"We're starting to get people asking questions about what some of these are and how to prepare them," said a D&W meat supervisor from another store working at the Holland operation temporarily. "It takes a little time to let them know the best way to cook some of these items, but once they try one, we're confident they'll see the value here."
A similar design prevails in the seafood department, where sales so far have doubled the performance of the seafood department when the old D&W was located across the street. The sales bump is a result of the redesign, an increase in department size and the number of items carried, said Farrell.
Just as at the meat department next door, here consumers can shop at the service counter for fresh and prepared items, whole fish and filets, crab legs and lobster, and such value-added items as kabobs, which Eardley said do very well for the company after initial false starts in the program years ago.
Or customers can turn to an angled case where cooked shrimp with sauce are displayed in small and party-sized plastic display rings, next to tubs of crab dip, salad frutti di mare, seafood pasta and smoked fish.
They can also turn completely around and shop a low coffin case for frozen seafood items, or walk around to a refrigerated self-service fresh and value-added case, with many items stocked at the service case and across the store in the meal department.
Back at the service display, along with the Atlantic stuffed salmon, salmon filets and steaks, the section is nicely arranged with walleye pike filets, glittering smelts and seasoned catfish filets. Here, as in other departments of the store the day SN visited, the synergy between education and sales Eardley and others in D&W envision seemed to be working already.
A shopper was questioning the seafood manager about the best way to prepare the cajun-spiced catfish. Then, satisfied she could manage it herself, she left the department carrying two pounds of filets.