SALT LAKE CITY -- American Stores Co. here is staking its claim to the fresh meals business with a small format market that crosses fresh department lines to attract the convenience-oriented customer.
The new format is called Kap's Kitchen & Pantry, with 18,000 square feet of selling space built around the logo and a cartoon character in a chef's hat and the slogan, "Save time, eat well."
With a heavy emphasis on convenient and quick meal solutions, Kap's is already being regarded by local industry sources as a prototype for the supermarket giant's fresh foods strategy.
Sources estimated that the conglomerate might eventually open more than 100 such stores across the country. American Stores officials here would not comment on the new unit or any plans for subsequent Kap's Kitchen & Pantry units.
More than half of the store's floor space appears to be devoted to prepared foods and fresh produce items alone. The flooring under those two large sections is distinct from that throughout the rest of the store.
The physical plant is shaped somewhat like the state of Nevada, with the "kitchen entry" area tucked into the southern tip, and meal solutions and produce departments stretching up and outward from there. Roughly the top half is taken up with traditional grocery aisles as well as eight checkstands, where there is a second "pantry entry" area.
"Hot to Go is the key to Kap's convenience," said an inaugural flier passed out at the grand opening. Inside the store, several employees dressed like chefs can be seen bustling around the prepared foods departments, reinforcing the feeling that the ready-to-go foods are prepared from scratch on-site.
"We save customers time by doing everything for them, from cutting the food to cooking it, to arranging it on a serving platter," said the company in its promotional materials.
One source noted that evidence in the store indicates that at least some portion of the prepared foods may arrive at the store frozen, to be heated in ovens.
Ovens and sinks are arrayed behind the prepared foods area, which had about a dozen employees working on one Saturday afternoon shortly after the grand opening. There was no sign of actual food preparation. An employee told SN that the preparation area was in a room behind a windowed swinging door.
In a nod to convenience shoppers, 20 parking stalls closest to the "kitchen entry" side of the unit are marked off as 15-minute Hot to Go slots, bearing the store's chef logo.
The Hot to Go departments are open between 11 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. six days a week, and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The store's hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.
An industry source estimated that the grocery area stocks 8,000 to 10,000 items, compared with some 30,000 often found in most of today's large format stores. The grocery area was comprised of seven gondolas and three wall areas, including small sections of basic general merchandise such as health and beauty care and school supplies.
A press statement from American said Kap's stocks only the most popular sizes and brands of grocery items.
At last month's annual meeting, Victor L. Lund, chairman and chief executive officer, said the store will provide the company with "R&D on the issue of prepared foods."
Local sources said American plans to open a second Kap's outlet on the first floor of its new Salt Lake City headquarters building, set for early 1998 completion; and that it also plans to open one near the University of Utah, also in Salt Lake City.
The present site is located at a busy intersection in Holladay, a relatively affluent suburb in southeastern Salt Lake Valley.
Above the kitchen entrance is the Kap's Kitchen logo, while at the other door is a pantry logo, showing cartoon-drawn grocery staples.
At the kitchen entrance are three tables equipped with umbrellas for dining outdoors. As customers go through this door, they immediately see 100 feet of "meal solutions" counter, stretching along to the left.
To their right is the Kap's Korner Beverage Bar, with seating for about 20 at five tables and a counter with seating for seven or eight. Customers can eat their entrees or snacks from the prepared foods departments here. At the bar, customers were eating bakery items from an 8-foot counter near the tables that held products such as baklava, carrot cake and fruit tarts.
A medium doughnut and a cup of coffee were advertised at $1. As an enticement to sit down and relax, a rack of several out-of-town newspapers was located under the three self-serve coffee urns.
Customers pay for their coffee and bakery items at an adjacent Express Checkout, which is an enclosed area with three registers. Employees working in this area keep coffee pots full and keep a supply on hand of fresh juices and smoothies from the Cold Buffet area.
To purchase Hot to Go items, shoppers take trays and move cafeteria-service style along a rail. Entree selections range from beef tenderloin at $6.99 to beef pot pie at $4.49. Each item comes with two side dishes, such as mixed vegetables, whipped potatoes, roasted potatoes, or green beans with onions.
Family meals, serving four to eight, with two large sides and six rolls, are also available here. The choices here include 12-piece fried chicken, roast turkey, southern ribs and pork loin. They are all $9.99, except for a Bucket 'o Pasta at $7.99. All in all, there are about 24 different Hot to Go meals from which to choose.
Copies of a fax menu are displayed on the counter. Most of the in-store selections are also available on the fax menu.
Further along the prepared foods counter are an oven-baked pizza area and more meal ideas displayed on platters on two shelves within large glass-enclosed cases.
Those chilled dishes feature more chef-like decorative touches than the Hot to Go selection, such as watermelon flowers or rosemary sprigs. The entrees include chicken alfredo lasagna, beef tenderloin with raspberry sauce, pork tenderloin with tomato relish and shrimp and macaroni salad. These items are mostly priced by the pound.