PHOENIX -- Roche Bros. Supermarkets' foray into the catering business has met with success, and will be expanded. The year-old program, which ranges from box lunches to full corporate meal service, will be rolled out eventually from its current berth in four stores to the rest of the 13-unit chain, which is based in Wellesley Hills, Mass., Jay Roche, director of customer services, told SN.
"We've seen great incremental sales, especially on items like platters, because of our catering program," Roche said.
"The program involves many store departments, including bakery, deli, seafood and floral. We have a full menu of entrees and it includes items like cookie platters, and veggie and deli platters. It does especially well with upscale corporate clients, particularly for lunches."
Getting to that point was not easy, however, according to Brian Buckley, coordinator of creative entertaining at Roche. Buckley recounted the birth and growth of the catering effort during a workshop at the Food Marketing Institute's MealSolutions '96 conference in Phoenix.
Buckley said the chain entered the catering business with the intention of "matching catering quality and gaining customer confidence."
But along the way, it faced challenges both within and outside its organization, he said.
The early hurdles involved starting the business from scratch, setting up a catering station, acquiring delivery vans, hiring drivers and finding contractors to create invitations for functions and others to rent table cloths, chairs, linen and china.
The marketing challenge was also important, Buckley noted. Roche tried to drum up business through direct sales calls, raffles and printed promotional materials. The store targeted the residential sector in addition to corporate clients.
The chain faced hurdles among its own staffers. "So many departments are focused exactly on what they do, but we had to explain to department managers that we're now in the catering business and we must plan for it," Buckley said.
Some six or seven store departments now interact to ensure the catering effort works. The effort to upgrade products to catering quality has helped improve in-store products, Buckley added. One of the program's biggest assets is that it uses existing products and in-store production, including the help of an in-store chef.
Perhaps the key learning point, he said, has been that so many customers are affected by each catering event.
"A 150-person function now becomes 150 sales, not one sale," Buckley said. "So 150 people would know if it didn't work."
Jay Roche told SN that the chain generally works with catering teams, each combining the efforts of two stores. The paired stores, which serve a similar trading radius, are allotted one catering truck between them. The chain will gradually expand the program to the other stores and add trucks accordingly, Roche said.
Adding trucks is part of making the commitment to delivery as an extension of the catering program. Again, the road is not easy.
Amy Brinkmoeller, manager of information systems at Dorothy Lane Market, Dayton, Ohio, and another speaker at the workshop, said her company is finding more success with a home delivery system -- which goes beyond catering to include other perishables and groceries -- only after a long period of trial and error.