ST. LOUIS -- Home cooks don't have to leave the meat department at Schnuck Markets to find potatoes or macaroni and cheese to serve with the roast beef and pork chops.
Like many retailers, Schnuck has made a major commitment to the meals solutions category. In a typical Schnuck meat department, shoppers find 12 linear feet of case space, featuring a sea of packaged, easy-to-cook meat and side dish items from well-known national brands.
The retailer has found it pays to position chilled side dishes next to entrees, said Chuck Bohnenstiehl, a category manager at Schnucks, which operates 102 stores. The meals solution category has enjoyed double-digit sales growth four years in a row, he added.
"I would have to think that positioning the sides in the meat department puts customers a few steps closer to getting dinner on the table," he said.
One of the latest success stories in the category is Shedd's Country Crock side dishes from Unilever. The line of fully prepared items come in microwave-safe tubs that can be heated up and ready to eat in five minutes.
Of the four dishes, the homestyle mashed potatoes are the No. 1 favorite with Schnuck customers, followed by macaroni and cheese, garlic mashed potatoes, and chicken and rice.
The 23- to 24-ounce tubs retail normally for $3.69. At Schnuck, the regular price is $3.49. The stores have featured the items a few times at special prices, selling them at two for $5.
St. Louis was a test market for Unilever. Since introducing the line there, Unilever conducted a national rollout.
"Customers are really responding well to these new Country Crock offerings," Bohnenstiehl said. "I think the convenience outweighs the carbs in some cases."
Unilever is targeting busy mothers and other home cooks looking for quick and easy answers to the dinner question. According to Unilever, Country Crock is the first national brand in the chilled meal solutions category to offer a full range of side dishes.
The dishes are made with quality ingredients, such as fresh russet potatoes, fresh milk, real Cheddar cheese and the Country Crock spread, officials said.
Unilever is backing up the line with a national advertising campaign, coupons in Sunday newspaper inserts and in-store promotions, including product sampling, scheduled to start this month.