Installing a variety of distinctive in-store shelving fixtures is helping supermarket retailers highlight products and drive Center Store sales.
Specialty foods, in particular, have become the target for such fixtures as retailers search out ways to improve sales and profits.
Since Weis Markets, Sunbury, Pa., introduced its shelves-within-shelves program last year, sales have increased strongly in those stores where the program in is place, said Dennis Curtain, the chain's public information director.
Center Store items getting attention at Weis include specialty rices, pastas and teas. After seeing a supermarket in the Northeast merchandise its specialty foods on distinctive shelving, Kevin Doris, chief executive officer at Gerland's Food Fair, Houston, implemented the program in his stores.
"This [shelving] highlighted the specialty-food items and gave me the impression the store offered a tremendous variety," he said during a Food Marketing Institute presentation this year.
A wide offering of products and a neat appearance are important to the consumer, according to a report compiled by the National Food Distributors Association, Chicago, and Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill.
"It gives the appearance of greater variety, and there's also a feeling of design [to the consumer] -- you're in a place that you'd like to be in because of the surrounding ambiance," added John Roberts, president of National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, New York.
"It feels good to be in a store that has varied shelving, which is making it easier for you to shop and is giving you the appearance of a lot of items," he said.
Consumers who understand that the shelving holds more expensive, upscale gourmet items either will be drawn to the display because they're looking for that kind of product, or they will hurry past the unit because they are not interested. Either way, the fixture is helping the customer shop more efficiently, Roberts added.
For the retailer, the benefit of special shelving is increased profits. In addition, the display becomes a mechanism which allows them to spotlight products with typically higher margins, such as specialty foods.
This approach has allowed Gerland's to enjoy same-store, same-week specialty-food sales increases of between 30% and 50% over the year before, Doris said.
Specialty shelving has allowed some retailers to experience positive results in condiments such as barbecue sauce, mustard and dressings, industry observers said.
"The reason I use mustards [as an example], and it applies to condiments and preserves, is because these are relatively small facings," said Bill Skura, former president of NASFT, and senior vice president of marketing at Liberty Richter, Saddle Brook, N.J.
"The one facing is very hard to find when it's in a fully integrated section because you have to find one facing in a 9-foot section. With specialty shelving, you have to find one facing in a 3-foot section," he added.
Many of the products found on the unique shelving are specialty items, but Weis also merchandises natural, organic and ethnic products, Curtain noted.
As retailers become comfortable with the incremental sales generated by installing special fixtures for specialty foods, the idea is expanding into other areas of the supermarket.
Raley's Supermarkets-owned Bel Air Markets used different shelving to highlight its natural-food section as well. The West Sacramento, Calif.-based chain installed the same kind of shelving used throughout the rest of the store, but in a different color.
Beige is the standard color choice, but green is what the chain picked to distinguish its natural and organic foods, said Anne Edey, buyer/merchandiser of natural and specialty foods at Bel Air.
A display constructed with a different material, in a different shape, or a different color sets it apart from the traditional shelving in the store. The variation in the units often draws shoppers' attention to the products on those shelves.
At Rice Food Markets, Houston, wine is merchandised on unique shelving, said Scott Silverman, vice president and director of specialty foods and wines at the chain.
To give the consumer the highest quality wine, the store brought in fixtures in which the wine is stored on its side in an effort to keep the cork wet.
"If [the shopper] is buying an expensive wine, you want it cared for properly, so we use some special shelving," Silverman said.
Rice also uses adjustable, laminated formica shelving units to merchandise seasonal items, baskets filled with specialty foods and general merchandise accessories.
"It's all custom-built fixtures because it's got to be measured to the size of the area we're trying to cover up," he said.