News & Solutions FOCUS ON FIXTURES
The pressure is on -- and has been for a while -- for meat departments to operate more efficiently and productively.
So why are retailers still putting labor-intensive service meat fixtures into their new stores and remodels?
Judging from the prevailing strategies of some retailers with regard to the installation or maintenance of service cases, there still must be some tangible payoffs to be had from a well-done, in-store service meat operation, even in a climate of cost-cutting.
In fact, the service fixtures within a supermarket meat department can help mitigate some of the numbing effects of another important trend in meat merchandising and display: the densing up of the department that many retailers are attempting to implement as a way of getting more merchandise out onto a static floor space.
If all the operators in a market are densing up the department with triple-deck or higher cases, then an element of service thrown into the mix can prevent competitors' meat departments from looking virtually indistinguishable from each other.
In short, service cases are surviving, even flourishing, as an effective way for supermarket chains -- and perhaps even more importantly, for independents -- to demonstrate some flair for meat merchandising and break out from the crowd.
"We have to invent more than our competition can steal," said Helge Buflod, meat manager at Dorothy Lane Market, Dayton, Ohio, speaking of how service meat can help smaller operators remain a moving target.
Retailers interviewed by SN said service cases are serving well as test platforms and staging areas for the launch of new items. Also, the service personnel that go along with the cases are there, and hopefully are trained, as a resource to educate consumers about new items and encourage trial.
The presence of gourmet cuts, merchandised attractively in a service case, can add a touch of romance to the department, which in many chains has otherwise drifted steadily away from the heritage of the service butcher.
On an even more purely aesthetic level, the careful use of a variety of meat grains, along with colorful vegetables and other garnishes, can certainly boost the meat department's eye appeal, which has been weakened both from within by the proliferation of self-service and by the competing visual strengths of other departments in the store, such as produce.
At Lund's Stores, Minneapolis, new items are often introduced through the service case, where the counter personnel take care to communicate with the customers about the products and why they are worth trying.
"Really selling it" is how Larry Long, director of meat at Lund's, described the strategy. "This is particularly important with the ready-to-cook items, since they are still relatively new to some customers."
Retailers said they are using service cases to add dimension and depth to the department and help to set them apart from the pack within their trading area.
"We continuously add to the service case display items that customers can only find here," said Darren Horton, director of meat at Andronico's Park and Shop, the Albany, Calif.-based retailer.
What follows are the insights of three meat department executives, from various parts of the country and in different-sized markets, who have been finding ways to justify the use of service meat cases in generating more meat sales.
Darren Horton director of meat Andronico's Park and Shop Albany, Calif.
We have self-service and service in our meat department. Within the last two years, instead of double-facing an item in both cases, we have eliminated duplication. This has given us additional case space both in service and self-service to add variety to our selection.
We have installed a Butcher's Choice entree line into our service case. We keep adding facings, using steps and bowls within the case. We continuously add to the service case display, using items that customers can only find at Andronico's.
Eye appeal is extremely important within our service case. We use consistency of product to execute this.
For example, let's use a filet mignon kabob with a lineup of vegetables. The way the vegetables are cut and the way the beef is cubed and the way the lineup of ingredients on the kabob is done must all be identical from one kabob to the next. We also have a uniformity of trim, up and down the case. This attention to detail attracts customers to the display.
Value-added products also add color. The vegetables, marinades and stuffings all add excitement tremendously. Over 20% of our service case is value-added products. We are looking to grow this percentage.
To accommodate these items, others will have to be eliminated. This is a dilemma for us, since our customers expect certain items to be under glass, like New York sirloins and other high-end steaks, for example.
For our units, we believe a low profile in the case is best. We do not have full trays of meat on display; rather, we cut many items two to three times a day. This keeps the product at its best.
We offer 40 varieties of sausages, supplied from local high-end companies. This category has experienced the most growth. This is probably a local trend, since our weather favors grilling year-round.
[Service] poultry as a category has also experienced excellent growth.
All of our beef is supertrimmed, giving the customer virtually no plate waste. In two locations we offer USDA Prime [grade] beef and we will carefully expand into this grade in our other units.
Our customers demand the highest quality. They enjoy food and cooking and like to experiment.
Larry Long director of meat Lund's Stores Minneapolis
In April we expanded the ready-to-cook and seasoned items within our service case. All the product enhancing is done in our back rooms. We are cautious about what we put out, however, since we can overdo a good thing.
In our eight stores, service is a huge part of our business. And we have both self-service and service meat cases within our department.
We do a good job in our service counter. Our service case runs 24 to 40 feet, depending upon the size of the location. We offer dry-aged beef. We select our own beef. Lamb is aged one week.
Self-service cases tend to shut the public off from the store personnel. A great degree of personal touch is taken away. Customer contact is real important in our strategy. Service is strengthening the niche we want to develop.
The presence of ethnic groups within the communities we operate in helps us to determine the case sets in some units. For instance, we have a large Jewish community living within the trading area of three of our units. In those stores we have kosher sections and make sure we have the lamb and veal cuts on hand to meet our customers' needs.
We do utilize the service case to introduce products. When we are introducing new items, our counter personnel communicate with the customers, talking with them about the product and really selling it.
This is particularly important with the ready-to-cook items, since they are still relatively new to some customers. Some of the ready-to-cook items will occupy 4- to 12-foot sections, depending upon the size of our service department.
Items that tend to take off, like chicken breast products and London broil, are introduced in the service case. Once they have a foothold in service, we will double-face the item in the self-service section or even move it totally into self-serve and then make way for another item in the service case.
Equipment design is very important when it comes to the service case. The equipment has to hold the temperature and keep meat properly refrigerated. In this case, form has to follow function.
Helge Buflod meat manager Dorothy Lane Market Dayton, Ohio
Currently we have 20% of our meat being sold through the service case. I expect that this will grow larger.
Within the service case we have more upscale, Prime cuts and specialized cuts like lamb racks. Sausages are one item in which we see steady growth. We currently have 15 to 20 varieties.
We are determined to meet our customers' needs; we are a grocery store. Yes, we have upscale items and we will have more oven-ready items in our meat department [than is typical elsewhere], but that is because it is what our customers want. We are simply a good grocery store with quality items -- items that wouldn't be found in other stores.
We have to invent more than our competition can steal. To accomplish this, we rotate new items through our case continually. New items are rotated in, and slow movers are condensed to make the room for the process.
We also merchandise the service case with only Coleman beef. This is an all-natural beef that has worked quite well for us. It is one example of how we emphasize where we stand out as an operator in our marketing area -- how we are different. Signage and labeling is important to making this work.
Quality is crucial in all our items. The strategy is simple -- if you wouldn't give the item as a gift to a friend, then it shouldn't be in the case.
The look of our service case must project a good variety of upscale items every day. We use different levels to create eye interest. Our cases must be well stocked and clean to be appealing.
When we were selecting equipment for our service case, we initially started with a Euro-style design. We have since gone back to tall, straight-up-and-down, old-fashioned style cases that offer a good view of product for the customers and a big door in the back that is easy to work with for the staff.
Our service counter personnel also wrap for the self-service case. Cutters are available to assist customers with special orders and questions.