PEARL RIVER, N.Y. -- A ShopRite unit is heating up deli sales with a new hot foods catering program that's heavy on lasagna, baked ziti, meatballs and the like.
In its first weeks, the program was quietly rolled out without the benefit of any advertising, a source close to this ShopRite told SN. The venture was then featured in a large, full-color ad wrapped around the store's weekly circular. Heaped-high platters of meatballs and lasagna are pictured and a starburst superimposed on them says, "All Trays 5 lbs."
Prices range from $19.99 for baked ziti to $24.99 for several different chicken dishes, including chicken marsala and lemon chicken.
"Even before the ad hit, the deli was getting orders for 24 and 25 trays a week, many of them from businesses in the area that were buying lunch for their employees. People had seen just a small sign over the hot foods in the deli, and they ordered the trays in advance," the source said.
A store-level source said the deli prefers orders to be placed 24 hours ahead of time, but he also said some have been made on much shorter notice.
"The deli is not turning anyone down if they can handle it and they do have people back there who can jump in and help," he said, explaining that the deli manager himself is a good cook who had owned and operated several independent delis of his own over the years before joining ShopRite.
"That's how he knew what would be popular -- baked ziti and sausage and peppers, for example. He knew they were best-sellers when he had his own delis."
SN's source went on to explain that all the hot foods advertised are made from scratch, on-site. While the store has a nine-well, self-service hot food counter in line with the service deli case at the back of the store, only two or three of the items on it are store-made. The others are already-prepared items brought in frozen. The customer favorite on that hot counter is store-made sausage and peppers.
The launch of the program at this site is a test, and the owners of this unit will roll it out to other ShopRite stores they own if they deem it successful here. Another source said that once the orders start coming in at a pace of 50 a week or more, the program will probably be called a success.
Right now, the cooking is being done on a group of equipment that includes an oven, a griddle, a sizeable convection oven, a deep fryer and a hot plate.
The hot-food catering program is a logical adjunct to the store's already-thriving catering business, according to the source. Catering such things as cold deli trays, giant heroes and cheese trays makes up at least 5% to 10% of deli sales at this store, he said.
"Every week they make a ton of heroes, and deli and cheese trays, and now the ads will let people know that they can get hot food, too."
A blurb on the recent three-quarter page ad says, "Trays feed 8 to 10 people. Sternos and chafing dishes available."
The time of year seems apt for such an introduction with the holiday season on the horizon and football season in high gear.
While the store will create tie-ins with sports, the time of year for the introduction wasn't necessarily chosen to coincide with them.