PALO ALTO, Calif. -- A design-your-own salad and sandwich station and an antipasto bar are just a few of the fresh-meal ideas that have been introduced on the sales floor of the new 37,500-square-foot Andronico's here.
Edna Calilan, the assistant to the president at Andronico's corporate headquarters in Albany, Calif., called the eighth Andronico's -- which opened this summer -- unique. "It's fresher, it's newer, it has more ideas."
Calilan said the deli, meat, seafood and produce departments are the largest of any of the Andronico's locations.
"We have 12 feet more deli case," said Howard Nep, Andronico's vice president of deli, who noted that the deli case "is very important to Andronico's."
Providing a variety of creative meal solutions is also a priority at this location. "When you walk in, there are almost 30 feet of self-service," explained Nep. An average of 18 to 20 different dishes in Andronico's line of prepared entrees, called Express Cuisine, are available here -- roughly six to eight more than in Andronico's other locations.
A four-level rectangular case by the door displays the individually packaged entrees and salads -- like lasagna and chicken -- that sell for $3.99 to $5.49, according to Nep.
Twenty-five chefs are on staff here to prepare meal solutions, provide catering services and help out with special events, like the fund-raiser to benefit the Children's Health Council of Palo Alto, which is scheduled later this month.
This location has also launched a new line of Express Cuisine entrees called Kids Kuisine, featuring smaller and less expensive portions of dishes like fried chicken or macaroni and cheese, which are targeted at children.
"There are about 10 Kids Kuisine recipes and we offer about six of them [at any given time]," explained Nep. "We had been talking about it for the last year. I know that people have come out with frozen entrees [for kids] and this is a little more upscale."
On the left-hand side of the store just beyond the Express Cuisine island is a 4-foot sushi station, and although Palo Alto is currently one of two locations to offer sushi, the largest department is here.
Further toward the back of the store is the design-your-own salad and sandwich bar, where shoppers can customize their creations from an array of vegetables and sliced luncheon meats -- like Canadian bacon, Virginia ham and smoked turkey breast -- that are on display.
Baskets of rolls fill the shelves of the sandwich bar, next to heaps of multicolored peppers, and racks of sourdough baguette and batard loaves line the front of the case.
"We designed four new panini and a couple of wraps," said Nep. The new sandwiches debuted at the store here, and are now available in other locations.
Some of the new selections include pesto and salmon, chicken puttanesca and chocolate dessert panini, a lamb sandwich, and an ahi tuna burger. New salad offerings range from a Nicoise, which Nep said is only available at the salad bar here, and a Mandarin beef salad.
The amount of possible salad combinations is innumerable.
"Customers choose the toppings and we toss the salads," said Nep. "We do three-topping and five-topping salads and you can do so many different varieties of sandwiches."
Across from the design-your-own salad station is an innovative cheese department that displays what Nep estimated are the more than 150 cheeses Andronico's carries in eight categories.
The eight categories -- fresh, soft-ripened, hard/hard-grating, semi/semi-firm cheddars, semi-soft, blues, goat's, and low-cal/low-salt -- are posted on blackboards over the multilevel cheese case.
Big slices of Gouda and blocks of French feta line the shelves of the fresh cheese section; wedges of Brie with herbs and crusty hunks of tallegio fill the soft-ripened area; and creamy white ricotta and black rind-wrapped Asiago are displayed in the hard-grating section.
Andronico's, according to Nep, used to categorize its cheeses by country. After deciding to make the changeover in cheese merchandising, "we went through a cheese book and categorized them [by type]."
Although the other Andronico's locations use the same system of categorizing cheeses, Nep said the categories were more specific at the store here.
"If a customer says she wants something to grate over pasta, we can bring her into the grating section and it really helps," said Nep. "If someone wants a blue or soft cheese we know where to go."
Nep said that at about 1,200 pounds of cheese sold a week, that "Palo Alto has above average [cheese] sales."
To keep sales associates up to date with all the cheeses in the case, "we do training with the staff and the California Milk Advisory Board has done seminars with them," said Nep.
Another new feature of the Palo Alto location is its antipasto and salad bars, which share two sides of an island case near the door. Heaping bowls of marinated anchovies and feta with roasted red peppers line the antipasto half of the case under a colorful blackboard decorated with chalk designs of plates of vegetables and cheese.
The flip side of the table sports white trays of different kinds of olives, like green picholine and big black Gaeta, displayed below a simple blackboard drawing of olives in baskets. Cans of olives and bottles of olive oil from the Napa valley line the top of the case.
"The olive bars are in all the stores, but the antipasto bar is new," said Nep. "We have 20 varieties of olives and 12 antipasto items."
Although Nep said that Andronico's doesn't directly cross promote the antipasto bar, "we'll do different demos with those items, like the fresh mozzarella and tomato."
Another new feature at the location is that "this store has a fountain," said Andronico's Calilan. White cafe tables and red chairs welcome shoppers at the outside service area where smoothies, juice and espresso are served.
Nep said that in the near future Andronico's was "looking at doing a lot more heart-healthy salads and side dishes." He explained that separate sections of the service salad, entree case and Express Cuisine could be devoted to healthy cuisine. "We are working on it now."
And Calilan said that while there were no specific plans for new store locations, "there's an intention to grow."