BERKELEY, Calif. -- The emphasis on specialty foods at Andronico's Markets here is a harbinger of the shape of things to come in Center Store.
As reported in SN, Allan Noddle, president and CEO of Ahold, USA, Atlanta, has called specialty and natural foods the "next big boom area." In a similar vein, Dave Buck, store director of the Andronico's unit on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, Calif., notes that specialty items are becoming part of his chain's standard selection in response to consumer demands.
Andronico's is known throughout the San Francisco Bay area, not only for the specialty food it carries, but also for its willingness to stock items frequently requested by customers.
"People come into our store expecting to find specialty foods that they can't locate anywhere else," says David Oshiro, store manager of the Los Altos location.
"We [even] have customers come in who are visiting from other countries, who are looking for a specific item from their home country. They've been told we are the place [that will have it]," he continued.
Andronico's Markets has eight locations: four in Berkeley and one each in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Altos and San Anselmo.
Specialty food in these stores run the gamut and include the categories of produce, coffee and teas, cheeses, pasta and pasta sauces, salad dressings, marinades, jams, spices and condiments.
Some of the most popular items include Twinings teas, Bonne Maman jams, Annie's Natural Salad Dressings, and Sutter Home pasta sauces, says Buck, store director at the Berkeley unit here. Andronico's stocks specialty items from both large, well-known companies and unique and obscure vendors. Though prices vary greatly by brand, in general, specialty selections are priced just slightly higher than mass brands at Andronico's Markets.
One central feature of the retailer's approach to selling specialty foods is that they are not grouped together in an aisle or section. Rather they are integrated in aisle, next to mainstream brands.
Needless to say, there is an abundance of gourmet food at Andronico's, and in almost every category, customers can choose between a mass or specialty brand.
For example, the spice section carries every available stock-keeping unit offered by McCormick and Schilling, as well as such specialty SKUs as Odense marzipan and pure almond paste. The peanut butter section is stocked with brands like Jif and Skippy, along with nut butters from natural food companies. These include Maranatha almond, cashew and peanut butters and Kettle brand hazelnut, almond, sunflower and cashew butters.
In the honey section, alongside Sue Bee honey, is Rigoni brand honey, with varieties such as acacia flower, chestnut flower and rhododendron flower.
The jam section includes Bonne Maman jams, in varieties such as four fruit, peach, raspberry, wild blueberry, and apricot. Scandinavian Delights jams come in gooseberry, apricot, cherry, cloudberry, and lingonberry flavors. Burton and Company jams offer mango, apricot, Earl Grey, chai and Darjeeling tea jellies.
Andronico's has a tea section that stocks mass brands, such as Lipton, as well as selections like The Republic of Tea and Tazo.
Pasta sauces include local specialty items, as well as the full line of Sutter Home pasta sauces; Bellini mushroom and marinara sauce from Donnello's Fine Foods; and Newman's Own line of pasta sauces.
A wide array of condiments can be found on Andronico's shelves, far beyond the usual pearl onion and olive assortment. For example, there is the California Harvest line of tapenades, including black olive, green olive, artichoke, Kalamata olive, and shiitake mushroom flavors.
Other condiments include Lehman Farms almond, jalapeno and garlic stuffed olives; Clarus asparagus salsa; Sharwood chutneys; and Edmund Fallet mustards -- such as black currant, green peppercorn Dijon and tarragon Dijon.
There is also a wide assortment of dressings and marinades, including Carol's Country Cuisine, Brianna's Homestyle Dressing, Annie's Naturals, La Martinique, Cuisine Perel, and Les Mets de Provence Aioli and Rouille.
End aisle displays are used to showcase a variety of specialty items. For example, during SN's visit, one endcap merchandised jams from Bonne Mamam, Chambord and Elizabethan.
Another endcap was set up as an Italian meal solution, with Barilla Pastas, Muir Glen Organic Tomato Sauce, Andronico's Grated Parmesan, Bertolli Olive Oil, Gallo Salami and Brentano Crackers.
While many retailers use metro shelving to merchandise their specialty items so they will stand out, Andronico's uses metro shelving throughout its stores.
Moreover, signage is not used simply to promote specialty food. Instead, point-of-sale material highlights the nutritional aspects of these items as well as provides general information about them.
"The best way to promote specialty items is through sampling," advises David Oshiro. "Customers may be hesitant to buy something if they've never tried it before.
"Giving them an opportunity to sample in-store encourages spontaneous purchases, and boosts sales. And customers appreciate that you provide them with the platform for sampling prior to purchase, which increases customer loyalty," he went on to say.
Andronico's also promotes itself as an authority on specialty foods. During the month of June, the store is running a special promotion on items from New Zealand.
The promotion is supported with point-of-sale materials about New Zealand, including circulars, signage and flags. A trip for two to New Zealand will also be given away as a prize. Last year, a similar promotion was done with Great Britain as the linchpin, and more promotions are on the horizon.
"We also take requests," says Oshiro. "If a customer comes in and doesn't find the specialty item he or she is looking for [in the store], I will take the customer's phone number and see if we can locate it. We want people to know that we are a resource for specialty items."
"New items are key to the market," notes Dave Buck. "Customers want to feel you are offering them the latest specialty items that are available."
Gary Wallner, vice president of grocery at Andronico's headquarters, agrees. "As far as considering new items in the specialty food category, we look for what's unique and can't be found anywhere else in the area," he says.
Wallner explained that Andronico's made the decision to integrate specialty items so that customers get the message that specialty food is an integral part of the store's selection. In addition, by putting them next to mainstream counterparts, consumers can find them more easily.
He also told SN that Andronico's puts specialty brands at eye level to highlight them. Mainstream brands are relegated to the lower shelves.
Andronico's frequently promotes specialty brands in its circulars. About two months ago, the store added a new section to the circular that highlights a specialty item and provides a recipe that makes use of the item.
"There has been a significant increase in sales on the items showcased," Wallner reports.
Product sampling is also a key aspect in the promotion of specialty foods. Andronico's encourages vendors to demonstrate their products, Wallner says, especially if the item is not backed by a lot of print or television advertising.