BOSTON -- Stop & Shop's new superstore design, which groups fresh food departments and integrates the retailer's co-branding partners into the footprint, is catching on with shoppers who are responding to the concept's "one-stop shopping" convenience, according to officials with the chain.
The layout makes shopping for fresh foods easy. For the first time, all perishable food departments adjoin one another, making it possible for consumers to find the fresh products on their shopping list without meandering through the entire 75,000-square-foot store here in suburban Walpole. Since its grand opening in November, Stop & Shop has opened six more superstores patterned after this format.
"This is our ideal," said Kelly O'Connor, Stop & Shop's manager of corporate communications, describing the Walpole store. "We wanted to make it as convenient as possible."
This store, one of only three Stop & Shop stores with Boston Market restaurants, is testing the appeal of the restaurant company's homestyle-prepared foods in more than one spot. In addition to the full-service restaurant at the front of the store, a self-serve section of the deli carries Boston Market rotisserie chickens, as well as packaged chicken pieces and four tiers of packaged, grab-and-go side dishes, grilled chicken salads and other Boston Market products.
While the self-serve concept has generated a favorable response from consumers, officials noted sales are higher at the Boston Market restaurant up front. It's especially popular with working mothers, Healey said. "From 5 to 8 o'clock, it's hopping," he said. On weekends, the automated deli kiosk gets busy. Designed to speed up the process of ordering deli items, the kiosk allows shoppers to punch in their orders using a touch screen. The kiosk produces printed receipts that customers present when they pick up their orders. It generates so much business, the store has one employee dedicated to filling kiosk orders on Saturdays and Sundays.
In the fresh meat department, which has a service counter, consumers find the usual offerings, as well as more exotic meats, including cut-up rabbit, ground buffalo and ground ostrich. A new self-serve section featuring packages of irradiated fresh ground beef includes brochures that explain the non-nuclear, electron beam process to consumers.
A service seafood department offers an assortment of fresh fish fillets on ice, as well as a live lobster tank. As a courtesy to customers, associates will steam lobsters and other seafood items with advance notice. There's also a self-serve section with an assortment of previously frozen, heat-and-serve fish entrees. The full-service sushi department, which has a chef on duty assembling rolls in view of consumers, has seen steady growth, Healey said.
The cheese section is stocked with 260 varieties of cheese and enough literature to make up a short course in the finer points of buying, serving and eating cheese. SN observed colorful signs explaining the various attributes of different categories of cheese, and pamphlets describing blue-veined, pulled curd, soft-ripened, pressed uncooked and washed rind cheeses, with serving suggestions.
The layout repositioned the full-service bakery, so that it's on the right side of the store nestled among the other fresh food sections. There, a Dunkin' Donuts outlet serves the company's signature products of doughnuts and steaming mugs of coffee, as well as bagels and breakfast sandwiches. A national chain that was founded and headquartered in New England, Dunkin' Donuts operates outlets at about 100 Stop & Shop stores. Supermarket employees work at the doughnut shops, which are managed by Dunkin' Donuts personnel. To make it possible for shoppers to sip coffee and shop simultaneously, Stop & Shop added cup holders to shopping carts.
The larger size of this store allowed officials to expand its offerings. For the first time, the bakery offers an upscale dessert cake category, featuring an assortment of cakes for special occasions. In a glass service case, SN observed Boston creme cakes ($8.99 for a 41-ounce cake), eight-inch, single-layer carrot cakes ($6.99 for a 25-ounce cake), eight-inch, single-layer chocolate cakes with real whipped cream ($7.99 for a 24-ounce cake) and a nine-inch mixed fruit tart ($11.99 for 50-ounces).
"We had a much smaller bake shop," said store manager Mike Healey, referring to the store this supercenter replaced. "With what we're able to do with cakes, people come in all the time to buy dessert cakes. I had a four-foot case next door. Now I have a 24-foot case."
For weekend entertaining, in particular, the dessert cakes are popular. "The variety gets more extensive as the week goes on," Healey said.
A barrel-vaulted ceiling rises above the produce department, which features more intense lighting and wider aisles. The department offers about 100 varieties of organic produce, and SN observed the store takes the integrated merchandising route for conventional and organic items, a practice promoted by the organics industry, but shunned by many retailers due to co-mingling concerns. Printed signs give consumers ideas on how to serve various fruits and vegetables.
On the other end of the store, the floral department uses separate eye-level islands to display flowers and balloons. Nearby, customers find a selection of plants, flower pots, watering cans, wreaths and other gardening needs in an indoor greenhouse. The Walpole store is the first one to have this extensive a department.
Officials bill this spacious store as the ultimate one-stop shopping experience, with not only a comprehensive food offering but a pharmacy, an office supply department under the Office Depot brand, a Toys "R" Us aisle and a home accessories department featuring blankets, towels, bath items, even bed sheets.
Judging from customer comments, the format is appreciated.
"The No. 1 thing we've heard is it's a one-stop shopping experience," Healey told SN. "We've saved them a trip to the mall."