NEWARK, N.J. -- Retailers will never win the battle for share of stomach with the food-service industry, unless they refine the internal business practices that are hamstringing their department managers, according to prepared-food consultant Howard Solganik.
Departmental rivalries, created and encouraged by traditional supermarket business procedures, have kept store-level managers from implementing potentially winning ideas, said Solganik, who is president of Solganik & Associates, a Dayton, Ohio-based consultancy, speaking at an Eastern Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association seminar here late last month.
Solganik related a story that illustrated the problem. At one chain, a deli manager looking to source ground beef to make meat loaf -- a best-selling supermarket entree -- was rebuffed by the store's meat manager, who wouldn't sell to the deli at a price that might reduce his gross sales.
The deli manager was eventually forced to buy his ingredients from an outside supplier, giving up a built-in competitive advantage, Solganik said.
"Until we solve these problems, we'll never be able to successfully compete in this business," he told retailers and other attendees at the EDDA event.
Similar difficulties have at times afflicted deli-bakery relations, such as when delis introduce crusty bread sandwich programs and have trouble getting bread from the in-store operation, he said.
That such fundamental issues of in-store cooperation are unresolved suggests home-meal replacement operations might be better off separate from existing delis, he said, citing studies indicating that 75% of regular deli shoppers say they rarely if ever consider the deli when shopping for dinner.
Solganik said that problems like these might be resolved by creating departments that focus entirely on the range of meal solutions regardless of traditional department barriers. Such a department would potentially include such items as meat and seafood sold in marinated, stuffed, ready-to-heat, ready-to-eat and cooked-to-order forms.
Still, getting store- and corporate-level managers to cooperate and share information might be the toughest challenge in successful HMR operations, Solganik said.
Corporate-level buyers, for instance, may not see the value in dealing with a manufacturer's food-service division representative, even though the delis that buyers procure for frequently seek products more likely to be handled by that arm of the sales force than by a retail sales force.
Other operational pitfalls facing the supermarket industry were discussed by members of a panel convened after Solganik's talk.
Nydia Christifara, a chef with CPC Foodservice, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., told how she'd been called in by Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C., to find ways for the chain of approximately 140 stores to cut its shrink on rotisserie chickens. She said the program's shrink nears 1.25 million fowl annually. She is recommending one of the latest food-service trends, wrap sandwiches, as a way to use the otherwise discarded birds.
Solganik, meanwhile, made a series of recommendations about the steps he deemed important to successful HMR strategies, including focusing on convenience.
"It's not the food, it's not the price. It's the line," he said. Merchandising meals in a variety of formats, creating an exciting atmosphere, and educating and rewarding consumers are also key, in Solganik's opinion.
He also suggested retailers develop products with the consumer in mind, collaborate with suppliers to offer a mix of branded products, create consistent internal food-service systems, incorporate new technologies and focus advertising on selling meal solutions.
Among the tough decisions that retailers creating meal solution programs still face, Solganik said, are: whether to focus on high-quality fresh foods, how much energy to devote to making meal solutions convenient, whether and where to put seating areas, whether to encourage phone and fax orders, whether hot or cold programs work best, whether to aim for service or self-serve operations programs, how frequently to change menus, whether each store needs a chef, and controlling shrink and labor costs.