MENOMONEE FALLS, Wis. (FNS) -- Salad-bar merchandising has taken on an expanded image at Ultra Mart's Pick 'n Save units, here. The seven-unit independent has positioned six salad bars within its 60,000-square-foot units in the Milwaukee area. The installations began as units were being remodeled.
"Our success is rooted in the stocking levels, and the fact that ingredients are kept fresh and heaping," said Bob Farrell, president. "What's unusual is the size of the presentation -- it's huge."
The salad bars measure 13 feet by 10 feet, and are configured in a horseshoe design. A center workstation keeps store staff on the floor and available for questions and maintenance. Across one side are the salad-type items such as leafy greens, carrots, broccoli and other vegetables. Another side anchors the proteins, such as chicken chunks, garbanzo beans and surimi. The third side is reserved for chunked and cut fruit.
The salad bar is operated within the produce department, creating a bridge between produce and food service. Still, while serving as a transitional operation, the salad bar doesn't come under the purview of either department. Instead, a Ready-to-Eat Department has been instituted at Ultra Mart. This section includes all the SKUs on the salad bar, along with other precut fruits and vegetables; basically, anything prepared for a customer's meal.
Everything is broken out. As a result, the Ready-to-Eat Department has its own labor schedule and budget. A manager oversees the area, and is ultimately responsible for the gross profit, said Farrell.
"The salad bar brings a food-service element to produce," he said. "It serves as a perfect crossover between produce and food service."
Farrell estimates that the bars are responsible for 1% of total store sales. During the spring and summer, when customers are more interested in salads, that figure can go as high as 1.5%.
"We think that the salad bar is one of the most significant statements of us being in the fresh game," he said. "Produce is the first department in the shopping pattern, and the bar, with its size and presentation, has the highest visual."
Ultra Mart is bucking the national trend of removing salad bars. Most retailers say this is happening because of labor issues, coupled with the difficulty of keeping a salad bar looking fresh and well-stocked.
"Most retailers don't do it right," insisted Farrell. "They under-do the salad bar, and it's not impressive. Or it simply isn't visually pleasing. Ultimately, produce has to be fresh. What happens when operators try to cheat is that the quality edge comes off, consumer confidence goes down, and the operator loses sales."
What's needed, Farrell said, is a systematic commitment to produce rotation and product assortment. "It takes tremendous internal discipline," he pointed out. "The salad bar is more than a fixture and putting stuff on it. You have to be committed relentlessly to the concept of fresh."
When asked if options already positioned within the produce department might compete for sales, Farrell said: "Bag salads don't meet all the needs of the customers. The variety and selection of the Ready-to-Eat Department gives another option."
Ultra Mart's salad bar is utilized most during lunchtime. "It's unbelievable to see all the people around the salad bar, but the design helps the flow," said Farrell. "Where else can you get exactly what you want, in the amount you want. And it's better than a restaurant because we have the freshest product source -- our produce department."
Items for the salad bar are bought from the chain's produce, meat and dry-grocery department with internal store transfers. Ultra Mart maintains a 24-hour shelf life on perishables in the Ready-to-Eat Department.