CHICAGO -- Safeway has expanded its selection of fresh produce, including the organic assortment, at 150 newly remodeled "lifestyle" format stores, a top executive told SN at the United Produce Show at FMI.
"We have organic centers, with 80 to 100 organic products featured in a week," said Brian Cornell, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Safeway. "Organic is much bigger, in the center of the department, and it's clearly signed."
Cornell described the key elements of Safeway's new format, and the $100 million advertising and re-branding "Ingredients for Life" campaign during a keynote address at a breakfast for United show goers.
"Quality is the foundation of our new business strategy," Cornell told the crowd. Safeway rolled out the initiative April 5.
On an overhead screen, Cornell gave the audience a glimpse of a Safeway produce department before and after a store remodeling. Replacing stark lights, warm lighting showcased fruits and vegetables, giving the department a dramatic new look in the "after" photo. Signs highlighting unique items and wood-look floors were installed to freshen up the departments.
Cornell also showed a series of the company's new TV commercials, featuring fast-moving images of children, families, clocks and food with a voice intoning, "You deserve not just ingredients for meals, but ingredients for life."
Safeway has made a commitment to improving and expanding the offerings in all of its fresh departments, including prepared meals.
On the fresh produce side, the retailer is working aggressively with fruit and vegetable growers to bring a larger selection of unique fruits and vegetables into stores, Cornell said. New signs let shoppers know the items are available, and explain their chief attributes.
In the produce departments, the stores have keyed in on associate training and quality standards to ensure consistently good produce.
"We want to make sure when [shoppers] are in Safeway, they never eat a sour grape," Cornell said.
The commitment forces the company to make hard choices sometimes. For example, weather-related problems severely cut the supply of good, ripe fruit, causing sourcing problems for retailers. As a result, some Safeway stores had to do without fresh strawberries at various times this year.
"We weren't willing to compromise our quality standards," Cornell told SN in an interview following the United breakfast. "It's a tough position to take."
Food demonstrations also play a bigger role. Safeway associates set up 15 to 20 sampling stations throughout the store when a lifestyle store opens.
Routinely, produce department associates encourage shoppers to sample fruits and vegetables, Cornell said.
Produce department associates have been trained to explain the attributes of produce items and answer questions from shoppers.
"We're constantly training our department managers," he said, noting the initiative has been ongoing for the last couple of years. "We're spending a tremendous amount of time on education and training."
The format will be in place at 450 stores by the end of the year, Cornell said. The company's goal is to have more than 80% of all stores operating under the new format by 2008.