LUBBOCK, Texas — United Supermarkets has taken its upscale, fresh format to a new level with the opening of its sixth Market Street banner store.
Its best-performing fresh concepts have been moved up front and positioned adjacent to one another to make an immediate statement to customers, officials said. In fact, the idea is to convey quickly, and with flair, that the store offers solutions for meals, entertaining, and even gift-giving.
A cooking and demonstration station, concierge, Peet's coffee bar, gift and floral shops have been grouped together right inside the main entrance of this new 67,000-square-foot store.
“When you walk in, you don't see a grocery store,” said Wes Jackson, chief merchandising officer for the chain, which operates 48 stores under the United banner, six Market Street stores and three Super Mercados. “No green bean displays. You're surrounded by people, flowers, shops. These [concepts] are built-in destinations now.”
In other stores, the same concepts are located at various island spots, and sometimes appear to be afterthoughts. Indeed, some were, Jackson told SN.
“In our first generation Market Street stores, we put them where we could find space, mostly in the back,” he said. “Next generation, they were put on islands. The dish/gift shop was a twelfth-hour decision that went upstairs. It's been such a win for us that now, we've put it front and center. Together, all have much more impact.”
The new format also conveys an air of warmth combined with convenience, and freshness. Just beyond the front of the store, customers can see flames from a hearth oven that leads off the prepared foods lineup to the right, on a significantly widened aisle. On the left of that aisle is the bakery, with enticing aromas that waft toward the front of the store.
The adjacencies have been well planned, Jackson said. For example, the cooking/demo station shares a built-in counter with the concierge, and “that's very important,” Jackson said. “There will always be some activity there. Different chefs, sometimes celebrity chefs, cooking, and the concierge is right there to help a customer plan a meal. Someone could be having 40 people over and doesn't know how much meat to order.”
Depending on what they're looking for, whether it's instructions on how to cook a meal in 30 minutes, or how to entertain a large group of guests, customers can find solutions, Jackson said.
The synergy extends to a new “Meals for Two” program that's off to a good start.
Best-selling prepared foods are bundled together into a meal that serves at least two people. For $13.99, a chilled entree and sides are packed up in containers that are both ovenproof and microwavable. Some of the meals are pre-packed and put in the self-service case as well.
“They're doing well,” Jackson said.
Just the day before, 140 of the pre-packed Meals for Two were sold out by 6 p.m. The day SN interviewed Jackson, the store's kitchen had prepared 200.
“We expect to sell out again,” he said. “We haven't hit the optimum number to make yet.”
All are priced the same and there's a different meal for each day of the week. It's important, Jackson said, that customers know what the meal is on any given day.
“For instance, stacked enchiladas on Saturday and pot roast on Sunday,” he said.
Refrigerator magnets listing the Meals for Two menu for the week are distributed at check-out. In addition, the retailer has taken out radio advertising.
Other food-service programs have been tweaked. In total, the retailer boosted space for fresh foods by 10% to 15% at this store. Seating at the coffee bar, which now also has a Keva juice and smoothie bar, has been doubled to accommodate 30 people. Cafe seating, both inside and out, has been increased significantly.
A staffed salad station that offers an expanded variety is a hit, Jackson said. In selected other stores, Caesar salad only is made at an island station. Here, the station is in-line beside the sandwich station.
Directly across the 18-foot-wide aisle, the in-store bakery has launched a Texas brownie program, a la Dorothy Lane's Killer Brownies. These 4×4-inch brownies are available in 10 varieties for $1.99 each. The company has put its own local slant on a dessert concocted from the brownies. The so-called “Texas Twister” consists of a brownie sliced in half horizontally, with nearly two inches of a whipped cream filling in between, with another layer on top. The dessert is topped with crushed candy and drizzles of chocolate and caramel. The Twisters stand almost 6 inches tall and easily serve three people, Jackson said. It retails for $3.99.
Some of the new concepts being tested here could be rolled out to other stores including United banner stores. But one thing is for sure — the layout of fresh concepts at the front of the store will be the prototype for new Market Street stores. The company plans to open another Market Street store in Frisco, Texas, late this year, and one in Allen, Texas, in 2008.