BALTIMORE -- Officials at Valu Food here say the company's remodeling of a store is showcasing improvements in the produce department.
The renovation of the Frankford Ave. store here refocuses the chain's commitment to produce with a department that was more than doubled in size, and has been moved to the front of the store.
"We look at where we were a year ago, and we've probably picked up 25% to 30% in produce sales," said Mickey Stringham, produce director for Valu Food.
As part of the remodeling project, the total square footage of the department was increased to about 2,200 square feet, from 1,000 square feet.
Stringham told SN that the produce had occupied about one-half of one side of an aisle before the change. Now, the department's new "L-shape" takes up much of the first aisle.
The company expects to make comparable changes in its other units. Officials told SN the chain's plan is to remodel the other stores "to a similar format."
The chain hopes the department format can generate about 7.5% of total store sales during the winter, and between 8.5% and 9% of total store distribution during the summer months.
Stringham said these estimates are on par with sales figures at other Valu Food units. "It's not going to be higher than other stores, but it'll be where it should have been all along," he explained.
The department expansion was part of the greater store renovation, which brought the store's total square footage from about 23,000 to 30,000 square feet.
The average size of its stores -- which include 18 Valu Foods and five Tesoro Markets in the Maryland and Pennsylvania areas -- is about 35,000 square feet, according to Charles Alves, vice president of sales and marketing at Valu Food.
At this newly renovated Frankford Ave. unit, the department gets top billing as the first aisle shoppers encounter when they enter the store.
Before the renovation, the produce department was almost hidden because of its location. But the department is now first in the traffic flow, in the front- left corner of the store.
"In the past, the produce department was in the center of the store, but the new location gives it more attention," Alves said.
"You end up shopping through produce," Stringham confirmed.
Before the expansion, there was a total of 80 feet of refrigerated cases in produce, but more than 120 feet of refrigerated cases now fill the department, according to Stringham.
The expansion allowed the company to put a new salad bar in the department, and created space for an 8-foot multideck rack for its prepacked fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, which include prepacked cole slaw, shredded carrots, cut celery and Caesar, European, American and Italian-style salad mixes.
An expanded variety and volume include adding a full line of greens, including collard and turnip, and some rare fruits, such as starfruit, papayas, mangoes and citrus pears.
But rather than fill up the space with commodities shoppers were not interested in, Valu Food officials elected to reset the assortment to boost the sales volume.
"We only added about 40 or 50 items, but they're all big-selling." Stringham said. "We have wider spreads. Where we had two rows of an item, we now have four.
"When you have more of a particular item, it sells more because it's more visible."
To meet the demands of such a larger department, staff was increased from three to five employees, the company said.