Cooperation between retailers and manufacturers is what many experts say helps guide consumers in Center Store toward a meal solution for dinner that night.
Even a bottle of ketchup can be a meal solution, said one, and, indeed, Heinz puts out a recipe booklet, as do most other food manufacturers. Campbell's Soup, with its casserole recipes that date back decades, is another prime example.
In the world of the '90s, though, more innovative examples include the COOKS hotline at Price Chopper Supermarkets headquarters, Schenectady, N.Y., co-sponsored by spice maker McCormick & Co., Hunt Valley, Md. The acronym COOKS stands for Call On Our Kitchen Specialists, and culinary school graduates handle the calls, many of which are on basic food preparation.
Even though consumers are pressed for time during the week, Maureen Murphy, manager of consumer services at Price Chopper, said she hears enough on her job to substantiate "a definite trend toward cooking on the weekend. It's become a form of relaxation. Everybody is trying to put on a good meal," Murphy told SN.
Hiring nutritionists or home economists is another way to steer shoppers toward meal solutions, as these professionals can provide suggestions to help shoppers find what they need, especially if someone in the family suffers from hypertension, diabetes or some other disease that can be allayed by healthier eating. Basic recipe cards also work and, if the retailer wants to invest the money and space, refrigerated cases in-line in grocery are proving successful in many stores.
"Solution selling from Center Store offers tremendous opportunity for Center Store, but we have to be creative to do it," said Michael Sansolo, senior vice president of the Food Marketing Institute, Washington.
Some elements of Center Store make it time-consuming for shoppers, since picking up all the ingredients one needs for a recipe could entail going to two or three different aisles. "You have to think, 'Excitement Centers,' within Center Store," Sansolo said.
That's what prompted Bill Feldpausch, president of G&R Felpausch Co., Hastings, Mich., to add refrigerated cases to three grocery aisles: pasta, cereal and Mexican.
The 20-store chain recently remodeled its 47,000-square-foot unit in Eaton Rapids, Mich., adding an 8-foot in-line cooler in the Mexican section for taco ingredients, such as hamburger, shells, lettuce and shredded cheese. The case was purchased from the refrigeration company the chain uses, Feldpausch said, and there is no brand link with the program it uses.
In the dry pasta aisle, G&R added a case that holds refrigerated pastas, sauce and some cheeses. Colorful signage at the top of each case identifies it.
When the remodel was finished this spring, the store's cereal aisle, located in the middle of the store, included a 4-foot case for juice, milk and breakfast items like yogurt, eggs and bagels. "We are selling a lot of milk and juice out of it, especially the small individual servings of milk in pint jugs," Feldpausch noted. "You want to put impulse items in there."
The Mexican section's chilled case has increased the sale of ground beef, Feldpausch said, by several cases a day. It's all plus sales, he said, because by the time customers reach that spot, they have already shopped the meat department.
"We are definitely planning to do this in other stores. We're happy with it."
Another approach to selling Center Store is the recipe-card program, employed by Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass., among others. Ingredients in the recipe are noted using shelf talkers, Bernie Rogan, spokesman for the chain, explained.
"Also, in one central location we have all the ingredients assembled for this particular recipe. In some stores, this was done in the front of the store. Our recipe-card program is being remodeled, but we merchandised it wherever the spices or canned beans were to make this entree or that," he said. Recipe cards are being redesigned "in a beautiful four-color format" and will be ready next year, Rogan said.
Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, often partners with other manufacturers to increase store sales. Bob Platt, senior channel manager for supermarkets, told SN Coca-Cola has done tie-ins with DiGiorno Pizza and others, keying the beverage into various "consumption occasions during the day -- thinking about when consumers crave a soft drink, from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night, and, as they are shopping the store, thinking about messaging in the store that links back to that.
"It's a reminder, for example, to have a display of 2-liter Coca-Cola near the frozen pizza section with the message 'Complete your meal with refreshment' and a nice picture or a good price," Platt said. "The core idea is linking Coca-Cola brands and the complementary products pizza, chicken or deli, as the case may be, and as we have in-store placement of fixtures with the message on it.
"As we update the messaging, we update in terms of the visuals," he continued. "The ones we've made available to our bottlers and retailers are Top 10 meals eaten by American families. Then we look at those meals and figure out which ones make the most sense with Coke." (Pizza and hamburgers are two Platt mentioned as "a natural.")
The program with Kraft/DiGiorno, Platt said, is probably the newest entry. He described it as a combination of fixturing and point of sale and promotional overlays. He said the program varies market by market, "but we do have bottlers who are executing it with retailers."
According to Platt, the company conducted research on meal solutions last year among consumers. "They responded in a very positive manner, about how they reacted in terms of how the store is looking out for them, [feeling] that the store really cares about them." The Top 12 entrees, in terms of American family meals at home, he said, are pizza, ham sandwich, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, hot dog, turkey sandwich, hamburger, macaroni and cheese, steak, baked chicken, bologna sandwich, spaghetti and Mexican meals.
Reynolds Metals, Richmond, Va., frequently does promotions in partnership with other manufacturers or associations, such as the National Pork Producers Council, Clive, Iowa. Even though these promotions often include a product from the periphery of the store, Center Store ingredients are almost always included in the recipe.
Clemens Markets, Kulpsville, Pa., ran a promotion Oct. 2, according to Al Kober, meat merchandising manager there. "Restaurants are my friends, not the enemy," he told SN via e-mail. "As a supplier of meat and other items to be prepared at home, there is no way that I can compete with the experience, the presentation, or the theater that a good 'white tablecloth' restaurant can provide. They can show how good food should taste and how it should be presented, and maybe some customers may want to try to duplicate that experience at home, and need us to do it."
Multitemperature presentation is the biggest hurdle to meal-solutions promos, in Paul Hunt's opinion. As director of collaborative marketing for Reynolds Metals, Hunt said, it's a significant, ongoing problem to merchandise refrigerated items with dry grocery. "For meal solutions, one of the principles is to bring all the items together so the shopper doesn't have to wander all around the store. Stores are busy, they're crowded, and the shopper must think about where the can of peas is, on aisle 2; oil, on aisle 3; chicken breast in the back, and so forth," Hunt said.
"What we've done -- and had pretty good success with -- is to bring the dry grocery items together at a destination, and refer [the shoppers] to the meat. If it's right across the aisle, that's the best case scenario," Hunt said.
Hunt said Reynolds has found good results from teaming with associations like the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute, Bellevue, Wash., with which Reynolds conducts a program every Lent. Hunt said Reynolds sent many shippers of its products to Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., the cooperative that supplies ShopRite stores, last February and March for Lenten fish promotions, which always included recipes incorporating Center Store ingredients.
One of the added benefits, for both retailer and manufacturer, Hunt said, is that when goods are sold in the context of a meal solution, price points can actually be higher. "People don't mind paying a little more if you show them a good way to use it," Hunt said.