ORLANDO, Fla. -- Although many units of Winn-Dixie Stores carry specialty items for Hispanic shoppers, a retooled store here signals that the chain is experimenting with a major commitment to that market in its fresh-foods departments.
In addition to staffing the store with 100% bilingual signage and personnel, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based chain injected a significant amount of new Hispanic items to its 36,000-square-foot store near Orlando International Airport in mid-April.
Latin foods, including specialty roots and prepared meals, now make up 40% of store offerings, compared with about 20% previously (that figure includes packaged foods).
"We've created a store with Hispanic decor, including murals, signs and music -- the largest Hispanic-type store in Orlando," said Larry Beck, marketing director for the chain's Orlando division.
Instead of closing the 20-year-old store, as the chain planned earlier this year, Winn-Dixie officials opted for an estimated $250,000 renovation -- primarily to its fresh departments -- to compete with the Hispanic food stores in the area.
Although only 16% of households in an 8-mile radius of the store are Hispanic, more than 80% of the store's customers are Hispanic, according to store manager Julio Dalvarez.
"People are coming here from nearby cities. The store is like their homeland -- people are talking with everyone, dancing in the aisles, having fun," he told SN.
Dalvarez said that in his three years at the store, where customers used to be "afraid to shop after dark" because of the rough neighborhood, he has never seen the type of sales he's seeing now.
The deli-bakery tripled its sales when it focused almost solely on Puerto Rican, Cuban and Mexican foods, while produce sales rose from 5% of total store sales to 8%, and meat sales rose from 9% to 12%, he said.
The most noticeable changes are in the meat department, where a wall separating the processing area from the front meat cases was removed, so customers could watch as their meat is cut.
"The Hispanic customers generally want their meat sliced or ground in front of them, we found after studying formats in south Florida," said Ron Pearl, meat merchandiser for Winn-Dixie's Orlando division.
Because Hispanic customers develop loyal relationships with their meatcutters, the store also displays photos of all meat-department employees and the manager. Most Winn-Dixie stores display the manager's photo only.
At the same time, the "open-air" market creates temperature control challenges. At times, the temperature differences in the meat department and the store cause packages of meat in the refrigerated case to freeze. A recently installed air curtain, although it creates some noise, is helping to control the temperature.
Although the store did not add different types of meats, it features a larger volume of top sellers among Hispanics, such as sirloin tips and pork shoulders. To compete with local bodegas, or Hispanic stores, those two items are promoted weekly with specials such as $1.48 for 10 to 12 pounds of sirloin tips during re-opening week.
Above meat cases, Hispanic seasoning packets, marinades and other products -- such as pork cracklings at $1.98 for an 8-ounce package -- are displayed. Cast-iron skillets, large bags of garlic and jars of pickled eggs and pigs' feet also line these shelves.
Next to the meat department, the "Fisherman's Wharf" features yellowtail snapper and salmon for $4.98 a pound, imitation crab for $1.88 a pound and several other items.
Winn-Dixie officials are experimenting with bilingual labels on some of the meats, as well as Spanish-only labels on products that only Hispanic customers are likely to purchase. "Any item that we feel is of interest to both Hispanic and Anglo customers, we put the bilingual label on," Pearl said.
In the produce department, two 24-foot cases of produce were removed and a horseshoe-shaped melon and tropical fruit bar was added. Signs with the words "Healthy Snacks" and "Time Savers" hang above jars of sliced mango, plastic containers of chopped pineapples, fruit trays and other items.
Several items were added in other areas: sour oranges for cooking; jicama, yucca, malanga and nama roots; calabasa, a Latin squash; chayote squash; peppers; garlic varieties; and cilantro and culantro. Meanwhile, spaghetti squash and some hard squashes were deleted to make room for the new items.
"They're finding it to be a niche market and they're drawing a certain type of customer that's been neglected over the past few years," said Marjorie Poole, national sales manager at Marjon Specialty Foods in Plant City, Fla., one of Winn-Dixie's specialty produce suppliers.
Some Winn-Dixie stores now buy 50 pounds of certain roots and specialties a week, when they used to purchase about 20 pounds, she said.
A dry display of roots and squashes touts several promotions, including chayota at 98 cents a pound, boniato at 2 pounds for $1, and yucca at 2 pounds for $1. Specialty peppers, including cachucha, serraro and jalapena, sell for $2.98 a pound.
Several varieties of garlic and onions are displayed next to mushrooms and soyfoods, such as tofu for $1.98 a package and veggie burgers for $2.98 a package. A 4-foot display features precut salads and vegetables, such as celery sticks at $1.28 for 8 ounces. Salad dressings and veggie dips line shelves above produce, while Winn-Dixie's Superbrand fruit punches, at 60 cents a gallon, line the floor.
The additions to the produce department appear to be paying off. In the re-opening week, the produce department sales jumped from an $8,000-a-week average to $20,000 a week. A previously 12-foot refrigerated juice case next to the produce department was expanded to 32 feet, and features a section of Hispanic beverages, such as Goya sodas at 68 cents for 12 ounces and Caribik Sun Tamarind Nectar at $2.98 for 64 ounces.
A lunch-meat case next to juices features numerous Hispanic items, including a specialty white cheese at $2.88 for 10 ounces, Mortadella pork sausage at $2.99 for 10 ounces, and rice pudding at $1.98 for 9 ounces.
A large refrigerated case of lunch meats in front of the bakery/deli was removed to make room for three round tables and a coffee bar.
Cuban coffee; espresso, at 35 cents for a small cup; and cafe con leche are offered, along with pastries in a warmer. Packaged rice pudding at $1.39 a cup, flan and other desserts can also be purchased from a nearby refrigerated case.
Customers can also buy Spanish-language magazines to read at the cafe from holders in front of the coffee bar.
Although the deli had offered some Latin foods, virtually all entrees are how geared toward Hispanic shoppers. Prepared dishes include smoked sausage Sachichas at $4.48 a pound, Picadillo Spanish-style ground beef at $3.98 a pound, roast pork Pernil at $3.98 a pound, fried bananas at five for $1, and bread pudding at $2.48 a pound.
Customers are drawn to the deli's chefs almost as much as to the food. Many people stop to visit with the two chefs -- one from Cuba and one from Puerto Rico -- who are featured on a Spanish television show.
Some of the chefs' offerings cater more to Puerto Ricans -- the majority Hispanic group in Orlando -- than to Cubans. However, the differences are minor, according to Dalvarez. For example, the deli serves yellow rice for Puerto Rican shoppers, instead of the white rice that Cubans prefer.
This store's official home-meal replacement program consists of to-go boxes of rotisserie and fried chicken in a self-serve warmer. However, many customers take three or four meals to go in Styrofoam containers, especially during the lunch hour. They can order a large meal for $4.98 each, compared with about $6.98 at the local Hispanic restaurant, Dalvarez points out.
In addition, a refrigerated self-serve case displays packages of rotisserie chicken at $4.98 each and hot wings at $5.98 for 20 wings, along with potato salad and parfait cups.
The bakery sells traditional breads and pastries, along with Puerto Rican and Cuban bread (98 cents a loaf) in a warmer, and guava, coconut and lemon pound cakes for $1.98 each.