Little changes often drive big results in fresh food departments, and so do some out-of-the-ordinary merchandising ideas
Reallocated space, repurposed displays and demos done right have been shown to work.
For example, switching the location of deli and bakery just a couple of weeks ago is the latest improvement at Brigido's Markets, North Providence, R.I.
Brigido's also has just reclaimed 8 feet of refrigerated produce case for deli items in its flagship store. The cleared space is now filled with dips, salsas and cheese platters to spur holiday-time impulse buys. Already it's working, said Mark Brigido, president of the four-unit, family-owned independent.
“After the first weekend, we could see sales were well up. We don't have the numbers yet, but we could tell they were selling better than where they'd been in another spot,” Brigido told SN last week.
The secondary display is catching the attention of customers farther forward in the traffic pattern.
What's more, taking the space away from produce will cut down on that department's shrink during the winter months, Brigido said. He's working with consultant Terry Roberts to make similar changes in the company's other units.
“It's sometimes difficult to get a retailer to change things around, but we consider the reallocating of real estate here a win-win-win-win situation,” said Roberts, president of Merchandising By Design, Carrollton, Texas.
Roberts helped Brigido's, within a day, to completely swap positions of the deli and the bakery at the company's largest store to better present products and smooth the traffic flow.
“It's good to have a fresh set of eyes looking at things. We really try to assess every inch of space to make sure things are moving,” Brigido said.
“Changing the bakery and deli makes the flow less choppy, and puts more like products together.”
Smaller-scale changes can also be rewarding.
“A profitable change can be made just by repurposing equipment, a display or even a container,” said Carol Christison, executive director, International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Assocation, Madison, Wis.
A case in point is Publix Super Markets' use of an Alto-Shaam oven to display Cuban bread. In its Sabor units, which are located in Florida areas with large Hispanic populations, the Lakeland, Fla.-based chain has used the ovens as a self-service display that keeps bags of bread warm. Customers reach in and help themselves.
From the time the Sabor stores were opened two years ago, those ovens were dedicated to that function, and results have been very satisfying, officials told SN.
“This self-serve-type warmer is authentic to the culture and is very popular,” said Publix spokesman Dwaine Stevens.
Sometimes it's a really different piece of equipment that breathes new life into a department. The Chippery, a relatively new item on the market, makes fresh potato chips on the spot. It's doing just that right now in some retailers' deli and produce departments.
Raw potatoes fed into the back of the machine emerge three minutes later as freshly cooked potato chips ready for a shake of different seasonings before being bagged.
“This is an opportunity for fresh departments to cash in on the snack explosion. Potato chips are a big proportion of the $15 billion snack business in this country,” said consultant Howard Solganik, partner in Culinary Resources, Dayton, Ohio.
Officials at Toronto-based The Chippery told SN that sales of the fresh chips — which command a retail price 100% to 150% above most grocery aisle potato chips — are almost entirely incremental.
At this point, The Chippery equipment is turning out fresh potato chips in the deli or produce departments of selected units of Kroger Co., Sobeys, Farm Fresh and, most recently, Albertsons.
Not all dramatic changes and sales boosters require an investment in equipment. Indeed, IDDBA's Christison can reel off lists and lists of tweaks and repositionings that can be accomplished with little money and little time.
Every year at IDDBA's Dairy-Deli-Bake Seminar and Expo, Christison shows off lots of such ideas in the Show & Sell Center. There, creativity — hers and that of retailers and suppliers who volunteer to create and implement the center — shines through.
A standout display this year was one that Christison said accomplished two things. It uses a piece of display equipment that had been sitting in the back room, ready for discarding, and it showcases bake-off artisan breads in a totally different way.
Attractive loaves of bread in see-through bags were displayed hanging on a Peg-Board of the type usually seen in the dairy department.
“It's important to leverage what you have and to think outside of the box,” Christison said last week.
“The fun part of retailing is ‘repurposing,’ taking a piece of equipment or a container that was designed for one thing and making it something new like the refrigerated Peg-Board case that was repurposed to hold packaged artisan breads.”
That particular display offers both Peg-Board options and a flat display option on the lower deck.
“A quick little raffia tie around the [bread bags'] closures gives it an upscale look. The color of the raffia can change with the seasons or can be embellished with a sprig of rosemary, an ornament, a coupon,” she explained.
“We first saw this idea in Paris. While there was a language barrier — I didn't speak much French and the clerk didn't speak much English — it was obvious that a new merchandising idea had been born of a defunct piece of equipment.”
Christison also talked about ideas for repurposing containers.
“How about a seven-layer salad in a [beverage] cup? McDonald's may have started it, but why don't we run with it?”
Sometimes it's just a shelf or a table that can be put to a new use that sets registers ringing.
SN talked to a deli associate at a Northeast supermarket who decided to try to make better use of the “knee-knocker” shelves in front of the service deli.
Those shelves had been home to a variety of items, everything from crackers to salad/sandwich dressings in squeeze bottles. The problem was that they weren't moving.
Then, the deli manager tried putting stack packs of colorful, flavored tortillas there. Ever since, the problem is a different one: Keeping the shelves stocked.
It also gives associates a new chance to sell up.
“A customer will pick up a bag of tomato-flavored or spinach-flavored tortillas and ask us what they're used for,” the deli associate told SN. “We tell them they make great wraps with Boar's Head smoked turkey, for instance, and we give them a taste of that.”
Getting customers to taste products is something that is not implemented enough, industry observers tell SN all the time.
They document the fact that a staffed demonstration station can send sales of the demoed product soaring, even days after the demo.
Solganik at Culinary Resources said a good, well-planned demo can't be beat for creating some excitement in a department.
But Solganik emphasized that to be really worthwhile, a demonstration should include several products. He cited a demo of gourmet salt that he and his group observed on one of the Passion for Food Tours his company orchestrates.
The product officially being demoed was a fancy imported salt. But also memorable, he said, was the way in which it was presented.
“How do you demo salt? Well, they did it by putting unsalted butter on a hunk of nice, fresh bread, and then they sprinkled the salt on top of the butter,” Solganik said.
“On top of that butter, the salt just popped. You could feel its texture as well as taste it. And it looked so nice,” he added.
“These salts aren't usually white. Hawaiian salt, for instance, is pink or orange. It's volcanic minerals in it that gives it the color.”
That demo was an idea that Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle associates on the tour took back to stores with them.
“Everybody is always demoing bread. In the salt demo, they were selling the bread, the butter and the salt. And the salt made it so different.”
An opportunity lurks there for in-store bakeries and delis as gourmet salts hit the trend charts.
Mintel, an international research group with U.S. headquarters in Chicago, has just added gourmet salt to its latest 10 Top Food Trends.
Another consultant who works with supermarkets agreed that putting a new twist on a demo can make it memorable and greatly increase sales results.
“At Longo's in Toronto, I saw a woman walking around with a tray of honey-dipped apples offering them to customers,” said Harold Lloyd, president/founder of Harold Lloyd Presents, Virginia Beach, Va.
That she was walking around the store was different enough, but she also had attached to her collar a wireless microphone that had a radius of about 20 feet — “an idea borrowed from department store cosmetics, but certainly one that got attention, as she invited customers to try the apples,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd also described the use of sound, which created ambiance in different departments at a Pittsburgh supermarket.
“In the deli, where there was a large display of Italian food, a hanging [speaker] was playing Italian music. In the seafood department, another hanging [speaker] offered the sound of ocean waves and seagulls.”
Lloyd noted, too, that there are easy things supermarket retailers could be doing to set themselves apart from the pack, and he said he doesn't understand why they're not implementing them.
“At Sobeys in the summertime, I've seen a tub of ice up at checkout with lemonade in cups with straws. What an idea!”
With a sign on them that says, “Fresh Squeezed Lemonade,” those cups would be hard to pass up, Lloyd said.
For that matter, he asked rhetorically, “Why do we [supermarkets] allow the convenience stores to own soda fountain drinks? Those are God's gift to profitability, and yet I don't see anyone taking up the idea.”