LIVONIA, Mich. -- Busch's has cooked up an unusually customer-friendly way to merchandise meat at its newest store, here.
The effort has involved a complete reset and repositioning of the service and self-service displays at the 51,700-square-foot store, Busch's largest, which opened Dec. 7. The case reset organizes items according to the time it takes to cook them instead of by the variety or cut of meat.
The service case, which has been pulled into the first quarter of the traffic pattern, is devoted entirely to value-added items -- a variety of about 40 that includes six types of stir fry, and a variety of stuffed pork loins and marinated beef roasts.
To make room for the value-added items, the more mundane steaks, chops, ground beef and even cuts of certified Black Angus beef have all been relegated to the self-service case.
"We decided to package all those. We figured it's as easy to buy a steak self-service as it is from the service counter," said Dan Courser, vice president of perishables for the 11-unit Busch's, which is based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"This is the shift we've made: Anything in the service case has to have value added to it and our associates in that department are trained to answer customers' questions and make suggestions. We decided that if we're going to have a service case, we're not just going to have a person back there wrapping up steaks. We want to put our labor where it can add value," he said.
"This [service meat case] is truly a meals-solutions center. The idea is to give customers a multitude of options so they don't have to cook the same thing all the time," Courser said.
Indeed, the variety of value-added items has been increased by at least 50% from what is offered in other Busch's stores, Courser said.
But with a lot of items such as pork roast with apple-cherry stuffing and pecan chicken breasts that customers may not be familiar with, customers definitely need some instruction, he said.
To accomplish that, in addition to its team of knowledgeable associates behind the counter, Busch's has provided large product cards in the case that offer clear cooking instructions and cooking times. For example, a card in front of marinated Szechuan chicken breasts has an illustration of a clock and a notation that it takes 20 minutes to cook the product. Another line on the card says, "broil or grill over medium heat."
Scan labels in the meat department also carry cooking times and instructions.
"As a food retailer, we feel that educating the consumer is one of our responsibilities," Courser said.
He also pointed out that his company is very aware of the time crunch customers find themselves in and he said Busch's is attempting to ease meals preparation in any way it can. That's where posting cooking times comes into play.
"A customer might know he has only, say 15 minutes, to prepare dinner. So he knows which part of the case to go to," Courser said.
He detailed how the 16-foot service meat case is merchandised to visually help the customer choose what he needs.
"As you move down the case, you progress through time," he said.
"For example, the first section, at the right of the case, displays stir fry. There, a sign indicates that cooking time is five minutes or less. We have six different varieties of just stir fry: pork, beef and chicken in two different marinades, sweet and sour and Szechuan." The next section holds marinated chicken breasts that take eight to 10 minutes for sauteeing. At the far end of the case are marinated roasts, which take an hour and a half to two hours of cooking.
In its effort to provide ultimate convenience for the meals customer, the company also cross merchandises and even uses containers that it deems best for transport and eventual preparation.
Alongside the stir-fry meats, for instance, is a huge shallow pan of colorful, precut stir-fry vegetables. Both the stir-fry meats and the stir-fry vegetables are served up in deli containers, not in butcher paper.
"We think deli containers are more convenient because the customer can just take them home and dump them in the wok," Courser said.
With some exceptions, items in the meat case are shown off in the utensil that would ordinarily be used to cook them.
"We have the stir fry in small woks and the pork loins in roasting pans. We also have items in shallow sauce pans and braising pans," Courser said.
A big brass, clunky-looking, old-fashioned alarm clock is used as a prop in the middle of the case to underscore the time considerations, Courser noted. He said the new style of merchandising seems to be working.
"We've had good comments from customers. We'll definitely do most of this in store No. 12. We're able to do here what we have wanted to do for a while," he said, explaining that in existing stores space limitations preclude big changes like repositioning cases.