LARCHMONT, N.Y. -- D'Agostino Supermarkets has launched a new, fresh format -- with a customized fresh mix and better customer service -- aimed at separating it from the rest of the urban pack.
The spotlight is trained on fresh foods, from Crenshaw melons to artisan breads; from vegetable tortes to 2-inch-thick shell steaks; and from sushi to panini and cannoli. In fact, a full half of the sales floor in the brand new 7,000-square-foot store is devoted to perishables. That's twice the amount of space designated for perishables in any of the 23-unit chain's other stores.
The first impression upon entering this store -- dubbed D'Ag Fresh Market -- is produce in abundance. A large, colorful dangler a few feet in points out that the department includes "the best of organics." Just to the right, up front, stands a large display of artisan breads.
In addition to much-touted guarantees of freshness, D'Ag Fresh Market is emphasizing its customer service. Indeed, during a recent visit to the store, SN was struck by the attentiveness of associates.
"We want you to try anything you'd like to, and if you have any questions, please ask us," said one associate as she prepared to give SN a huge bite of chocolate cannoli. Moving further through the store, counting the number of nicely merchandised entrees and sides (there are 36 of them) in the service deli case, SN was beseeched by a smiling staffer there to try a spinach-potato torte. It tasted fresh and it tasted good.
The tortes, including a Mexican variety, are cut in large wedges, piled on attractive crockery platters. The price: $4 for a half pound. The wedges weigh in at a little over half a pound, and they're big enough to feed two people with modest appetites.
Like most other items in the case, the tortes are made for D'Ag by "a local gourmet kitchen," SN was told. Just across the aisle from the deli service counter is a service sushi bar. Next to it is a 4-foot case of packaged fresh entrees and sides, and at an angle, a 15-well olive bar juts into the aisle.
All in all, at this store on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the selection of fresh fare looks like it's well-matched to the neighborhood, home to Columbia University students and faculty, and a lot of professionals who live or work in the area.
This new format, created for D'Agostino by Retail Food Design, Rochester, N.Y., features a combination of elements that underscores freshness and service, and a source close to the company said this will probably be the model for future D'Agostino stores, in metro New York and in the suburbs.
"All the attentiveness, the return to service meat and seafood, and the greater variety are part of what D'Agostino's wants to do with this store -- make a strong statement that this is all about quality, freshness and superior service. They're looking to change their image, and this is just the first of the stores that will do that," an industry source said.
Service meat and seafood departments at this store are new for D'Agostino. The chain has been returning those departments to self-service over the last few years. At this store, however, the butcher/meat manager's picture, with his name, is posted on the counter, which occupies a corner spot at the end of the produce section. There, customers could see the butcher cutting a beef tenderloin just behind the display case. Across a narrow aisle, whole salmon fillets are stretched out on an ice table. At a cutting board there, on the day SN visited, an associate was custom-cutting and weighing pieces of the fish for customers.
It appears that the company has gathered together the best of the best for all its fresh departments. Produce selections look great and while they appear to be upscale, retail prices were moderate, during opening week anyway. Large cantaloupe were two for $3, and large mangoes were 99 cents each. The same goes for meat and seafood and items in the prepared-foods case. Krispy Kreme doughnuts are offered from a self-service case up front.
The selection of artisan breads represents several local bakeries, their names displayed on the bread packages and on the shelf.
The bread companies were apparently chosen for what they're best known. For example, foccacia came from one bakery that has made a name for itself with that variety; challah from another; and an eight-grain from another. In addition, a top row holds D'Ag's baked-off breads, which are brought out of the oven throughout the day.
The aroma of fresh bread, although not evident on the day SN visited, is expected to add to the fresh image the company is looking to plant in customers' minds. On signs, on its in-store circular and on handouts, there's this slogan: "D'Ag Fresh Market -- A fresh, friendly, faster food experience ... guaranteed."
One of SN's sources said there's purposely no reference to D'Agostino Supermarkets on any of the printed materials at D'Ag Fresh Market.
"They want to brand themselves as 'fresh and quality and service' and they're doing it with this new format. That's why the banner is different."
All dry grocery items are at the back of the store. While they're merchandised neatly from floor to ceiling, they're not easily visible. In fact, the fresh store-within-a-store here is so predominant, it would be possible to go in and out without even knowing that dry pasta and dog food are also offered at this location.
For that reason, signage that cross merchandises dry grocery items with fresh items takes on particular significance. A laminated sign that's a blow-up of the same message in the in-store circular says, "Fresh natural, boneless, skinless chicken breast, $1.99 a lb.; Barilla pasta, 16 oz. assorted, 3 for $2; nutritious California broccoli, 79 cents each." Pictures of the three items are grouped together. That sign was posted over a display of fresh broccoli.