ATLANTA -- Chefs and in-your-face cooking can go a long way toward winning the consumer's trust in supermarket prepared food, one speaker at HMR Summit '99 said.
Marty Tarabar, food-court manager for 30-unit Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa., told attendees at the HMR event here earlier this month that the biggest challenge for supermarkets is to earn the confidence customers already have in restaurant fare.
"We need to show the consumer what fresh-food preparation really looks like. Our facility needs to be as open to the public as possible," said Tarabar.
"The excitement of seeing a chef with a saute pan, the smell of fresh roasted garlic, steaks sizzling on the grill, chefs and cooks working together. That's what will make a successful program."
The next challenge, though, is to keep the operation efficient while still dazzling the customer, and one way to do that is to cut down on the amount of space dedicated to the food court or food-service area, Tarabar said.
"Design was one of the first things we addressed. Our sales per square foot were lagging behind national averages. We either had to shrink the food court or drastically build sales to justify the space," Tarabar said.
He said Genuardi's trimmed the width of the food-court aisle and reduced some walk-in cooler space that had originally been designed to accommodate pallet jacks. The re-evaluation has spurred Genuardi's to cut food-court space by nearly a third for future sites, he said.
But even with space trimmed, "center-stage cooking" will continue to be a feature at Genuardi's. Chefs will aim to show the product being made from start to finish and are expected to "sample, sample, sample," Tarabar said.
"Chefs and cooks, by working in a center-stage area, can develop a rapport with the customer and that builds a steady return clientele," he added.
"Chefs like to show off, in a nice way, and good food markets can take advantage of that personality trait. Provide them with the freedom to demonstrate their skills."
While the menu can be kept simple by limiting it to staple best-sellers, a daily special can give chefs an outlet for their creativity and entice customers to try something new, Tarabar said.
While it may be more labor-intensive, a special can also command a higher retail price, he explained.
"The perceived value is higher for an item the customer is not apt to cook at home." Specials also can serve as trial runs for items that could become future additions to the regular menu, Tarabar said.