BLACK MOUNTAIN, N.C. -- Following a successful market test, Ingles Markets here said it will roll out a dinners-for-two program chainwide quickly.
The program, called "Meals to Go," is aimed at boosting evening business for the chain. It was launched at a new Ingles Mega Store in Kingsport, Tenn., Sept. 22, and has since been added to three more stores in Tennessee.
The program features 14 different entrees that are rotated, plus a dozen side dishes. Five or six varieties of entree are offered daily.
It took off immediately, according to Phillip Grasso, vice president of deli and food-service operations at the 188-unit chain. For example, in a unit in Knoxville, Tenn., it took just two hours for the packaged dinners to push deli sales up enough to account for an extra half percent for the day, he said.
Not only that, but the dramatic sales hike at the Knoxville store came between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., a period that usually sees slow movement, Grasso said.
"We sold 30 dinners after seven o'clock. It surprised me a little because it seemed late in the evening; but we have a good merchandiser at that store and she was there that night. She said it was all she could do to keep the case filled," Grasso told SN.
He added that success was a testament to the wisdom of having experienced associates and managers work an evening shift.
"We're trying to capture dinner business. So we're asking managers in the deli to work one or two late nights a week, so they can train associates in the evening," he explained.
The five top sellers are rotisserie chicken, meatloaf, meat lasagna, prime ribs and spaghetti with meatballs, Grasso said.
He said the chain will roll out the program as quickly as possible. To illustrate how fast the chain is moving, he said the entrees for two are currently being packed in make-shift packaging -- 8x8 foil pans with dome tops that he got from in-store bakeries -- until he secures appropriate-sized microwavable containers.
He said the "Meals to Go" price points are "attractive," and compete with Boston Market, where prices go over $10 and into the $14 to $15 range, Grasso said.
The "Meals to Go" prices range from $6.99 for a spaghetti and meatballs dinner to $9.99 for prime ribs. They include an entree for two, two 12-ounce side dishes, four dinner rolls and a utensil pack.
"Actually, you could feed three people with the dinners. For example, with the meatloaf dinner, you get nearly a pound and a half of meatloaf; and the chicken dinner includes a whole rotisserie chicken," Grasso said.
Entrees are packed in ovenable dome containers and sides are packed in microwavable dome containers. The components are then placed in a white plastic bag with "Meals to Go" scripted in red on the side.
A bright yellow tag with check-off boxes on it tells customers what's in the bag; but even so, Ingles' merchandisers learned that customers want to take a peek at the bag's contents, Grasso noted. A subsequent switch to a smaller, shopping-bag type container that's open at the top pushed sales up because customers could see the products inside, Grasso said.
"At the second store, we put the meal components in that kind of bag with tape loosely joining the sides at the top. On either side of the tape, where the mouth of the bag is open, customers can see the green beans or mashed potatoes or whatever the vegetables are. It made a big difference in sales," he said.
The bagged meals are displayed in an 8-foot, four-deck self-service case, in-line, just beyond the service hot-foods counter. An acetate strip, running the length of the case, reads "Microwavable Meals To Go" in letters 3 inches high.