NORTHLAKE, Ill. (FNS) -- Produce plays center stage in the conversions of Dominick's Finer Foods Omni units, for the most part to Dominick's Fresh Store units, throughout the Chicago area.
All in all, 15 formerly-tagged Omni stores have been refitted under a $50 million improvement project completed less than two weeks ago, said chain officials.
In total, 12 of the former Omni's now hold the distinction of being reformatted as Dominick's Fresh stores, featuring an expanded produce department within a fresh market-like environment.
The food market presentation also includes the Chef's Collection prepared foods and the chain's Corner Cafe, a hot service and self-service concept with a dedicated register and seating.
Those units not re-bannered as Dominick's Fresh units have been converted to the conventional Dominick's format. However, the Fresh format is most indicative of the chain's future strategy.
"The Fresh Store concept is the direction Dominick's is going in," said Andrea Brands, vice president public relations. "The original 45 Fresh Stores are tremendously popular. Customers like the new shopping experience."
One of the key points of a Fresh Store shopping experience is the expanded produce section. The department boasts more than 400 produce varieties offered up in addition to a large European market-style floral department, which is positioned adjacent to the front end.
Former Omni shoppers, offered a limited assortment of produce items, have welcomed the newly positioned department, according to Brands.
The reformatted units now boast a multi-decked refrigerated case with freshly squeezed juices, a wall full of value added produce items, organic produce offerings, ethnic specialties and a large salad bar.
The salad bars, a new installation for the converted units, are situated mid-produce department. The refrigerated 50-item bar contains a variety of fruit, vegetables, greens, pickles, peppers and pastas, each well labeled. A clever reach-in refrigerated area located below the bar allows for easy access to single-serve beverages and juices. Two hot soups are also kept on the salad bar.
In a converted unit visited by SN, the produce department had been shifted from the left of the store to the right. This shift is in keeping with other Fresh Stores' floor plans, where the produce, together with the deli, Chef's Collection, bakery, Corner Cafe, seafood and service meat are all grouped to form a fresh statement as customers enter the unit.
The produce area features a dropped ceiling, directed lighting and earthy tones. Chalk board signing identifies items and supplies prices within the carpeted produce department.
The Omni units remained in full operation throughout the remodeling project. The conversions were mounted across the board, taking on average about 20 weeks for completion. Under the Omni format the units were positioned with a big-box, price-impact combination format, averaging around 60,000 square feet.
"That kind of a shift takes a lot of planning," said Brands. "To accomplish it, we took advantage of the down time in the late evenings and early mornings when there would not be huge customer traffic. We have a lot of patient customers. I think they have found that the little inconvenience was well worth it."
Sales during the conversions were reported to have fallen, because of the disruption at store level, on average 25%. To recapture these lost sales, the new Fresh Stores held grand openings. Dominick's sent letters to area residents inviting them to come in to see the few Fresh Store in their neighborhood.
An application for the chain's frequent shopper card, Dominick's Fresh Values card, was included in the mailing along with savings coupons. These coupons, tied to the Fresh Values Card, featured perishable items over a three week redemption period.
"We send special ads to residents where we have new stores to bring them in to see the experience," said Brands, "particularly the former Omni shoppers. They are really surprised with the new format. These Fresh Stores are a great concept."
Coupons for week one included $1 off any cut of certified Angus Beef. Week two offered 49-cents off a bag salad, $1 off a floral department bouquet and $2 off on any Chef's Collection entree or sandwich. For week three, the focus turns to the deli, with a $2-off coupon on deli meat.
The former Omni units account for about 23% of Dominick's selling square footage, industry experts said. Fresh Stores have 37% and conventional Dominick's units hold 40%. With the conversions the Fresh Stores are expected to command 56% of the chain's selling square footage base.