CORONA, Calif. — Supervalu's new retail course is clear: a mix of better, fresher and healthier product offerings combined with better service in a cleaner store environment.
“From the moment you walk in a store, everything is designed with the consumer in mind,” Terry Rocheleau, area vice president for Albertsons in four Southern California counties, told SN.
According to Bill Wuertz, manager of a newly built Albertsons store here, “When people walk in, the store really pops!”
Those “pops” can be heard all over the store — from the expanded variety of produce that screams fresh, he said, to service seafood, where product is displayed in three separate cases; the Wild Harvest section that brings together — for the first time at the chain — dry, frozen and refrigerated varieties of natural and organic foods in a more complete store-within-a-store; the expanded varieties of international foods in the Shop the World aisle; the broad array of frozen foods positioned around the store; and the half-moon shelving that thrusts gourmet and specialty items forward from the conventional gondola runs.
In fact, wherever the customer turns, they encounter merchandise that's either premium, fresh or healthy — justifying the name of the format that was developed pre-merger by Albertsons and implemented post-merger by Supervalu, Minneapolis.
“At Supervalu we were working on a parallel merchandising plan for fresh departments that we called ‘pushing the edges,’” Jeff Noddle, chairman and chief executive officer, told SN. “Now we're bringing the two ideas together and picking out the best pieces of each, with plans to use that across the entire enterprise and tailor it to each neighborhood as we remodel.”
Premium fresh & healthy is a format designed to leverage the equity of local banners with upgrades in key departments and better customer service.
“This is where the business is going,” Noddle said last fall, “and every new store and remodel will have some of [the premium fresh & healthy] components, tailored to fit the banner and the neighborhood.”
Between November and March, Supervalu opened 12 new stores with the premium fresh & healthy format and remodeled several others to raise them up to that standard.
Although Supervalu plans to introduce the premium fresh & healthy concept across the company, a large amount of the activity so far seems to have come at Albertsons locations in Southern California, including seven of the 12 new stores and an unspecified number of remodelings.
During the rest of 2007 and through the first three months of 2008, when its next fiscal year ends, Supervalu anticipates implementing the premium fresh & healthy concept at approximately 18 new stores (out of a total of up to 30 new units) and at approximately 80 remodelings of acquired stores (out of a total of 110 planned remodels), though the company did not indicate how the activity would be spread among its various banners.
“The in-store experience is the key factor that will drive our success,” Noddle said. “We have to get better at improving that experience, and customers must feel and see it.
“If we do that, then within a year we think we can have a marketing competency that far exceeds what either Supervalu or Albertsons had [before the merger] and bring us up to speed with the best in the industry.”
To describe the in-store experience Supervalu-owned retail stores aspire to, and to demonstrate the differences that premium fresh & healthy has created, Rocheleau and Wuertz led SN through the 52,000-square-foot Albertsons store that opened in February in Corona, 60 miles east of Los Angeles in Riverside County.
The most obvious difference, they pointed out, is on the right side of the store, where produce, bakery and service deli have been grouped together, rather than having produce positioned on one side and deli/bakery on the other or splitting those two departments on opposite sides of the store, as in the more traditional Albertsons layout.
“We wanted all fresh items together, near the entrance, so the customer could see them when she enters and know this is where it's at,” Wuertz explained.
According to Rocheleau, “The concentration of offerings in one place says ‘fresh’ and puts customers in the right frame of mind to shop.”
What's certain to catch the consumer's eye as she enters the Corona Albertsons is the 3,500-square-foot produce area, which features more than 420 items merchandised in refrigerated cases and island display fixtures with merchandise in bushel baskets, surrounded by a multi-tier wraparound gondola run called The Salad Place featuring “all the ingredients you need in one location!” according to store signage.
The section features a tileless concrete floor and an exposed ceiling with superstructures suspended above the product “that gives the section more ambience,” Rocheleau said, plus track lighting “that focuses the customer's attention on the merchandise directly,” Wuertz added.
“All that puts more emphasis on the product,” Wuertz pointed out. “All the color is at eye level, and it really jumps out at you and just screams fresh.”
All refrigerated produce displays are low-profile, without the tiered dummy racks many supermarkets use to add false bulk to displays. Island cases and displays are spaced to provide maximum room for customers, though the section has sufficient space to add more fixtures if necessary, he noted.
At one end of the produce section is the floral department, which features cut flowers in buckets, displayed in a one-tier top-view case; and an upgraded selection of floral arrangements made in-store and displayed in a refrigerated upright fixture, Rocheleau said.
At the other end of the department — at the end of the wraparound Salad Place fixture — is a boutique table with a variety of premium and imported cheeses that were moved to the fresh area from their former placement in the store's packaged deli section, Rocheleau pointed out.
Along the wall at the front of the store is the service bakery, with separate self-service cases for donuts, bagels and decorated cakes and island tables of various sizes featuring breads, cakes and cookies in front of the service counter.
Adjacent to the bakery is the service deli, featuring hot foods to go, fried chicken, sandwiches, fresh salads and luncheon meats, with a self-service section featuring heat-and-serve entrees from Boston Market. (A new Albertsons in downtown San Diego has a complete Boston Market restaurant inside it.)
Immediately in front of the service deli counter is an olive bar and a separate soup bar, with a choice of hot varieties in cauldrons and prepackaged cold soups to go — both part of the expanded premium fresh & healthy offering, Rocheleau said.
All freestanding displays in the perishables area are on wheels and modular so they can be moved around as needed, he explained. “So, for example, we have cases with dual temperature controls that allow us to use them for refrigerated displays in the fresh section or frozen food displays,” he said.
In the meat department, along part of the store's back wall, there's a 16-foot service meat case and three 6-foot service seafood cases: one with fish fillets and steaks, one with raw shellfish and one with cooked shellfish and seafood salads — plus a 4-foot self-service sushi offering.
“Having seafood displayed [in three separate cases] helps to focus the customer's attention,” Wuertz explained. “It also avoids cross-contamination in the case, eliminates the need for dividers, and because service people can step out from the back of the counter and open the case from the side to serve customers, it allows for better interaction.”
Self-service packaged meats are displayed in one five-tier case and in a separate three-tier case. A customer standing at the lower-profile case can look directly into the glassed-in back room, where butchers cut meat facing out toward the store, Rocheleau pointed out.
The store also offers a frozen seafood case next to the fresh seafood counters and a frozen meat case adjacent to the self-service meat, instead of locating both with the rest of the frozen foods. “A customer looking for meat expects all meats to be in the meat department, not somewhere else, next to frozen pizza,” Rocheleau said.
Opposite the service meat section and behind the wraparound produce fixture is a liquor alcove, with a refrigerated beer box just behind the alcove facing out toward the Center Store.
As part of the store's expanded and premium offering, Albertsons features domestic wines, along with imports from Australia, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, Chile and Argentina.
Moved from the back of the store to an up-front location in the premium fresh & healthy format is Wild Harvest, the chain's natural and organic store-within-a-store, covering 112 feet on four gondola sides, plus a 10-door frozen food case and 12 feet of natural and organic refrigerated dairy, meat and deli items that make the store-within-a-store description more apt than in previous stores, Rocheleau noted.
Within the grocery aisles, premium fresh & healthy stores are highlighting gourmet items with 4-foot half-moon shelving that juts out slightly from the gondola runs “to bring those items to the customer's attention,” he said.
An entire 84-foot aisle running front-to-back encompasses the chain's Shop the World section, featuring products encompassing Polish, German, Irish, Hispanic, Indo-European and Asian foods, plus kosher varieties and Southwestern foods.
“Premium fresh & healthy has a wider assortment of these international and ethnic items compared to our typical store in the past,” Rocheleau pointed out.
The frozen foods section is also larger, with product behind 118 doors, “which is probably 20 doors more than we previously had — and with frozen meats and seafood in the meat section and organics segmented in the Wild Harvest area, that probably accounts for 20 doors more, for a total of 40 additional doors — because of higher demand for frozen varieties today,” Rocheleau explained.
In the front left corner of the store is the pharmacy, with several low-profile gondolas in front of it featuring health and beauty care items that allow customers to see the pharmacy from any point on that side of the store.
Stores with the premium fresh & healthy format have less sign pollution, Rocheleau pointed out, “to make sure the focus stays on fresh. And the signage in display areas is smaller so the consumer focus is directed at the merchandise.”