CHICAGO -- In a video montage of retail creativity and business best practices, the 2011 Ideas 2 Go session at the 2011 NACS Show in Chicago this week featured nine retailers, including two operators in Hawaii, a truckstop, a single-store operator, a grocery legend and a few well-known regional chains.
Despite the diversity, all take a different stab at selling fresh food that other retailers can emulate.
Pak-A-Sak Inc. has made drive-throughs work where other retailers have failed. The retailer acquired two sites in Amarillo, Texas, originally designed as Starbucks drive-throughs and repurposed them to fit a smaller version of its c-stores. As customers queue up in the drive-through lane, they can see the store's selection of packaged beverages through large glass windows.
"We had to train customers that they get anything in the store, so seeing through the wall helps," said vice president Brian McKee.
Although the 1,700-square-feet sites are smaller, they still sell 90% of the SKUs in Pak-A-Sak's large stores; 67% of sales are made through the drive-through.
Another retailer with a slimmed-down offering is Stew Leonard's, a four-store grocery chain based in Norwalk, Conn.
As president and CEO Stew Leonard Jr. explained, his sites feature around 2,000 SKUs, compared to an average of 80,000 in a traditional supermarket. A bakery section located right at the entrance greets customers with the smells of fresh bread, pies and other baked goods. While cherries are traditionally packaged in bags, Stew Leonard's sells them loose and lets customers pick themselves. Another unorthodox move: The grocer encourages mothers to apply for positions at its sites, despite their often constrained schedules.
"Your schedule is our schedule," said Leonard, noting that these moms excel at customer service and are seasoned food shoppers themselves.
(See Related Content below for previous CSP Daily Newscoverage.)
Tedeschi Food Shops
Tedeschi Food Shops Inc., a 190-store chain based in Rockland, Mass., transformed a former mattress store into a showcase of fresh food. "When you first walk in, you see fresh all around," said vice president Joe Hamza, noting that the effort is aimed at attracting the female shopper.
Cues include fresh flowers, the smells of bread and brewed coffee, as well as meats being sliced and sandwiches made at the store's in-house deli. To help customers in their efforts to stay healthy, signs ask them to inform employees of any food allergies, and prepared foods are labeled clearly with their nutritional content.
"The concept of a healthy c-store is an oxymoron today," said Peter Tedeschi, president and CEO. "We need to change that."
Nourish Market has taken that theme to heart, said Karen Sherwood, founder and CEO of the McLean, Va., single-store operator. The shop specializes in home-made prepared foods, and has gotten a boost by catering open houses for local real-estate agents.
Other offerings include organic wine and gluten-free beer and crackers. "People are giving up health for the sake of convenience," said Sherwood. "We're proving it doesn't have to be the case.
The Coco Cove store brand from The Sullivan Family of Cos., Honolulu, also wants to be a destination for fresh food, with its grab-and-go section stocked with bento boxes, made fresh every four hours. A full-blown deli and Asian sushi case serve up premade or custom edibles.
Meanwhile, at the store's salad bar, customers pick their own greens and fixings and have the salad tossed fresh. The entire store has an open, accessible feel thanks to open-air coolers. Even cut fruit has a utensil included in the package to make eating fresh as effortless as possible.
No stranger to foodservice, Kwik Trip Inc., LaCrosse, Wis., has seen category sales grow 10% each year, according to Steve Loehr, vice president of operations support. The chain is famous for bananas, selling 48 million of them a year, in addition to 6 million apples and 5 million oranges.
Its latest healthful salvo is a launch of the 500 Club, a program created in partnership with a local hospital chain that highlights all Kwik Trip foodservice offerings that clock in at 500 calories or less.
Russell's Truck & Travel Center
Healthful living and truckers may not be synonymous, but Russell's Truck & Travel Center, Glenrio, N.M., is hoping to make the connection clearer. The site offers a clean destination point for truckers, or "an oasis in the desert," as described by Mark Russell, director of operations. This includes a fresh-fruit program and exercise equipment, along with a lounge and Laundromat. An in-house chapel and a car museum are a couple other unusual attractions.
Open Pantry Food Marts of Wisconsin Inc., Pleasant Prairie, Wis., also aims to remake the convenience mold--and attract more female customers--with one of its newest sites.
"To find incremental customers, you have to invest," said Robert Buehler, president and CEO of the 27-site chain.
The high-end store includes 72-inch gondolas, flat-screen TVs above the coolers in lieu of signage, and a beer cave glowing with ice-blue lighting and stocked with a huge microbrewery beer offering. Restrooms also get the high-end, stylized treatment with gleaming granite countertops and hotel quality furnishings.
Honolulu-based Aloha Petroleum's Aloha Island Mart chain has also used design to make a new convenience statement with a tear-down and rebuild. The 3,000-square-foot site, designed by Joseph Bona of retail branding and design firm CBX, has a Polynesian feel to tie into its tropical surroundings. Tall, loft style ceilings and large windows lend an open feel, and angled gondolas enable customers to more easily navigate the store.As a complimentary service to customers, the site has two water fountains installed outside for local fitness enthusiasts to enjoy.
Richard Parry, CEO, acknowledged that the store might lose some bottled-water sales, but is more than making up for it with customer loyalty. (See Related Content below for previous CSP Daily Newscoverage.)
Each of these concepts should serve as inspiration for retailers looking to refresh their own offering. As Leonard with Stew Leonard's noted, despite his chain's reputation for originality, it is even better at taking a good idea and running with it. That's why the "R&D" in its R&D department stands for "retrieve and duplicate."