WOODCLIFF LAKE, N.J. -- A&P is giving carry-out prepared foods a higher profile in a new store here that is the chain's new fresh food prototype.The primary difference in merchandising approach here compared with other A&P new stores and remodels is the presentation of fresh prepared items right up front, giving them at least as much emphasis as fresh produce.In the Woodcliff Lake unit, which opened

WOODCLIFF LAKE, N.J. -- A&P is giving carry-out prepared foods a higher profile in a new store here that is the chain's new fresh food prototype.

The primary difference in merchandising approach here compared with other A&P new stores and remodels is the presentation of fresh prepared items right up front, giving them at least as much emphasis as fresh produce.

In the Woodcliff Lake unit, which opened this spring, the Montvale, N.J.-based chain has apparently taken pains to make it particularly easy for customers to choose from a huge variety of ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat items, addressing both the lunch and dinner parts. The placement and design of the section would also help customers get back out quickly.

Grab-and-go lunch and dinner choices are immediately visible to consumers as they enter the store, along with a 12-foot refrigerated case of single-serve beverages and ice tables with beverages all offered at one price.

The display sends the "meals" message loud and clear, using signs touting chef-made, in-store prepared entrees and large color photos of plates of great-looking food set at eye level. A dedicated cash register in this section is in operation between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays, according to sources at store level.

"We're very busy in this department at lunchtime, much busier than we were at the old store, and we also get a lot of the same people coming in after work to buy things to take home for dinner," said a source at the store, which was built from the ground up to replace an older unit about 2 miles down the road.

"Customers keep telling us they love the space here, that they have room to move around and see things," the A&P source said, estimating that the 65,000-square-foot Woodcliff Lake unit is nearly twice the size of the store it replaced.

The new store, built on the site of a popular farm market that dated back to the early 1900s, is strategically placed to capture a lucrative business for prepared foods. It is situated smack in the middle of a busy northern New Jersey area with both a dense grouping of large office buildings and nearby high-income residential areas. Volvo, Mercedes Benz and Benjamin Moore are just a sampling of high-profile companies that have their U.S. headquarters within minutes of the new A&P unit.

The efforts at this store to quickly catch the attention of meal-seeking customers are much more forceful that at A&P's Mahwah, N.J., store, a flagship location where the chain last summer unveiled the fresh-oriented format that it has been rolling out ever since in various incarnations in markets across the country.

At the Mahwah store, customers are faced immediately with a huge display of produce that dominates the entry way. Recently, for example, a high display of fresh mangos and tomatoes facing front almost totally obscured the prepared foods area lying beyond produce.

A cascading cart of melons to the right of the mangos and tomatoes allowed only a narrow passageway into the rest of the fresh food aisle, while a 40-foot, ceiling-high display of bottled salad dressings formed the right side of the aisle. Only at the end of that produce line-up did the customer see a "Carry-Out Cuisine" sign over the prepared foods island case, and a salad bar.

The impression at the Woodcliff store is significantly different. The entrance opens onto a clearly defined and very wide fresh power aisle.

The first element seen is a 20-foot salad bar, set lengthwise in the middle of the aisle. Just beyond that is a 12-foot island case with stepped shelves devoted entirely to "Chef Prepared Carry-Out Cuisine."

Selections include prepared foods such as whole rotisserie chickens at $3.99 each, and other whole meals and individually packed side dishes and entrees.

Some examples of the variety in this case are sundried tomato and ravioli salad, $3.99 a pound; broccoli rab, $5.99 a pound; Spanish rice, $1.99 a pound; chicken Francaise, $6.99 a pound; baked ziti, $3.99 a pound, and meatballs, $3.99 a pound. Garlic roasted potatoes and roasted vegetables are some of the side dishes available.

All the items are packed in what look like dual-ovenable containers with see-through dome lids, in portions that could accommodate one or two people.

The ready-to-heat selection also includes four varieties of chef-prepared meals -- all $3.99 each -- that the chain had tested earlier at its Kenilworth, N.J., store.

The chef-prepared meals include an entree and two sides packed together in a three-section, dual-ovenable container. The entree varieties are meatballs and spaghetti, meatloaf, roast beef and turkey. The whole meals and the separately packed entrees and sides, packed in dual-ovenable containers with clear lids, are also overwrapped. An ingredients label is affixed to the overwrap.

Large color photos suggesting servings of roasted vegetables, spaghetti and meatballs and fajitas are set up on the top of the Carry-Out Cuisine case.

The salad bar itself grabs attention with its length, its white, shiny tiled sides and top and the large variety of colorful products offered up in small wells.

Items on the bar are logically arranged, with protein salads such as tuna, chicken and seafood salad, cottage cheese, chicken wings and hard-boiled eggs on one side. Further down on the same side are desserts such as chocolate mousse and rice pudding. The opposite side of the bar is devoted to a variety of lettuces and attractively chopped raw vegetables.

A large sign at the end of the salad bar tells customers they can pay for their food at a separate register there. The price is $2.99 a pound for salad bar items. The single-serving beverage case, which sports four kinds of spring water and the yogurt drink, kefir, in addition to juices and soda, forms the beginning of the right side of the fresh aisle.

Produce displays form the left side. About 15 to 20 feet separate the two sides of the aisle. Just beyond the beverages on the left is a 12-foot case filled with sandwiches packed in clear clam-shell packages. They range in price from $2.99 for "American classics" such as ham and cheese and turkey and cheese on whole wheat to $4.99 for a proscuitto on whole baguette or a "monster" hero. Pita pockets with a variety of fillings from seafood salad to turkey and cheese were $3.99.

Single-serving cheese cakes and a few single portions of rice pudding and other desserts are also offered in the sandwich case. So are single portions of potato salad and macaroni salad. Packages of plastic cutlery and paper napkins can be picked up from a freestanding, waist-high container in the aisle.

Next in line along the right side is a 12-foot case dedicated to store-made pizzas. A large sign there says "We'll happily bake your pizza here. Just ask." Another several feet of case shows off a large display of 7-inch quiches. All varieties, from seafood to broccoli, are $4.99. Next comes the deli service counter, which displays a large variety of chilled entrees and salads. Then, there are the deli meats and cheeses. Signs at that service counter tell customers sandwiches can be made to order. A sandwich price list, in menu-board form, is posted on the back wall.

Right across from the service deli, in the middle of the fresh aisle and just beyond the Carry-Out Cuisine case, is a 12-foot island case with a number of ethnic items sourced from outside, such as kasha and bowtie pasta, vegetable pancakes and egg rolls. On the opposite side of that case is a selection of ethnic sausages, and an olive bar.

A fifth 12-foot island case, in the middle of the aisle, is devoted to a large selection of imported cheeses. Cocktail-size pumpernickel bread and sticks of pepperoni are merchandised in rustic-looking barrels at each end of that case.