CHICKEN RESTAURANT FLYING AT KROGER

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Excellent sales at a branded hot chicken outlet in a Kroger supermarket here is prompting the chain to roll the concept into additional stores, according to sources involved in the project.The branded outlet, Churchs Chicken, is the first such restaurant inside a supermarket in Columbus, sources said. Officials at Atlanta-based America's Favorite Chicken Co., the parent of Churchs

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Excellent sales at a branded hot chicken outlet in a Kroger supermarket here is prompting the chain to roll the concept into additional stores, according to sources involved in the project.

The branded outlet, Churchs Chicken, is the first such restaurant inside a supermarket in Columbus, sources said. Officials at Atlanta-based America's Favorite Chicken Co., the parent of Churchs and Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits, said the Kroger unit is ringing up the best sales of any of its outlets inside supermarkets elsewhere.

"Customer receptiveness has been great. We're very pleased," said Joe Genovese, executive vice president of business development for AFC.

Genovese said that Churchs Chicken operations will be put into three additional Kroger units in the Columbus area this year, expanding to a total of 10 over the next three years.

Kroger officials could not be reached for comment on the Churchs operation, which opened about four months ago inside its store in Columbus' Northern Lights Shopping Center.

The AFC representative said sales at the outlet "are about even with our projections; we had expected to do well in Columbus. The name is known there." Columbus is home to three stand-alone Churchs Chicken units that are operated by the same franchisee who operates the one in the Kroger store.

Kroger has been partnering with AFC in other markets. It has two Churchs Chicken and 20 Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits in units in the Atlanta market. A Churchs Chicken has also come to roost inside a Kroger store in the Dallas market.

Kroger currently is the only supermarket chain that has linked up with the chicken chain. Genovese said AFC is in negotiations with another large chain and plans to expand its business within supermarkets over the next few years.

"Supermarkets represent a very strong alternative venue for us," Genovese said.

The Churchs here can be seen immediately upon entering the Kroger store. It's at the beginning of the traffic pattern, and is alongside the service deli department, which offers hot pizza and made-to-order sandwiches. There's minimal seating to accommodate 20 people. The Churchs operation did not supplant any other department; its 550 square feet were added in the remodeling of the Kroger store. A Churchs sign flanks the Kroger banner on the front of the building. "We're also working on getting a sign out on the road," Genovese said. "We feel we need to intercept people there, too."