CROSSING THE AISLES

Center Store items are becoming increasingly important to retailers interested in promoting meal solutions.Cross merchandising dry grocery items with other Center Store products, or tying-in dry groceries with other departments, is helping chains blur the lines of departmentalization.A successful cross-merchandising program is one that includes several different store departments, said Mike Welch,

Center Store items are becoming increasingly important to retailers interested in promoting meal solutions.

Cross merchandising dry grocery items with other Center Store products, or tying-in dry groceries with other departments, is helping chains blur the lines of departmentalization.

A successful cross-merchandising program is one that includes several different store departments, said Mike Welch, assistant category manager for snacks at Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C. "We're doing some of that now as far as mixing different [products from] sections anywhere in the store," he added.

For instance, wine can be integrated with take-home meal displays in the deli section, Welch suggested.

The wine sale incorporates Center Store into the sale, and encourages shoppers to purchase an item they may not have bought otherwise.

"The reason [grocers] are doing it is because of meal solutions," said Paul Weitzel, a senior associate at Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill. "It makes sense; it's convenient and helps out the time-pressed consumer."

It also builds incremental sales for the retailer, Weitzel added. That's because consumers who are likely to buy a product because it's on sale are also inclined to purchase a complementary product -- if it's promoted correctly, he said.

"It follows with what everyone's trying to do today with meal solutions, the growth of food service and making meal planning easier for the consumer," Weitzel said.

A meal solutions rolling cart is one way retailers have successfully cross merchandised, an industry observer said. The cart enables retailers to offer a soup-and-sandwich meal combination from several high-traffic areas of the store, he said.

Along with shelf-stable goods, frozens are also becoming more connected with other Center Store categories. Brookshire Bros., Lufkin, Texas, has merchandised Stouffer's frozen dinners, such as lasagna, with frozen bread dough, garlic and Parmesan cheese, said Mark Duke, frozens and dairy buyer.

Brookshire Bros. has also created a breakfast station using an upright endcap with frozen bagels and frozen orange juice running up the middle. Frozen waffles also have been included at some stores.

Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., is one of the industry leaders in meal solutions and cross merchandising, according to consultants.

The retailer sets up special sections that feature an array of foods designed to take 15-minutes or less preparation time, said Carol Obaugh, senior director of procurement.

"We might have three or four of these in various areas of the store each week," Obaugh said.

Also, Ukrop's has highlighted an Italian meal with pasta sauce, pasta, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese and French bread. Another dinner was fish tied in with seasonings, ingredients for a lemon sauce and butter crackers used as a coating.

Roche Bros. Supermarkets is offering solutions from the dry grocery aisles as well.

Gary Pfeil, director of category management at the Wellesley Hills, Mass.-based chain, said he has tied tuna fish, bread and mayonnaise together on an endcap.

Roche has merchandised bagel cutters with bagels, croutons with produce, Shake 'n Bake with meat and chocolate syrup and cookies with milk.

Private-label items are becoming a larger part of the meal-solutions concept. Uniting branded goods with private-label items appeals to retailers because the gross profit generated from the store-brand item helps balance the margin generated by a national-branded item, which is often a loss leader.

"Retailers are trying to make sure their private label is taken care of. A lot of times, a company like Bumble Bee tuna will be cross merchandised with a private-label mayonnaise. The items on endcaps are usually items that are going to give them a good margin and will help them offset the lower-margin endcap item," the industry observer said.

Ken Harris, partner at Cannondale Associates, Wilton, Conn., said chains that are on the cutting edge of cross merchandising are offering their customers party or laundry solutions.

He said retailers can create a party solution by cross merchandising chips and salsa with film, wrapping paper and greeting cards.

Jewel Food Stores, Melrose Park, Ill., used an endcap in a bathroom-solutions promotion, according to the industry source. The endcap featured 2000 Flushes and Lysol Tub and Tile cleaner in the upper section, and toilet paper on the bottom.

Still, not all retailers are finding it convenient to tie-in products from other areas of the store.

"You have to get people focused on total store sales instead of being hung up on turf wars and the territoriality of it," said Doug Domine, director of grocery marketing at Nash Finch Co., Minneapolis.