DOMINICK'S CULTIVATES FRESH STORE FORMAT

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- One year after Dominick's Finer Foods opened its first Fresh Store in an upscale Chicago suburb, five more are up and running, and plans call for six more to be opened by the middle of next year.That is according to Robert Mariano, senior vice president of marketing, merchandising and procurement for Dominick's, Northlake, Ill., who was the featured speaker at a meeting of the Merchandising

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- One year after Dominick's Finer Foods opened its first Fresh Store in an upscale Chicago suburb, five more are up and running, and plans call for six more to be opened by the middle of next year.

That is according to Robert Mariano, senior vice president of marketing, merchandising and procurement for Dominick's, Northlake, Ill., who was the featured speaker at a meeting of the Merchandising Executives Club of Chicago held here Sept. 29.

"We are pleased with their overall sales and optimistic about the future. We plan to continue developing the format," Mariano said.

The Fresh Store format marks an important transition in the retailer's development, said Mariano, in that it moves beyond serving as the consumers' pantry to serving as their kitchen.

The stores, which range in size from 35,000 to 45,000 square feet, emphasize perishables by grouping them together at the front of the store and also offer hot food that can be consumed on-premise or taken out.

The units up and running are in Vernon Hills, Orland Park, Westchester, Downers Grove, Arlington Heights and Oak Lawn, all suburbs of Chicago. "We must keep re-inventing our concept of service. Convenience and packaged foods are playing an ever-increasing role in everyday meal preparation. Consumers want ideas and products that make meal time easy. They want homemade taste without the hassle," Mariano said.

Fresh Store's hot food offerings include pizza baked in hearth ovens, custom-made pasta entrees and Oriental cuisine. The stores also carry hot rotisserie chicken and side dishes and hot gourmet coffee.

An eat-in area is provided in each of the Fresh Stores, with a combination of counter space and tables and chairs to accommodate about 20 people.

Dominick's Chef's Collection of upscale, gourmet-style entrees, salads and side dishes is also available in the Fresh Stores, as well as in selected conventional Dominick's stores.

Except for the Oak Lawn Fresh Store, the new format does not include floral in its upfront perishables presentation. Instead, floral is grouped together with gift items and greeting cards.

Shopping carts at the Fresh Stores are equipped with both a built-in coffee cup holder and a built-in flower holder.

Nonperishable product lines remain as important as ever in the new format, Mariano said.

The stores also have pharmacies, frozen food, expanded liquor and spirits, and one-hour photo service.

Addressing his audience of brokers, manufacturer sales representatives and other merchandising executives, Mariano said, "Customers still look for the best ingredients and the best value. We need your input."

There has been a shift in merchandising focus from ingredient-based sales to the sale of meals and meal components, he said. "Consumers want recipes for the entire meal. We try to make it easy for the customer to find each ingredient. They are often grouped together. We want to make shopping simpler. But your cooperation is vital. We want more cooperation between non-competing vendors. Work together to help us give the consumer convenience and freshness," Mariano said.

In terms of long-term planning, Dominick's asks that vendors inform the chain well in advance when and why it should promote and the total dollars it will have to spend, he said.

"Give us all the information you have on trends and the behavior that drives them. Help us understand your product and the customer who buys it. We cannot best serve our customers unless we know them. This is what Dominick's has been doing for the last 69 years, evolving and redefining our business. The Fresh Store is part of that process," Mariano said.