DOMINIC'S SAUSAGE SANDWICHES HIT THE SPOT AT UKROP'S

RICHMOND, Va. -- Ukrop's Super Markets here is heating up its partnership with a local sausage restaurant/wagon operator after giving the company's locally revered sandwiches a successful test run.The 26-unit chain began grilling Dominic's of New York sausage and serving up the sandwiches under the Dominic's brand at four of its stores in March and is now set to expand the program to more units, officials

RICHMOND, Va. -- Ukrop's Super Markets here is heating up its partnership with a local sausage restaurant/wagon operator after giving the company's locally revered sandwiches a successful test run.

The 26-unit chain began grilling Dominic's of New York sausage and serving up the sandwiches under the Dominic's brand at four of its stores in March and is now set to expand the program to more units, officials at Dominic's said.

It's no wonder. Dominic's president John Felico said sales of the sandwiches at the selected Ukrop's units have greatly exceeded his expectations.

"We're selling 40 to 60 sandwiches a day per store, and that's beyond my wildest dreams. I'd have been really excited if we had sold 20 a day or even 100 a week at the stores," he said.

Felico had made his conservative projections based on the large variety of other items Ukrop's offers in its cafe/food-service departments, he said.

As he pointed out, there's a lot of competition for attention in Ukrop's ready-to-eat food departments, but Dominic's held its own in an appealing array of fare. In fact, the sandwiches got off to a terrific start; the first batch sold at a rate of about one sandwich a minute, he said.

"On the first day, I personally went to that Ukrop's and I cooked the first batch of sausage. I made up a platter with 20 pieces on it, and put it in the hot foods case. Then I sat down with Ukrop's area manager to talk about ordering and such things. About 15 minutes later, when we looked at the case, they were gone.

"We couldn't believe it. We had to make another tray right then," he recalled.

Felico went on to explain that Ukrop's merchandises the sausages with peppers and onions on a 20-inch platter in its Italian hot foot case. When a customer orders a sandwich, a Ukrop's deli/food-service staffer takes the sausage and peppers from the platter and puts them on a Ukrop's fresh-baked roll. The retail is $3.99, the same as at Dominic's of New York wagons.

"The only reason we haven't gone into more of their stores yet with the hot sandwiches is that Ukrop's sells the sandwiches out of their Italian hot food case and some of the stores aren't large enough, or aren't configured right, to have a hot Italian program," Felico said. At a fifth store, however, work is under way to expand the Italian hot foods department and make room for Dominic's sausage sandwiches, he said. Meanwhile, the grocery chain has taken on Dominic's hot dogs at all its stores that have a cafe. They're retailing them for $1.99 with a soda.

Ukrop's relationship with Dominic's is simple. Dominic's is the supplier of the raw products to Ukrop's, but it also lends its name -- which is well-known here -- to the sandwiches.

The sausage company, which had its roots in the Italian street festivals of New York City, has made a name for itself here with carts that sell a variety of hot sandwiches. Richmonders have come to know the brand because Dominic's parks its carts in front of such places as Lowe's home improvement stores and other busy retail outlets. The company now has 46 sandwich carts in the Mid-Atlantic area, some of them franchised. Each cart rings up about $6,000 a week in sales, Felico said.

In the Ukrop's units that are selling Dominic's sausage sandwiches, chalkboards announce the fact. Product signs in the hot case also identify the sausages. And Ukrop's stacks colorful No. 10 cans of Dominic's pepper strips on top of its Italian hot food cases to catch customers' attention.

There have been no large signs or banners touting the Dominic's name, but now that the test is over, permanent signs will be next, Felico said.

"We have a sign company right now looking into creating the exact signs we need at Ukrop's. We're past the test stage. They're keeping us. I can go for more permanent signage now," he said.

The platters of Dominic's sausages and peppers are merchandised alongside bowls of pasta and sauce in the Italian hot foods case. Just next to them a 6-foot length of case displays panini sandwiches.

The presence of Dominic's in Ukrop's hot food sections has boosted sales of Dominic's raw products in the grocery store's meat section, Felico said.

After a trial run in eight Ukrop's meat departments last fall, Dominic's brand raw, never frozen sausages were rolled out to all Ukrop's stores in February and sales have grown each week, Felico said.

"Sales are up across the board, but they are up even more in the stores where they're selling our sandwiches in the hot case," the Dominic's executive said.

"We're outselling our nearest competitor in the meat case by four to one," he added.

Ukrop's, which was voted No. 1 lunch destination by Richmonders in a newspaper poll last year, believes in hooking up with successful brands.

In an earlier interview, Jackie Legg, vice president of solution shopping for Ukrop's, said she believed brands were extremely important and pointed out that in addition to Dominic's, Ukrop's has developed a partnership with a locally known ice cream company at its Virginia Beach store (see Wild About Uncle Harry's, SN4/26/99).

Commenting on Dominic's of New York, she said, "It's a very good, local brand. People are familiar with the name and we did this [the grilling] in response to an interest customers have shown. The smell of grilling sausage is great, too." Eight of Dominic's restaurant carts are located here. Felico launched Dominic's of New York, based here, in 1994 with a business partner. The sausage, manufactured for Dominic's at a Maryland facility, is based on a family recipe that has been copyrighted, Felico said.

The sausage and pepper sandwiches were sold for years at New York City street festivals at a wooden stand, beginning in the 1950s, Felico said.