FLA. WINN-DIXIE STORE SHOWCASES LOCAL STRATEGY

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Residents on this island getaway have the appetite for pricey gourmet foods -- and the money to buy them. Yet, until recently, they had to go to Miami to find them. The only supermarket here, a Winn-Dixie, had a limited selection of specialty foods, and it poorly promoted them.That changed when Winn-Dixie transformed the store into a gourmet mecca, adding 640 new items -- many

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Residents on this island getaway have the appetite for pricey gourmet foods -- and the money to buy them. Yet, until recently, they had to go to Miami to find them. The only supermarket here, a Winn-Dixie, had a limited selection of specialty foods, and it poorly promoted them.

That changed when Winn-Dixie transformed the store into a gourmet mecca, adding 640 new items -- many of them specialty -- and putting them front and center. Products that once would have been buried in the aisle now stand out on endcaps and secondary displays throughout the store.

Beyond the center aisles, the remodel broadened the produce and floral sections. An organic dairy section, coffee and olive bars, carving station, and pharmacy were added.

"Now, we promote what the customers want," Randy Rambo, regional vice president for Winn-Dixie Stores, told SN during a recent store visit. "Our customers aren't as interested in what's on sale as what products we're offering."

The new selection means residents can do more of their shopping there for gourmet products that they used to leave the island to buy, he said.

The store, which reopened in January, is one of Winn-Dixie's most dramatic examples of its neighborhood market strategy aimed at pulling the beleaguered Jacksonville, Fla.-based chain out of bankruptcy. While this is the fanciest of the 90-plus stores that have already been remodeled, the principles followed here can apply broadly.

The new store put a bigger emphasis on service, for example. Special request cards were introduced, and the shopper feedback they elicited helped the store decide which products to add, and when to eliminate items or reduce their facings.

Specialty Italian is one of the most visible examples of the makeover. A once-sparse section was expanded to 16 feet of jarred sauces, olive oils and homemade pastas that lead off the pasta aisle, reflecting locals' affinity for the cuisine. To cap off the section, a natural wood endcap and four feet of Italian cooking tools were added.

Italian leads into another signature department, wine. The department was expanded to 160 from 96 feet by reducing the size of a back storage room, and was bulked up with an expensive selection of bottles from Italy and California. Wooden endcaps and flooring were added for an upscale look.

Again, the focus is on service. A wine steward is on hand to suggest purchases. Wine and cheese are sampled Friday through Monday, said Sergio Benitez, store director. Customers can chill their bottle in a wine chiller while they shop, and Benitez said a home-delivery service was expected to start this month.

Expanding specialty foods was important, but they also had to be promoted to build customer awareness, Rambo said. To that end, they're abundantly displayed in secondary placements; wine had at least a dozen of them when SN visited the store in early March. The store essentially added a caviar category of about 18 stockkeeping units, most of which are tucked between the deli and seafood cases in a wedge-shaped display. Across from packaged meat, trolleys display gourmet crackers, fondue fixings and wine.

Within regular grocery sets, specialty products are called out on rounded shelves. Ethnic selections, while integrated, are shown off by shelf units that aren't flush with adjacent shelves.

"You have to merchandise it so people can see it," Rambo said.

As for run-of-the-mill Center Store items, they aren't denied promotional space altogether. During SN's visit, Coke, Evian and Arizona iced-tea products were merchandised on endcaps to capitalize on their high movement and upcoming spring break, when the island gets an influx of visitors. Another endcap displayed popular Easter candy. "We still want to be a grocery store," Rambo said.