FLEMING IS REFINING INGREDIENTS OF FOOD-SERVICE OPERATIONS

LAFAYETTE, La. -- Fleming Cos. is fine-tuning its Chef's Cupboards concepts, the five branded turnkey fresh food-service operations it has developed and licensed to its independent retailer clients.The wholesaler, based in Oklahoma City, will add more products and more varied formats to the project, including versions designed for full-service and convenience stores, said company officials at a meeting

LAFAYETTE, La. -- Fleming Cos. is fine-tuning its Chef's Cupboards concepts, the five branded turnkey fresh food-service operations it has developed and licensed to its independent retailer clients.

The wholesaler, based in Oklahoma City, will add more products and more varied formats to the project, including versions designed for full-service and convenience stores, said company officials at a meeting with independents here.

During the series of presentations last month, Fleming officials also outlined plans to increase marketing efforts for their year-end holiday-meals program, sales of which they said had increased by 70% last year.

Fleming executives also discussed their branded "Meal Time Solutions" department, a refrigerated display case configuration stocked with chilled ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat meals and side dishes.

More than 350 products are included in this program, with components designed for both regional tastes and national appeal, said Bob Nectow, manager of fresh-food concepts for Fleming. Both entrees and side dishes will be provided in a variety of portion sizes, and the turnkey program includes menus, signs, marketing tips, equipment programs and products.

Fleming is also gearing up an in-store pizza program as another, inexpensive way for small independents to enter the meal-solution business.

Nectow said he and Paul Adams, Fleming's director of retail education services, are currently developing a workshop program called "Food Service University" at the company's retail learning center in Oklahoma City.

Fleming officials hope to introduce the five-day workshop program, designed to aid retailers and store associates in making the transition from grocery to fresh food-service operations, by the end of summer.

As for the Chef's Cupboard programs -- S'Italian, Chicken Store, Captain Subman, Cinnamon Island and Baker's Boulevard -- Fleming's has increased the number of products supplied for each concept, and is developing new formats the company intends to test shortly.

"Chicken Store" has become "Chicken Store and More," with baked meat loaf, pot roast and rotisserie turkey breast joining rotisserie, baked and fried chicken, side dishes, rolls and biscuits on the menu. Nectow compared the format evolution to the way Boston Chicken morphed into Boston Market.

Fleming intends to roll out five new items for the limited menu sweet baked goods kiosk operation called Cinnamon Island. At the 21 supermarkets operating the currently cinnamon rolls-only units, operators have reported food costs of 35% to 40%, Nectow said.

During the presentation, Fleming officials also aired for retailers a 60-second radio spot they may use. The spot is also available in 30- and 15-second versions for in-store message repeaters.

Since the Chef's Cupboard's modules were rolled out last year, six Baker's Boulevards have opened, two S'Italians and two Captain Submans, Nectow said. A smaller bakery concept, Baker's Express, is currently being tested, and convenience-store and full-service packages are being developed for these three programs as well.

Fleming intends to open 125 additional franchises in the Chef's Cupboard program this year, Nectow said, with placement in stores pending a business plan screening by Fleming.

The Chef's Cupboard concepts were originally tested last year at independent Snyder's Food Mart, Oklahoma City, an IGA member and Fleming customer. Cinnamon Island, then a cinnamon rolls-only bakery, was tested at the Fleming-owned Baker's Supermarkets in Omaha, Neb.

Fleming's holiday dinner program, available for the past three years, showed major growth in 1996, Nectow said. Compared with an estimated $10 million retailers lost on holiday turkeys -- an average of $3 per bird sold -- Fleming clients netted $10 for every holiday dinner sold, he said.

Sales increased 70% from previous years, he said, and for the 1997 holiday season Fleming will sell spiral-sliced and whole hams and prime ribs of beef as well as traditional turkey dinners. The size of the meal and the protein component will be customized according to store demographics, he said.