FRED MEYER: BIGGER IS BETTER-FOR-YOU

Kroger's Fred Meyer Division has earned a loyal following and a good reputation for its extensive selection of natural and organic products. It may not be such a surprise, given the format's headquarters is Portland, Ore., a region of the country with a large population of health and wellness adherents .Fred Meyer is a large, all-in-one banner -- what Kroger calls a "multi-department store." As such,

Kroger's Fred Meyer Division has earned a loyal following and a good reputation for its extensive selection of natural and organic products. It may not be such a surprise, given the format's headquarters is Portland, Ore., a region of the country with a large population of health and wellness adherents .

Fred Meyer is a large, all-in-one banner -- what Kroger calls a "multi-department store." As such, the 128-store chain is able to give categories more generous treatment than might be found in a typical supermarket. Fred Meyer stores average 150,000 square feet and carry 225,000 food and nonfood stockkeeping units.

"The merchandise mix makes Fred Meyer [stores] unique and defies standard store classification: part food store, part department store, part electronics store, part home fashion and garden store," reads a description on Kroger's Web site.

At a Portland unit, in the city's Hollywood neighborhood, the retailer provides health and wellness with ample merchandising room, complete with different fixtures, flooring and lighting. The chain's natural sections are dubbed Natural Choices.

The department offers multiple facings and numerous brands, and is supported with well-trained associates providing the knowledge needed to guide customers down the natural path. The section is presented as a self-contained department offering dry grocery, and health and beauty items, plus refrigerated and frozen items. The area, distinguished by wood-grained flooring, spans seven aisles, with 16-foot aisles set at an angle with the traditional grocery shelves.

It's adjacent to the grab-and-go sushi display, behind which sushi is made in-store, and across the aisle from a chef demonstration kiosk. Also nearby is a perishable powerhouse featuring produce and bakery, which hold lead positions in the shopping pattern for those customers entering the store on the food side of the unit. Other entrance doors lead into the garden department and the soft goods areas.

The multi-aisle footprint brings breadth and depth to a department densed up with a dizzying array of all things natural. As a result, it reaches a critical mass that allows Fred Meyer to separate, into categories, most of the products presented. And herein lies a good part of its success. For a segregated section, Natural Choices is itself large enough to convey a conventional feel. Variations in flavors and sizes in the dairy case likewise look like a regular-store set.

To further familiarize customers with the natural section and its items, associates at Fred Meyer are dedicated to the department. They are ready and willing to answer questions and direct shoppers.

For pure information, the Natural Choices area is armed with an informational kiosk containing a touchscreen system from Healthnotes, an in-store information provider. This system enables consumers to self-select information they are interested in by health concern or seek information on various vitamins and supplements. At the same kiosk, featured items are showcased, such as new flavors of soup displayed alongside an organic free trade coffee line.

The self-serve information station is important, but it is the staff that leads the arsenal of education presented at Fred Meyer. During an informal visit, WH was approached by an associate, asking if she could help find anything. Taking the opportunity for interaction after WH asked for vinegars, the associate escorted WH to the shelves containing vinegar, asked which type of vinegar WH wanted, and further explained the difference between two styles, white vs. apple cider. Selecting the apple cider vinegar, she further pointed out the two brands and three sizes, and provided information on which one was on special, pointing to the shelf tag underlining the price-point difference.

Additional intercepts occur in the bulk area, where department associates constantly care and tend to the bins. Here, nuts, dried fruit, snacks and cereals occupy 79 self-service stations. In a second aisle, baking needs, including grains and flours, alongside snacks, are offered, as are pastas, rice, nuts and popcorn. Prepackaged cookies, bake mixes and cereals round out the second aisle.

Endcaps are put to work as in conventional grocery aisles. New items, seasonal selections or value-oriented products are all represented on the merchandisers. One in particular showcases organic bulk and prepackaged coffee. On the next aisle, the coffee message remains on the endcap, but with fair trade and organic being the two attributes touted. The bulk offering was priced at $8.99 on a temporary price reduction.

The full array of condiments, cookies, baby food, soups, crackers, pasta, pasta sauce and boxed meals ranging from macaroni and cheese to Asian noodle-based dishes fills one of the natural grocery aisles. The following aisle showcases tea, natural sodas, bottled juices and a full assortment of waters, including nutraceuticals. In the next aisle, household cleansers, paper products and non-dairy offerings, including aseptic packaged soy and almond milk alternatives, are positioned.

In the remaining aisles, fitness supplements, meal bars and low-carb offerings are presented as are commercial bread products and cereal. Additionally, one full aisle is dedicated to herbal remedies, vitamins and supplements. Fred Meyer's own Natural Choices line of vitamins, supplements and herbs has a strong presence on the department's shelves.

Across the back wall of the natural food department, eight doors of frozens and another complement of eight doors of refrigerated space offer up everything from ice cream, entrees, meat analog items, milk, dips, cheese and juices.