HILLER'S LAUNCHES ONLINE INDIAN FOOD OFFERING

DETROIT -- Hiller's Markets, a six-store, family- owned chain here, recently launched an online site devoted entirely to the sale of Indian food, a rarity in the supermarket industry. Its Indian food store -- accessible at www.hillers.com -- is the only online shopping Hiller's currently offers.Indian Foods Co., Minneapolis, manages Hiller's Markets' online Indian store and also supplies Indian cuisine

DETROIT -- Hiller's Markets, a six-store, family- owned chain here, recently launched an online site devoted entirely to the sale of Indian food, a rarity in the supermarket industry. Its Indian food store -- accessible at www.hillers.com -- is the only online shopping Hiller's currently offers.

Indian Foods Co., Minneapolis, manages Hiller's Markets' online Indian store and also supplies Indian cuisine to Hiller's for sale in-store. Shoppers can buy items such as chutney, curry and aromatic rice as well as specialty Indian food items.

"We've always kind of had the reputation of being the place where you could find whatever you're looking for if you're a foodie," said Eric Novak, director of the prepared foods division of Hiller's Markets. The company saw an opportunity to target another demographic in the Detroit area by carrying a full range of Indian food products, Novak said.

The online store offers additional items customers cannot find in-store, including beauty products. Cooking tips and recipes are also featured. Food items purchased online are shipped both from Hiller's Markets and from Indian Food Co.'s distribution sites, and customers pay for UPS or U.S. Postal Service delivery.

Hiller's originally had an online store mirroring its retail locations but temporarily discontinued it because of what Novak termed the "dot-com bust." But if customer loyalty for the online Indian food store mirrors that of Hiller's retail locations, Novak said, the online service will enjoy a dedicated following. "I think we're going to have a real winner here," he said.

Kavita Mehta, Indian Foods Co.'s founder and owner, said having an online store through her company allows grocers to offer more Indian food products than other supermarkets for effectively no investment. Retailers do not need to purchase software for the online site or carry any of Indian Foods Co.'s products in-store. Indian Foods Co. supplies the company with a turnkey system.

"All they have to do is switch on the switch, and voila, they have a full Indian store," Mehta said. "Ours is a good extension for them without sacrificing shelf space." The retailer receives a 28% cut from online sales.

Though Hiller's Markets is the only supermarket to currently offer Indian Foods Co.'s products online, some of them can be found at Amazon.com. The products are also available at the company's site, www.indianfoodco.com.

The demand for Indian cuisine is rising, Mehta said. Indian Foods Co. has seen a 30% increase in sales each year for the past four years. On the Internet, Indian Foods Co. is selling more than just food, Mehta said. "It's the whole 'food culture' that we are selling."

Her company, which was established in 1988, has been online for two-and-a-half years.