HMR VIEWS: SUPERMARKETS FIZZLE; BOSTON MARKET COOKS

DALLAS (FNS) -- Supermarket executives may be growing tired of hearing the name Boston Market, and about how that home-meal replacement operator is "stealing their lunch."But consumers aren't tired yet of buying their lunch -- or more precisely, their dinner -- at Boston Market, judging from the comments of some hungry consumers interviewed outside a Boston Market in this city.Whether deserved or

DALLAS (FNS) -- Supermarket executives may be growing tired of hearing the name Boston Market, and about how that home-meal replacement operator is "stealing their lunch."

But consumers aren't tired yet of buying their lunch -- or more precisely, their dinner -- at Boston Market, judging from the comments of some hungry consumers interviewed outside a Boston Market in this city.

Whether deserved or not, the HMR chain continues to be perceived as very convenient, and its product as a fresh, healthful and inexpensive alternative to cooking at home. And that perception has gotten Boston Market firmly wedged into the routine eating patterns of the seven consumers interviewed by SN on a recent evening.

Many of them said they are coming to Boston Market two to four times a month. Half are typically eating in the restaurant and about half of them are taking meals out.

So why Boston Market? They said they can park easily, get fresh, hot food fast and feel like they are eating less fatty food, than the deep-fried dinners sold at some other places.

Most are paying between $5 and $7, for which they get a home-cooked meal without having to cook.

And ironically, in the minds of these shoppers Boston Market does not compete with supermarkets. That failure even to picture grocery stores and Boston Market in the same home-meal replacement game is a strong indication that in Dallas, and probably in similar markets across the country, supermarkets have a tough task ahead in convincing consumers they can sell meals.

The Boston Market customers interviewed here said they still treat the supermarket as the place to buy ingredients for cooking, and not a place to go when you don't want to cook.

And if they get takeout food at all from the supermarket, they said they most often go to the salad bar, and not the prepared foods section.

The ray of hope from this on-the-street survey is that several of the consumers said they would consider buying Boston Market-type food at the grocery store -- if the supermarket offered the same fresh quality and made it more convenient to check out.

Highlights from the on-the-street interviews follow.

KITTY MAXEY, 39, career counselor for a

secretarial school.

Maxey said she stops in at Boston Market about once a week to buy dinner for herself and her architect husband.

Although she enjoys cooking, Maxey told SN she can't seem to find much time for that. "We are both such active people professionally and socially," she said. "So I like a home-cooked meal that I don't have to cook." She said the service at Boston Market is fast, the food is fresh and is prepared in a non-greasy way that she and her husband prefer.

On the evening interviewed, Maxey had purchased one meat-loaf dinner with salad and mashed potatoes and a turkey-breast dinner with steamed vegetables and potatoes. The total was less than $11 for both.

She said she doesn't, and wouldn't, buy similar food at a supermarket deli, because much of it is fried and what isn't has been sitting in the tray too long. "It doesn't seem to be as fresh," she said.

ANGELINE PAPPAS, 69,

employee of a local bank.

Pappas comes to Boston Market two to three times a month because "it's inexpensive and very tasty."

She said she usually spends $6 to $7 for a meal with a beverage, often buying some sort of chicken plate with two sides; and eats it in the restaurant because she considers it clean and comfortable.

She also said she doesn't want to buy prepared food or takeout food often in the grocery store, because she believes it contains a lot of salt, and she is worried about high blood pressure.

"I do buy deli food in the grocery store, such as barbecued ribs sometimes," Pappas said. "But they were not as good as the food at Boston Market." If the quality improved and food were prepared in a healthier way, she said, she would consider purchasing meals at the supermarket deli.

LARENA NELSON, 33,

sixth-grade teacher.

She usually stops in Boston Market twice a month and uses a coupon to buy her food, which rarely amounts to more than $5. She often buys a sandwich, eating half for dinner and saving the other half for lunch. "It's fast; it's not fried; and I feel like I am eating something healthy without having to cook it," she said, after ordering a chicken carver sandwich without cheese.

Nelson said she does purchase takeout food in supermarket delis, but usually goes for the salad bar and puts on her own nonfat dressing at home. "I see the deli food as being more fattening," she said.

She also admitted that she has not seriously considered some of the other dishes supermarkets offer. "It doesn't look that appetizing," she explained. However, if quality improved and food were prepared in a low-fat way, she would consider buying her takeout meals from a supermarket deli.

WILL CONWAY, 20, Southern Methodist University

student.

He eats at Boston Market about two to three times a month, and said he prefers it over some other restaurants and supermarket-prepared food because it's healthier and tastes better. "It's more home-cooked," he said, while eating a side-dish of spinach and a ham sandwich on a whole-wheat bun.

If he buys food at the grocery store, "I take it back to cook in the microwave or make my own sandwich," he said. "I am not thinking about prepared food in the supermarket. I am thinking about buying ingredients. Anyway, you eat before you go to the supermarket or you buy a lot of junk food."

However, if the supermarket offered a better price than Boston Market, Conway said he would buy there.

Sher Miller, 44, manager of computer systems

for a utility company.

Miller stops in with her two sons, Jimmy, 13, and Marc, 10, about once a month at Boston Market, where they each usually get a dinner plate such as the chicken dinner with two side dishes including vegetables. "It's the fact that it is already prepared and healthy," she said. "It's like a home-style meal" for three people at a reasonable $15."

Miller said she generally does not buy takeout food at the supermarket deli. "I hadn't really thought about it," she said, adding, "It doesn't look at all appealing." Then there's the problem of convenience because the packaging takes longer at a deli and lines are longer in grocery stores, she said. Miller said she wouldn't buy similar takeout food in a supermarket deli unless it was better than Boston Market to offset the inconvenience.

DAVID NOBLET, 50, manager at Southwestern Bell.

Noblet told SN he usually stops at Boston Market about twice a month and spends less than $7 each time. Everyone in his family has to fend for themselves at dinner time, so he likes the convenience of being able to stop for a home-style meal on the way home from work. "It's quick," he said.

Occasionally, he does get a meal at the salad bar at his supermarket -- but doesn't like the chicken and finds it is generally too time-consuming to buy a meal at the grocery store.

Noblet said he would buy more food at the supermarket deli if managers would figure out a way to make it quicker, such as by having a different entrance and a separate checkout area, so that he doesn't have to wait in line.

KEVIN PAUL, 27, employee at TicketMaster.

He said he often purchases takeout food at Boston Market to get a quick dinner, such as a turkey sandwich with a side of mixed vegetables, while he and his roommate work the night shift.

He chooses Boston Market for that late-night meal about once a week because he thinks it's fast and the food is good and reasonably nutritious. "I could cook healthier food than what I buy here, but it would take too long," he said.

Paul said he hasn't gotten accustomed to thinking in terms of buying this type of food at the grocery store. "Usually, if I am going to the grocery store, I will buy ingredients," he said. "It's mental. If I going into a grocery store, I buy groceries. When I go into a takeout place, I buy takeout. A supermarket could have the same exact sandwich and I would walk right by it."