KROGER CO. LAUNCHES FAMILY-SIZED MEAL MENU

CINCINNATI -- Taking aim at home meal replacement, the Kroger Co. here has launched a selection of family-sized "homestyle meals to go" in its Cincinnati marketing area.The products are offered chilled at an in-store location separate from the deli.The main focus of the program is dual offering of family meals in two sizes, one group serving four or more, and another group for two to three people.

CINCINNATI -- Taking aim at home meal replacement, the Kroger Co. here has launched a selection of family-sized "homestyle meals to go" in its Cincinnati marketing area.

The products are offered chilled at an in-store location separate from the deli.

The main focus of the program is dual offering of family meals in two sizes, one group serving four or more, and another group for two to three people. The meals serving four to five people have prices ranging from $19.48 for a fried chicken dinner to $23.88 for a pot roast dinner.

The chicken dinner includes two breasts, two wings, three legs and three thighs. Four side dishes and a choice of six dinner rolls or a French-style baguette are included. The pot roast dinner includes two pounds of meat, four sides and rolls or a baguette.

Also on the meal menu are a rotisserie chicken, turkey breast and pork roast. The chicken dinner includes two whole chickens, while the turkey and pork dinners include one-and-a-half pounds of meat. They also include four sides and rolls or bread. Smaller versions of the dinners, designed to serve two to three people, also are available. Prices range from $10.88 for fried chicken to $14.88 for pot roast for the smaller dinners.

Side dishes are also offered separately in 16-ounce containers for $2.99. The choices include mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, scalloped potatoes, glazed baby carrots, creamed spinach, candied

yams, green bean almondine, cold rigatoni salad, BBQ baked beans, cinnamon apples, vermicelli salad, cranberry nut gelatin, chocolate pudding, tapioca pudding, rice pudding and Hawaiian salad.

Officials at Kroger's corporate offices could not be reached for comment on the program.

A store-level source said that two months into the program, sales are not up to expectations. The source said one problem could be that the dinners are being merchandised too far away from the service deli. There apparently is not a set place for the new items, and as a result they've just been fitted in, the source said.

A local industry observer told SN he thought the concept in general is viable, but the approach to display seems to take the product out of the mainstream.

"You could miss it. Conceptually they're right on track, but the question is whether they're telling customers strongly and consistently enough what they're offering," said retail consultant Stephan Kouzomis, president of Entrepreneurial Consulting, located here.

Although the meal program's debut was accompanied by a series of radio ads and exposure in the ad circular in Kroger's Cincinnati marketing area, in-store promotion of the items has remained low key. No signs in the service deli point the way to the packaged meals, for example, which are displayed at least 20 feet down the line from the service deli counter.

The chicken dinners and the turkey breast are cooked in-store; the other items are sourced from outside, according to the chain source. The entrees and sides are packed separately in black containers with see-through dome lids. Some have a wrap-around band label. None of the labels display a sell-by date.

In several stores in the area, the items are displayed in an eight-foot coffin case with stair-step shelves at its back. A self-service display case with chilled pizzas and pasta separates the service deli from the case holding the homestyle meals.

Inside the meal case, everything is self-service but the rolls, which are added by an associate who also bags up the components the customer chooses. Flyers listing the prices are available at the meal case.

The meals are not offered, either hot or chilled, anywhere else in the store. There is no additional hot food served there.