KROGER'S RECIPE FOR MEAL-CENTER TEST MIXES DEPARTMENTS

CINCINNATI -- A Kroger unit here is slated to be a test site for a meal-solutions concept that cross merchandises items from Center Store with those from other departments.If successful, the program will become the prototype for an independent meal-solutions department in other supermarkets, according to Mark Willis, vice president of Tyson Foods, Springdale, Ark., a sponsor of the concept. A Kroger

CINCINNATI -- A Kroger unit here is slated to be a test site for a meal-solutions concept that cross merchandises items from Center Store with those from other departments.

If successful, the program will become the prototype for an independent meal-solutions department in other supermarkets, according to Mark Willis, vice president of Tyson Foods, Springdale, Ark., a sponsor of the concept. A Kroger store in Dallas is planned to be the next unit to feature the prototype.

The center, planned to be in operation by next week, will draw on items from every area of the supermarket.

"Customers can choose either frozen chicken breast, refrigerated chicken breast or prepared, roasted chicken breast," depending on the level of convenience they desire, said Willis.

Called "Easy Meals in Minutes," the concept is a model example of "solution selling," which a new study by the Grocery Manufacturers of America, Washington, and Andersen Consulting, Chicago, says is an invaluable opportunity for the industry to help consumers shop more efficiently. The report says manufacturers and retailers should merchandise products the way consumers think about and use them.

Kroger declined to comment on the new format, but Rick Going, meat merchandiser for Kroger's Cincinnati/Dayton, Ohio, division, confirmed that Kroger plans to put the meal-solutions center into at least one other Cincinnati-area store, possibly at the back end.

Along with Tyson, other sponsors are Gallo wine company; Tanimura & Antle, the maker of SaladTime salad; Arctic Star, which is supplying the refrigerated and frozen units; and Try-Foods, which has designed and developed the menus and provided the department layout.

The center will be set up as two endcaps at the front of the store, directly across from the express checkout and customer-service area.

A display arch with the Kroger logo will bridge the two endcaps. It will read "Easy Meals in Minutes."

A variety of ingredients needed to make five different meals will be offered. Recipe cards will also be available.

Recipes will rotate on a regular basis, along with the marquee and items on the shelves and refrigerated and frozen units within the new format.

The unit was slated to be launched last month, but Kroger asked for a redesign of the refrigerated/frozen cases, according to Willis. "Arctic Star customized the units," Willis told SN.

"The combination unit is tilted 45 degrees, so you can see inside without reaching over. The back side has waterfall refrigerated shelving."

The original menu concepts were also retooled. "It's a more simplified menu," explained Willis. "We're getting away from gourmet and back to a basic menu."

Willis said that some test results will be available later in the year and will likely be announced in September at the Food Marketing Institute's second annual Meal Solutions Conference.