LUNARDI'S MEAT PROFITS CUT ACROSS SEASONS

SAN BRUNO, Calif. -- San Francisco Bay area-based Lunardi's Supermarkets has taken to merchandising deeply into the meat category, in an effort to offer different options for customers throughout the year, said company officials.The result, they said, is currently stellar meat sales that have no boundaries due to time of year or cut."We offer a variety of quality and full service," said Paul Lunardi

SAN BRUNO, Calif. -- San Francisco Bay area-based Lunardi's Supermarkets has taken to merchandising deeply into the meat category, in an effort to offer different options for customers throughout the year, said company officials.

The result, they said, is currently stellar meat sales that have no boundaries due to time of year or cut.

"We offer a variety of quality and full service," said Paul Lunardi owner of the five-unit independent, headquartered here.

"Meeting our customers' needs is a test for us every day, every week and every month," Lunardi said.

Lately, for example, the retailer has had a successful run with corned beef, not typically a strong winter item. During one recent visit by SN, the operator had abundant corned beef items on special. Bottom round was priced at $1.99 per pound, point brisket was $1.49 per pound and center cut topped out the niche category at $2.29 per pound.

The key to growing the business is how associates relate to customers, he said. At the stores and headquarters, customers are to be treated as perishable and precious commodities, he explained.

"You can call your wholesalers for a dozen eggs but you cannot call your wholesaler to order up another customer," he said. "These are more than nice phrases, it's the way we do our business."

Full service is the only style of service available at Lunardi's Markets, the retailer added.

"The erosion of independents has created a void in the marketplace when it comes to service and quality. We strive to maintain our tradition of quality.

"Our identity is in full service. It is a part of our operation," said Lunardi. "Sixty-nine cents per pound chuck is not our image or our identity."

The full-service approach also treats the product well, Lunardi said. At the operator's Belmont, Calif. unit, the department features 100 feet of meat, fish and poultry displayed in ice cases. "Refrigeration dries meat out; ice gives moist cooling," he said.

The fresh fish is all line- caught, he said. Beef offerings are cut from hanging beef and butchered on premises.

Ready-to-cook items are merchandised in the service case and are placed within the species that they are made from. These offerings are priced by the piece, as opposed to being sold by the pound.

Most of the items, such as stuffed pork chops, flank steak and stuffed sole along with chicken Monterey and cordon bleu, are customary. However, Lunardi's Markets also offers kidneys, veal chops, breast of veal and crown roasts.

"We use extra flair with cuts and preparation," Lunardi said.

The operator regularly carries all cuts of lamb and veal, which is an exception to the norm in its trading area. Generally veal and lamb are not big movers due to price, and to some consumers wanting to be politically correct.

"By educating our customers on the juicy, free-range veal that we offer, we have been able to increase our veal business over the last five years," he said.

With the depth and breadth of Lunardi's Markets' offerings, case space is a constant challenge. Items are positioned in the case based upon availability, feature and customer demand. Packaged meats have been eliminated to allow for more service-case space as well.

Sausage, an item with high regional appeal, is rotated by variety within the service case. Stable items are constant in the case with biweekly rotation of specialty sausages completing the display.

"We just don't put everything out at one time, building huge sausage displays," Lunardi said.

Keeping in touch with customers and seeking out the innovative products that they are looking for is what keeps the operation on the cutting edge of the business. Neighborhood customer preferences determine product offerings within the meat department.

"We listen to our customers when it comes to item selection and assortment," he said.

That is why one unit carries Fulton Valley chickens, while in another, newly acquired unit, the meat department carries Rockey the Range Chicken, a brand preferred by that store's shoppers.

"Our customer base is different," he said. "They make time to shop and prepare dishes the old- fashioned way. They are well-traveled and well-read. They love food. If they see a good recipe in Sunset Magazine or the San Francisco Chronicle we better have all the ingredients required to make the dish on hand."