MARTHA HARPS ROLLS TO THE RESCUE

To Kallesen of Harps, branding is a key to the meals challenge -- and the success of the signature-branded Martha Harps dinner roll was the inspiration for the company's subsequent Martha's Kitchen meals program.ful chance to leverage the company's own identity. "We had to get away from the idea of a deli, and establish a brand," he said. Martha Harp is the late wife of now-retired president Don Harp.The

To Kallesen of Harps, branding is a key to the meals challenge -- and the success of the signature-branded Martha Harps dinner roll was the inspiration for the company's subsequent Martha's Kitchen meals program.

ful chance to leverage the company's own identity. "We had to get away from the idea of a deli, and establish a brand," he said. Martha Harp is the late wife of now-retired president Don Harp.

The resulting popularity of Martha's Kitchen, installed in one store last fall, has spurred Harps executives to push for a chainwide rollout. Kallesen is so protective of the important program, however, that he told SN before the conference that a rapid chainwide rollout is something he's tried to resist. He explained that "this concept needs the right amount of space, and some of our stores don't have it."

The company has added a sit-down cafe in some locations, however, and intends to include Martha's Kitchens and the branded Martha's Bakery in other stores. Both concepts are thoroughly branded, with signs both inside and outside the store.

And customers haven't balked at the prices Harps charges for meals at Martha's, Kallesen said. "Price is not an issue. Sales and margins are proving that sales are driven by quality."

Harps, too, seems to have resolved the cross-departmental problems that plague other chains. "The customer doesn't care whether the food comes from the deli or the bakery," Kallesen said.

Developing a marketing plan and signature items are key, he added, and atmosphere, service and quality are also essential for success. "Look at what you're good at and make it better," said Kallesen.

Most importantly, he emphasized, is that a concept that encompasses all meals has led to Harps success. "It's a total concept."

And the roll that started it all? Harps developed a 3-ounce, par-baked roll packaged with heating instructions so that customers could serve a hot roll at home. Never discounted, the rolls have moved from $2.49 to $2.99 per dozen.

The Martha Harps brand roll is so popular, Kallesen said, that "The in-store grocery managers complain that they can't sell their brown-and-serve rolls around the holidays, even with a buy-one, get-one-free price of 49 cents."