MEIJER FIELDS FORMATION OF MEAL LINES, DELI, BAKERY

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Meijer Inc. has dramatically expanded the size and range of its fresh meals operations in a supercenter the company opened in its hometown here.The new unit, a 237,000-square-foot supercenter that is the largest the company operates in western Michigan, includes innovations in Meijer's meal-solution philosophy, according to local sources, such as the inauguration of the company's

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Meijer Inc. has dramatically expanded the size and range of its fresh meals operations in a supercenter the company opened in its hometown here.

The new unit, a 237,000-square-foot supercenter that is the largest the company operates in western Michigan, includes innovations in Meijer's meal-solution philosophy, according to local sources, such as the inauguration of the company's new branded ready-to-heat meals line.

According to one industry observer, another significant change apparent in this newest layout is the company's decision, in the store's design, to group together deli and bakery, ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat foods and a 110-seat restaurant-style seating area in one section.

The company opened a supercenter with the same format in Indianapolis late last month as well. A Meijer spokesman declined to comment on the new format.

In Meijer units opened previously, hot foods are grouped together in a modified food-court arrangement with small segmented seating sections, but away from the deli and other fresh-food sections.

"This is a restaurant seating venue," said one local source of the new format. "It's almost like the Disney World of food. You can go to different stations and each member of the family can make their own selection, whether it's sushi or hamburgers, or pizza or cake. And putting it all in one place, that's the most significant thing for [Meijer's]."

Other innovations include a sushi bar, hot panini station and an espresso bar.

The source estimated that about 20,000 square feet were devoted to fresh meals in the store, and that of the 750 employees working in the supercenter, 130 have been assigned to the store's food section.

Chef's Choice, the company's ready-to-heat meal section, includes a refrigerator case with many prepackaged meals and side dishes. In addition, customers can design their own meals by selecting a mix of individual items from a service case filled with sides and entrees, about 50 items altogether.

"It has a centralized kitchen look to it," said the local source. "Everything is prepared in front of the customer. It's very attractively laid out, and the ambiance is very interesting. They've used overhead mirrors so that customers who are standing a little bit away from the bakery, say, can see the bakers baking."

Currently, most of the Chef's Choice meal items are being prepared for the company by an outside provider, but a Meijer-owned central commissary facility is being readied to take over most of the meals preparation, a source said.

The store, located in the Knapp's Corner neighborhood of Grand Rapids, is one of three Meijer units operating in Grand Rapids.

At another hybrid freezer/refrigerator unit, Meijer has located the Knapp's Corner Grab & Go, a mix of frozen entrees, deli-prepared sandwiches and prepackaged salads for self-service quick meals to go.

Chef's Choice focuses on fully prepared meal items such as beef macaroni goulash, which was priced at $2.34 per pound during the store's opening week celebration. The Chef's Choice items are advertised as freshly prepared and never frozen.

As at other stores, rotisserie chicken, barbecued ribs, traditional deli sandwiches and salads, and items from the store's soup and salad bar are available.

The meals and seating area is located next to the store's 24-hour entrance. The entire section -- the company's branded ice cream operation called the Purple Cow, gourmet coffee/espresso station called Caffe' Copa, the deli, Chef's Choice, salad and soup bar, rotisserie, Mama Milazzo's Pizzeria, Knapp's Corner Grab & Go, and The Grille -- is advertised in the grand opening circular as part of "Meijer Fresh Market."

During opening week, scratch bagels were sold at $1.99 for five; Ed Venture's Hamburger Happy Meal for kids under 10, consisting of a soda, burger and fries, was $1.29; and half a submarine sandwich served with chips and soda was $2.99.

The new store has been launched with much local fanfare, including a 12-page, four-color insert in the local newspaper.