MOST HUGHES STORES OFFERING HEAT-AND-SERVE MEAL PROGRAM

IRWINDALE, Calif. -- Hughes Family Markets here has introduced a heat-and-serve meals program in its stores that operate service delis.The "Family Recipes Meals to Go" program debuted last month. Of Hughes Markets' 53 stores, the new fresh prepared food products are available in the 47 units with full-service delis, said Jim McClaskey, director of the service deli division for Hughes."So far, so good,"

IRWINDALE, Calif. -- Hughes Family Markets here has introduced a heat-and-serve meals program in its stores that operate service delis.

The "Family Recipes Meals to Go" program debuted last month. Of Hughes Markets' 53 stores, the new fresh prepared food products are available in the 47 units with full-service delis, said Jim McClaskey, director of the service deli division for Hughes.

"So far, so good," said McClaskey of the new program's initial operation and reception by Hughes shoppers.

"This is the way we see the industry trends heading," said McClaskey, of Hughes' decision to launch the program. "The service deli needs to expand."

McClaskey said several Boston Market restaurants have appeared in the competitive southern California market where Hughes operates. He said he has also seen rapid growth of the restaurants, which feature a whole-meal concept, within the last nine months.

The increasing sophistication of self-service deli items within the supermarket was another factor in launching the program, he said. Self-service items have begun to pose greater competition to the service deli, and the meal-concept program is designed to bring sales back to the service case.

The line is built around a menu of entrees that are sold with a choice of two side dishes and one type of bread. A one-person meal starts at $3.59.

Two entree menus are available: a chicken meal program, prepared five different ways; and a variety meal, with seven different entrees. Entrees are prepared in-store, he said.

With the chicken meals, there are four types of rotisserie chicken -- spiced, Southwest, unspiced and lemon pepper -- along with fried chicken. The variety meals include beef back ribs, lasagna, chicken tenders and teriyaki beef strips, among others.

In an ad that appeared in a local newspaper, Hughes said the chicken meals start at $3.59 for one person, and retail for $19.99 for six servings. The variety meals start at $4.59 for one person, and retail up to $25.99 for six people.

Twenty-two side dishes are available, and shoppers choose two per entree. While those dishes are outsourced, McClaskey said some require additional preparation on-site, whether it be extra seasoning or baking-off.

Black beans, mashed potatoes with gravy, bread stuffing, coleslaw, pasta salad, mixed green salad, apple cobbler and tapioca pudding are among the side dishes.

Three different breads are available: a dinner roll, cheese bread stick and tortillas with salsa. Shoppers are allowed to choose one per entree. McClaskey said the selection of entrees will evolve over time, and as seasons change.