NEW ELEMENTS INCORPORATED INTO MARSH FOOD COURT

INDIANAPOLIS -- Marsh Supermarkets here has raised the bar for its food court program at a new store.While the chain has incorporated food courts at several of its stores already, at its new 60,000-square-foot unit in Muncie, Ind. the food-service strategy is more clearly defined than before, said industry observers familiar with Marsh.Officials at Marsh declined to comment on the food court at the

INDIANAPOLIS -- Marsh Supermarkets here has raised the bar for its food court program at a new store.

While the chain has incorporated food courts at several of its stores already, at its new 60,000-square-foot unit in Muncie, Ind. the food-service strategy is more clearly defined than before, said industry observers familiar with Marsh.

Officials at Marsh declined to comment on the food court at the new store. Other sources, however, said the store brings a number of new elements to the chain's food court design, such as a distinctly designed entrance, store brand-named pizza and grill stations, more open production and additional space devoted to self-service salads and prepared foods.

Just inside the store's entrance, a huge multicolored archway with a carnival-like appearance funnels customers into the fresh food aisle. The first elements they see are "Garnet's Grill" on the left and "Antonio's Pizzeria" on the right, both brand names created by Marsh.

In a statement released upon the grand opening Nov. 8, Marsh officials said the grill is named for Garnet Marsh, mother of Don Marsh, the 88-unit chain's chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer. In one other store, the food court area is called Garnet's Cafe, said a store-level source at Marsh.

Marsh's Pie Shop, a long-time program at the chain, has been brought forward at the new store to link it with other food court elements. In the Muncie store, the pie shop is adjacent to the pizzeria.

In other Marsh units, both the pizzeria and the pie shop are incorporated in the in-store bakery, which is typically near the back of the store, at the end of the fresh food aisle.

The revamped pizza program features open production and added variety. Associates can be seen hand-tossing dough and chopping fresh ingredients for toppings. In other stores, where the pizza program is part of the bakery, production is behind the scenes.

The assortment of pizzas at older Marsh stores is limited to about six basic varieties. At the Muncie unit, Antonio's Pizzeria features a slate of 25 different varieties including some exotic flavors.

Eggplant-artichoke pizza and steak pizza caught the eye of a local observer who talked to SN. The topping for the steak pizza appears to be thin slices of London broil, the observer added. Prices range from $6.49 for a cheese pizza to $8.99 for the more upscale varieties. Pizza is sold by the slice as well as by the whole pie. Take-home-and-bake, chilled pizzas also are available.

Marsh's Pie Shop also features open production. Associates are visible as they slice fresh fruits for the pies just behind the counter; the department produces handmade pies with fresh ingredients.

Garnet's Grill is designated by an orange-red neon sign. It has an open-flame grill and a menu that includes hamburgers, cheese burgers, Cajun grilled chicken sandwiches and salads, and Philly cheese-steak sandwiches. Panini sandwiches have been added to the grill's menu at this store. A Chinese food program, which is also available at other Marsh stores, is incorporated in the grill program.

A rotisserie seen behind the grill counter twirls turkey breasts and slabs of ribs as well as rotisserie chickens. A hot food bar, a long-time mainstay of Marsh Supermarkets, is part of the food court here. So is seating for approximately 60 to 70, about halfway back along the wall, at tables and chairs and booths.

A made-to-order sandwich station follows the hot food bar against the wall. Next comes a self-service, three-tiered, refrigerated case, approximately 12 feet long that holds prepackaged sides and entrees produced in Marsh's central commissary. Sandwiches and salads -- packed in-store, according to a store-level source -- also occupy part of the case. The length of case appears to be at least half as long as similar displays in other Marsh units, the local observer told SN.

The store is in a residential area with middle-to-upper income levels; within a few miles, the area turns abruptly rural. Some office buildings are in the area, however, and according to the local observer, the store probably also draws shoppers from nearby Ball State University.