PICK 'N SAVE PLANTS STATE'S BIGGEST-EVER PRODUCE UNIT

MILWAUKEE -- Mega Marts has opened a new Pick 'n Save store that, according to the company, has the biggest produce department in the state.Company officials told SN that they hope the 7,000-square-foot department will pull in sales volume that is as impressive as its selling space.Gary Fryda, president of the Oak Creek, Wis.-based retailer, said he's sure the department is "by far the biggest around."We're

MILWAUKEE -- Mega Marts has opened a new Pick 'n Save store that, according to the company, has the biggest produce department in the state.

Company officials told SN that they hope the 7,000-square-foot department will pull in sales volume that is as impressive as its selling space.

Gary Fryda, president of the Oak Creek, Wis.-based retailer, said he's sure the department is "by far the biggest around.

"We're very familiar with the stores in Wisconsin, and there's not another produce department that's 7,000 square feet," Fryda said. "It's about 100 feet wide, and about 108 feet deep."

The company expects the department to draw a high percentage of total store sales distribution. "Some weeks, we expect it could get as high as 12% -- but that's at the top," Fryda said.

That level of department performance would be extraordinary, he added, particularly given the fact that the new store does not have an unusually heavy emphasis on perishables.

The size of the department is consistent with the overall immensity of the 112,000-square-foot store, which is being called the Clark Square MegaMall.

The average Mega Marts store measures a little more than 90,000 square feet, while the average Pick 'n Save is roughly 70,000 square feet, Fryda said.

The department carries about 531 different items, and is in the back right corner of the store.

Store-level associates told SN that the department's variety is what sets it apart most from other supermarkets in the state.

"We have so many different items," said Roger Bennett, produce department manager. "That's what is unique about this store."

Bennett said the store's diverse clientele warrants such variety.

"We have a lot of Hispanic-Americans, a lot of African-Americans, and a lot of Asian-Americans who shop here," he explained. To cater to an area population that is 46% Hispanic, for example, the retailer decided to extend its merchandising of tortillas from grocery into the produce department.

Along with the tortillas, a number of dips and condiments are also cross merchandised. "We have a local baker who bakes our tortillas," he said. "We offer fresh-made salsas and avocado dip."

The department has a 12-foot walk-around case that stocks hot peppers, such as jalapenos and chiles; an 8-foot table where a variety of roots are sold, and another section where various Asian commodities, such as bok choy, are merchandised.

Bennett added, however, that since the department is set up "by the commodity," for the most part ethnic products are marketed alongside more conventional items, and not treated as specialties merchandised to specific ethnic groups.

The department also hosts a new program for Mega Marts, a 24-foot value-added service island featuring in-store processing.

"We prepare about 1,000 items a day," Fryda said.

That preparation includes melon cubes, cantaloupe cubes and watermelon, as well as cauliflower, carrot and broccoli packages, all of which can be found in a variety of sizes.

Bennett referred to the island as a "Meals Center" case. He described it as a shop-around that merchandises prepared items, not just from produce, but also from other departments, for shoppers looking for a complete meal.

The floral department is situated in the front of the store; it is the first time a Pick 'n Save has featured this department up front.

Mega Mart owns and operates 15 Pick 'n Saves in Wisconsin, and is affiliated with the Roundy's corporation, also based here. Fryda said the chain plans to outdo itself with the opening of its 16th store, a 130,000-square-foot store in Janesville, Wis.