PROVIGO PUTS ITS MONEY WHERE ITS MOUTH IS FOR MEALS PROGRAM

MONTREAL (FNS) -- Provigo Inc. here plans to spend up to $200 million Canadian ($144 million U.S.) over the next five years to serve up more prepared meals and fresh products.Prepared foods and fresh products will take up 50% of renovated stores compared with the current 30%, the company said.Provigo's Loeb division in Ontario opened the first new format outlet in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga

MONTREAL (FNS) -- Provigo Inc. here plans to spend up to $200 million Canadian ($144 million U.S.) over the next five years to serve up more prepared meals and fresh products.

Prepared foods and fresh products will take up 50% of renovated stores compared with the current 30%, the company said.

Provigo's Loeb division in Ontario opened the first new format outlet in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga this summer, and the first Quebec store will be renovated near here before the end of the year.

The change of direction for Provigo corresponds to changing lifestyles, according to Marie Brenner, vice president of communications and corporate affairs. She said many consumers buy most of their staples at large format stores and tend to shop at their neighborhood supermarket for fresh products.

"We're placing more emphasis on prepared meals so people will come to us instead of going to a restaurant. We're also placing the meat and fish section at the store entrance followed by other fresh products such as bread and cheese so that our customers don't have to go through the whole store when they're only shopping for one meal," she said.

Provigo has also introduced a program called "What's Cooking Tonight," which features basic recipes that can be prepared in less than 15 minutes using a maximum of eight ingredients. Five different recipes are featured each week using beef one week and chicken the next. The format change follows interviews Provigo conducted, which revealed that most people on their way to and from work had no idea what they planned to eat that evening.

A dietitian is stationed at the main entrance of each store between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to suggest menus for that evening. Shoppers are also offered cooking tips and other information, such as how to preserve fresh fruit longer.

The new format will be introduced to all 260 Provigo and Loeb supermarkets, ranging in size between 35,000 and 50,000 square feet. The format will be introduced concurrently with Provigo's Maxi & Co. large format discount store.

Provigo opened four Maxi & Co. outlets in fiscal 1997 and plans to open seven more this year, including three in the Toronto area. The company plans to add a total of 20 new stores in Ontario over the next three years to its existing 104 Ontario outlets under the Loeb and Maxi & Co. banners.