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BELLEVUE, Wash. -- A retailer/supplier partnership for a branded meal-solutions program in Quality Food Centers here is working successfully and will be rolled out to additional stores, according to one of the partners involved, restaurant operator Cucina!Cucina! of Seattle.Salads produced and branded by Cucina!Cucina! are now served in 10 QFC stores, and six more will add them shortly, according

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- A retailer/supplier partnership for a branded meal-solutions program in Quality Food Centers here is working successfully and will be rolled out to additional stores, according to one of the partners involved, restaurant operator Cucina!Cucina! of Seattle.

Salads produced and branded by Cucina!Cucina! are now served in 10 QFC stores, and six more will add them shortly, according to the supplier. QFC officials could not be reached for comment.

The partnership is an example of the way the distribution pipeline can be negotiated at local levels. A small-scale partnership of manufacturer, distributor and a retail receiver bypasses the traditional food-service distribution community. Besides QFC and Cucina!Cucina!, this partnership includes Plymouth Poultry Distributors, another Seattle-area firm.

"We have a really strong partnership with QFC," said Lindsey Schwartz, director of retail sales for Cucina!Cucina!. "We do product research and development together, and approach the whole project as a partnership. It's working and, really, the only way to do it is this way, rather than them telling us how things will be or us telling them. It has to be equal.

"Instead of competing against supermarkets, our strategy is to work with them."

The branded component means that careful handling at retail is important. In order to allow QFC to serve Cucina!Cucina!'s best-known item -- a chopped salad made with chicken, salami and cheese -- the restaurant needed to get supermarket associates to understand how to prepare the custom-made salad Cucina!Cucina!'s way.

Cucina!Cucina! assembled a salad component kit that it sells to QFC, backing that product up with training for QFC's deli employees conducted in-store by Cucina!Cucina!'s own chefs.

"There's no way we can do this product and put it out on the shelf," Schwartz said. "It wouldn't really have any shelf life. So we had to work together with QFC to figure out how we could get that same restaurant-quality product to consumers."

The two companies also worked in tandem to choose Plymouth Poultry Distributors, a company routinely making deliveries to QFC.

"They 're already in the business of delivering a product with a short shelf life, so they understand how important it is to rotate product and be on top of the orders, unlike some of the bigger companies," Schwartz said.