CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Wholesaler Supervalu, Minneapolis, is chasing after greater sales in produce and other fresh departments with a revamped Foodland Fresh format, the latest version of which opened here about a month ago.
That newest Foodland Fresh, centered on a Supervalu design that focuses on the perishables departments, is the first under the format to open from the ground up, and is already racking up strong store distribution for produce, with further improvements expected, said Supervalu officials.
The first example of the format opened in a remodeled store in Westmoreland, Pa., eight months ago. There are now six Foodland Fresh formats in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the newest of which is the Bigley Foodland Fresh here.
At this newest store, the produce department is quickly closing on the 10% mark in total store sales distribution, said Jamie Finck, area marketing director for Supervalu's Milton, W. Va., division.
Total sales in the store, meanwhile, have risen 12% compared with sales levels prior to the remodeling. And produce department sales in the Westmoreland Foodland Fresh store have risen about 22%, according to Janet Michel, Northeast regional communications manager at Supervalu.
Another store, in Huntington, W. Va., that was remodeled as a Foodland Fresh unit, is pulling in similar sales improvements, Michel said.
"Sales have just been phenomenal," she said. "Freshness and quality is the way that they're going. They have a high turnover; they're always moving produce in and out quickly to ensure that it's fresh."
In the Foodland Fresh design, the produce department, set off along the right-hand wall of the store, is dedicated to variety.
"We've just about doubled the amount of items in the produce department," Finck said. "We're really getting produce out in the customers' faces."
While it is not the first section in the store -- the in-store bakery greets shoppers first -- the produce department is immediately adjacent an atrium with chairs and the customer service area, and is visible from the center of the store.
The produce in the Fresh format is merchandised with a market look, with European-style tables, chalkboards and an emphasis on massive bulk display.
Officials said the design deliberately thrusts produce in front of the shopper, with tables set up in the middle of the floor; it also puts produce employees out on the floor with the products.
"We do a lot of demos on the floor, a lot of sampling," Finck said. One recent promotion featuring "fruit pizzas" at the new store had employees assembling pies consisting of cookie dough, sour cream and a variety of fruits for shoppers to sample.
Store personnel can also be found on the floor at their fresh-cut workstations, processing fruit and vegetable salads and party trays daily.
"It's all done in-store; we want the customer to see what we're doing," Finck said. "We have cut fruit, a lot of grab-and-go items, salads. We have a mobile salad bar, and sometimes we move that up by the register to make it more convenient for customers."
In many of the older Foodlands there was not enough room to do much more than sell produce, he added.
To reinforce the fresh message, Supervalu is putting out special weekly ads for items found in the Foodland Fresh stores, in addition to the regular Foodland advertisements, Finck said.
Michel said Bigley Foodland Fresh owner Joe Joseph pays particular attention to satisfying the customer, and the new perishables section fits in well with that philosophy.
She said, for example, that Joseph began serving eggplant relish, a local delicacy, in the store after one shopper asked if he had it in stock.
"[Joseph] is a real hands-on operator," she said.
In an attempt to lend a personal touch to the fresh departments in the new format, Joseph also named a number of them after the store personnel in charge, such as Jerry's Berry Patch, which bears the name of the store's produce manager, Jerry Kinder.
The 45,000-square-foot store, which opened about a month ago, is Joseph's first Foodland Fresh unit.
The Charleston store is roughly twice the size of a Foodland unit Joseph once owned, which Michel referred to as a "typical West Virginia store."
In the past, Supervalu formatted stores simply under the Foodland title, a conventional store that Michel said offers less excitement in the shopping experience.
The increase in total store size is reflected in the sizes of the store's departments as well. The perishables section alone takes up about a third of the entire store, Michel said. "It's one of the largest stores in West Virginia," she said. "Even Kroger doesn't have a store this big in West Virginia."