RICE SOWS FOURTH GROCERY WORLD WITH FOOD-SERVICE AREA

HOUSTON -- Rice Food Markets' fourth and newest Grocery World here boasts the format's first full-scale food-service area, and marks the evolution of the still-young format into meals merchandising, said chain officials.The latest Grocery World includes a variety of hot and cold items and a small dining area, officials told SN.The Grocery World format, the first of which appeared in 1995 and which

HOUSTON -- Rice Food Markets' fourth and newest Grocery World here boasts the format's first full-scale food-service area, and marks the evolution of the still-young format into meals merchandising, said chain officials.

The latest Grocery World includes a variety of hot and cold items and a small dining area, officials told SN.

The Grocery World format, the first of which appeared in 1995 and which has been slowly rolling out this year, has focused primarily on the merchandising of fresh produce and meat. The format is being put into sites that formerly were Rice Food units.

The third Grocery World had some fresh meals merchandising elements, as a steppingstone to the latest store. Indeed, the food-service section in store No. 3 was an expanded version of what the chain has been doing in its Rice Food Markets banner stores, said Gary Friedlander, Rice Food Markets president.

"It was in a store that had a very well known deli manager, and she had a steam table," said Friedlander. "She always had a very good relationship with [shoppers] and did pretty good business."

Friedlander said he chose to put food service in the newest store for similar reasons. But at the fourth Grocery World, which opened earlier this month, food-service operations are given more attention.

The food-service area is located in the last slot of the shopping pattern, near the store's service section. It offers three flavors of rotisserie chicken, including original, Cajun and lemon-pepper. There is a steam table in this store as well, and shoppers can watch a chef prepare different lunchtime specials each day, Friedlander said.

Entrees including boneless fried chicken breast and grilled chicken breast are cooked in the kitchen area by a trained chef, and shoppers can get their order to stay or to go.

"There are some tables, about five or six, with about 15 seats," Friedlander said. There is room in the dining area for more tables and chairs to be set up, but customer use has not proven expansion necessary.

Friedlander said he is hoping to draw a lunchtime clientele in the dining area, but does not expect it to be as crowded as some of his other stores.

"We have one store that is near a lot of businesses, and we get all the businesspeople coming in," he said.

But Friedlander's main goal for the dining room, at least in this Grocery World, is that it will function as a place where shoppers can grab a bite to eat. "Even if shoppers just want to grab coffee, a bagel or a muffin, that's great," he said.

Providing for regional or ethnic preferences is a marketing strategy the chain has been exploring with its new Grocery World stores, and the food-service program will incorporate that strategy.

To cater to a significant Jewish population in the fourth unit's marketing area, the store has a seafood section in the food-service department that offers whitefish, sturgeon and lox, typical Jewish delicacies, Friedlander said.

A 20-foot refrigerated area stocks a variety of kosher pickles, hot dogs and salamis and on-site chefs make items such as matzo ball soup on occasion.