ROTISSERIE TAKES FLIGHT IN SECOND DISPLAY

LANHAM, Md. -- Shoppers/Metro Food Stores has sent rotisserie chicken sales soaring with additional self-service displays up front by checkout.The chain, a Supervalu company, began rolling out the secondary, reach-in cases to its Shoppers Food Warehouse Stores this spring and expected to have them in 15 stores by the end of last week. They'll eventually go into all the chain's stores, 41 Shoppers

LANHAM, Md. -- Shoppers/Metro Food Stores has sent rotisserie chicken sales soaring with additional self-service displays up front by checkout.

The chain, a Supervalu company, began rolling out the secondary, reach-in cases to its Shoppers Food Warehouse Stores this spring and expected to have them in 15 stores by the end of last week. They'll eventually go into all the chain's stores, 41 Shoppers stores and 17 under the Metro banner, and definitely will be a feature in all remodels and new stores, officials said. The rollout is based on success from the very beginning, they said -- the first case at checkout was installed at a test store in January, and immediately unit sales jumped by 75 to 100 chickens per week and that pattern has continued.

"The same has been true at the others. It's an impulse sale at the register. We have baguettes from our in-store bakery in baskets, too, right in front of the case," said Ed Boxman, vice president of deli/bakery at the 58-unit chain.

The case, a 4-foot, reach-in warmer positioned between checkout lanes 2 and 3 where a magazine rack once stood, is designated by an overhead sign that says, "Our Finest Rotisserie Chickens." The birds are packed in dome containers, and customers can pack them up in special, small plastic bags stacked at the case. Restocked constantly all day, the case holds 14 chickens. They're relatively large, at three-and-a-quarter to three-and-a-half pounds before cooking.

"They net down to about two-and-a-half to two-and-three-quarters pounds, cooked. They're a signature product for us. None of our competitors come near us with rotisserie chickens. We make them a little darker, because that's what our customers want, and we only have two kinds -- the traditional, or classic, and then barbecue. And, believe it or not, sales are split just about even between the two varieties. The everyday-low price is $4.98 each," Boxman said, adding that they're never put on special.

"We don't need to do that. All our competitors' chickens are at least $1 more than ours. Sometimes, they run a special and bring them down a dollar, but the next week they're back up to $5.98."

Major competitors in the Shoppers market area are Safeway and Giant of Landover, but they don't seem to make a dent in Shoppers' chicken success, Boxman said. Indeed, at last count, Shoppers/Metro was selling 21,000 rotisserie chickens a week from its 41 Shoppers Food Warehouse Stores. The volume is so good that the first associates to come into the store, the bakers, are apt to be skewering chickens in the middle of the night to get ready for big production that starts early in the day, Boxman said.

"It's the tonnage. We're the leaders in this category, and sales keep on growing. I've had to buy more spits so we can have chickens ready to put on the rotisserie as soon as the others come off. In fact, I'm buying two more rotisseries."

The rollout of the display cases up front by the registers will be relatively slow just in order to keep control over it, Boxman said. Five stores at a time, with intervals of several weeks in between.

"I want to have the time to go in and explain to the managers and associates what we're doing and get them all fired up about it. They get excited about how many more chickens they can sell, but we have do to it slowly in order to make sure everything's in place and done right. For example, you have to make sure that case is kept full," he said.

While Boxman considers a bakery-fresh baguette a natural to go with the impulse-buy chickens at checkout, he said he had no intention of cross merchandising anything else with them because he's a strong believer in keeping things simple so customers don't get confused. That's why he only offers two varieties of rotisserie chicken.

"We tried lemon-pepper once, but one of them got mislabeled and the customer brought it back. They thought it was a traditional variety that was sour. So we said no more flavors. Why complicate things when everything is going so well? Our customers want traditional and barbecue."

Shoppers Food Warehouse Stores had not had rotisserie chickens before Boxman joined the company seven years ago. Just about his first action when appointed deli/bakery director then was to install, adjacent to the service deli counter, a five-foot reach-in case with a BKI rotisserie oven directly on top of it "to provide some theater."

It's important for the customer to make that close connection between the chicken they're reaching for and the chicken that is being cooked right then, he said. And apparently it worked. Sales were also helped along by putting the chickens on ad every week at an everyday-low price.

"When we had rolled rotisserie chickens out to all the stores and were advertising it every week, that's when the avalanche started. We ran contests among the stores. If they achieved a certain quota, say their weekly movement plus 10%, we gave out gift certificates," Boxman said.

It wasn't long until the then 36 Shoppers Food Warehouse Stores were selling 17,000 to 18,000 rotisserie chickens a week, he added. The delis in the stores, which average 55,000 to 60,000 square feet, are located within view of the entrance. So, once inside the door, the customer sees the rotating chickens and smells the aroma, too, Boxman explained.

"[The location of the rotisserie] is how we could give our customers such theater. That's been very important, and so has our commitment."