SETTING THE PATTERN: FOUR STORES NOW DESTINED TO LEAD

A couple of weeks ago, SN published its largest issue of the year, so far.As is often the case with such a large book size, some of its content can be overlooked in the welter of pages, not to mention the activity of the convention period for which it was prepared.In this instance, the May 8 issue contained four major news features about new or remodeled stores. In three of those instances, the featured

A couple of weeks ago, SN published its largest issue of the year, so far.

As is often the case with such a large book size, some of its content can be overlooked in the welter of pages, not to mention the activity of the convention period for which it was prepared.

In this instance, the May 8 issue contained four major news features about new or remodeled stores. In three of those instances, the featured formats are destined to be rolled out by their owning chains to some or all of the other stores. In the fourth instance, one element of a major remodeling project is destined to be rolled out chainwide.

Let's take a look at these important stores, together with a look at what role they may play in the future development of their owning chains.

A&P Fresh: Among the stores featured in the SN issue, the one with the most import may be the A&P "Fresh" concept opened lately in Midland Park, N.J. In a way, A&P is betting the farm on the prototype since it intends to convert three-quarters of its stores to the format in the next three years or so. The new concept derives from elements culled from the best A&P stores in this country and Canada. (A&P sold its Canadian operation last July.) The aim of the store is to be much more contemporary and brighter in content and design, featuring big changes in deli and bakery, where prepared food is offered. Center Store features additional international, natural and organic lines.

Wild Oats Markets: This chain's new store in Tampa, Fla., offers refinements in its core offer, namely perishables. At the 37,000 square foot store, which is about 10,000 square feet larger than the typical one, fresh-prepared offerings are grouped together - pizza, sushi and all - in a common area. Nearby are produce and floral, a cafe area with a juice bar and a sandwich bar. At a grille, a basic breakfast menu is available too. Several more stores of the type are planned.

Food Lion: This chain opened a new concept in Rutherfordton, N.C., based on the "neighborhood" theme. Not only does the store serve its neighborhood, but it is set in separate departments, or neighborhoods, intended to be reminiscent of neighborhood shops of times past. Among the interior "stores" featured are bakery, dairy, produce and wine. Food Lion too is betting heavily on the design. Four more are to open this year and the intent is to eventually convert the whole chain to the format.

H.E. Butt Grocery: Luckily, H.E.B. has a proven success in its Central Market store in Plano, Texas, but, as always, any format can stand a little renewal from time to time. So that is what happened at this store lately. Among the changes associated with a remodeling project, aisles were widened, a 1,000 square foot cafe was added, bringing the whole store to 76,000 square feet. A number of fresh-prepared items were added too, with the intent of the whole project being to add convenience and meal solutions. H.E.B. intends to leverage one element used in this redesign and elsewhere in the chain and plant it chainwide, that being the cafe.

We've all heard much about the failure of the undifferentiated middle. These stores are the cure.