THE SILENT STEWARD

Retailers and manufacturers are using kiosks to advertise packaged goods in-store and promote them as a component of meal solutions.Major chains -- Kroger Co., H.E. Butt Grocery Co., Safeway, Randalls Food Markets, Schnuck Markets, Food Emporium, Roundy's, Dominick's Finer Foods, Acme Markets, Stop & Shop Cos. and Roche Bros., for example -- are bringing kiosk systems into their stores to inform shoppers

Retailers and manufacturers are using kiosks to advertise packaged goods in-store and promote them as a component of meal solutions.

Major chains -- Kroger Co., H.E. Butt Grocery Co., Safeway, Randalls Food Markets, Schnuck Markets, Food Emporium, Roundy's, Dominick's Finer Foods, Acme Markets, Stop & Shop Cos. and Roche Bros., for example -- are bringing kiosk systems into their stores to inform shoppers about products and to help them with meal planning. With the exception of Food Emporium and Dominick's, none of the aforementioned retailers could be reached for comment.

A Food Emporium unit in Fort Lee, N.J., has launched its first liquor department with an electronic kiosk that helps consumers plan parties, learn about the department's offerings and select the right alcoholic beverages to go with their dinners.

The ChoiceMaster plays the role of a wine steward without the human-to-human interaction. Consumers use a touch screen to access a written description of all the store's alcoholic beverage offerings. They can also use the machine to find appropriate food matches or food and drink recipes or to plan a party or learn more about the available products.

The units are manufactured by Beverage Marketing Technologies, Katonah, N.Y., and will "quickly" be rolled out to 120 A&P stores with liquor departments in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said Michael Rourke, senior vice president of communications and corporate affairs at A&P, Montvale, N.J., parent company of Food Emporium.

"The kiosk allows the shopper to do a lot of different things and is very helpful in meal planning and planning for parties. It helps determine what kind of wine goes best with what kind of dinner," Rourke said.

He added that Food Emporium expects the kiosk to spur sales in other areas of the store, especially when consumers print out meal and drink recipes and go shopping for other ingredients. "Wine goes so well with food, especially a lot of the gourmet meals that we have in that store," Rourke added.

Currently, ChoiceMaster kiosks are being tested in four Jewel-Osco stores in Chicago, according to James Greaves, president of Beverage Marketing Technologies. Jewel-Osco is a subsidiary of Salt Lake City- based American Stores.

In the first 33 stores where the kiosk was tested 15 months ago, it helped boost in-store sales an average of 6%, he said.

As a result of additional exposure inside the store, packaged goods companies, and ultimately retailers, have experienced sales increases due to advertising on kiosks.

"We've seen sales increases of up to 16% for grocery products that are sold throughout the store," said Eric Bindelglass, chief operating officer at PICS Retail Networks, San Francisco.

PICS Retail Networks systems presently can be found only in mass merchandisers across the country, but Bindelglass said he is "considering opportunities in the conventional supermarket."

PICS systems, which offer previews of home videos and music compilations, are displayed outside the store's electronic department. Packaged goods companies such as Nabisco, Procter & Gamble and Ocean Spray run full-motion ads before each entertainment product preview. "It builds traffic and sales on the entertainment products but also on the packaged goods brands that are advertised on the system," Bindelglass added.

Retailers are moving toward organizing integrated programs where the featured grocery products are merchandised and displayed near the kiosk. Some are already doing so.

One kiosk company, CompuCook, San Francisco, is working with retailers to develop a better merchandising strategy around its recipe and meal solutions delivering machine, said Bill Coduto, vice president of retail at the company.

"Forty percent of consumers don't know what they're going to make for dinner at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. A kiosk provides an alternative for a consumer who's faced with that dinner dilemma," Coduto said.

He mentioned using refrigerated cases and shelves on which retailers could merchandise items from recipes available from the kiosk. Kroger, H-E-B, Dominick's and Schnuck are some of the chains CompuCook is working with.

Dominick's is using the CompuCook kiosk in 30 of its newer and larger stores, said Nancy Siler, manager of consumer affairs at the chain. She said the company eventually plans to have them in 80% of its stores.

Most existing kiosks are located up front near the customer information area. Recipes, menus, general product information and nutritional information are available electronically. "It gives ideas on what to have for dinner as well as how to fix it," Siler added.

Retailers, such as Kroger, are using the kiosk to drive private-label sales.

"Shoppers can select an entire menu designed around the retailer's [store-branded] products," Coduto of CompuCook added.

Kiosks also can be used as part of target-marketing programs, said Peter McLellan, general manager of Access Terminal Solutions Group, Santa Clara, Calif.

"The access terminal could have a stand-alone recipe look-up application that could suggest the use of a particular brand of packaged goods to be included as part of the recipe's listed ingredients," he said, "or the integrated access terminal could offer an electronic coupon to a specific shopper based upon their past buying behavior."

Another kiosk company, Fairfield, Iowa-based Point of Choice, formerly called My Menus, is working to integrate its electronic kiosks into retailers' Solution Selling programs, according to Paul Tarnoff, a partner at Fairfield Partners, which was hired to help reposition My Menus. Fairfield Partners also is headquartered in Fairfield.

SN visited a Randalls Flagship store in Houston where an existing My Menus kiosk was in the produce department. Once a recipe was picked and printed, a shopping list followed with aisle specifications of where each product could be found.

Such a list saves the shopper time, which can be an effective tool for attracting time-pressed consumers, Tarnoff added. However, several retailers told SN that they tried kiosks, but they were unsuccessful.