STAR MARKETS PUTS BROADCAST ROCKET UNDER MEALS PROGRAM

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Star Markets Co. here has taken the unusual step of launching a broadcast media campaign designed to tout fresh meals.It is the latest step in the chain's efforts to strengthen its home-meal replacement program, according to a Star Markets executive.Star Markets is "seeing the light at the end of the tunnel -- profitability," said Jim McDonald, vice president of perishables merchandising

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Star Markets Co. here has taken the unusual step of launching a broadcast media campaign designed to tout fresh meals.

It is the latest step in the chain's efforts to strengthen its home-meal replacement program, according to a Star Markets executive.

Star Markets is "seeing the light at the end of the tunnel -- profitability," said Jim McDonald, vice president of perishables merchandising for Star Markets and Wild Harvest, Star's natural-food supermarket division. "We're making money, but not a lot."

McDonald said Star Markets' commitment to HMR solidified gradually over the last two and a half years, as it invested $7 million constructing, equipping and designing in-store kitchens in 23 of its 48 units. McDonald spoke of the chain's initiative at the HMR Summit conference, which was held earlier this month in Dallas.

To get to the point of profitability took careful planning, collaboration between different operations within the company, and strict accountability, McDonald said. Now that the chain has its HMR strategy in place, it can justify investing money in advertising to grab the attention of prospective meals customers, he said.

"We've started a broadcast media campaign to raise the awareness of our food capabilities within Star, but we also want to get people thinking of supermarkets as a very acceptable place to go for HMR solutions," McDonald said.

At the conference, McDonald also encouraged other retailers to join his company in trying to alert consumers that supermarkets are viable meals providers. He showed a tape of one of Star's television commercials, which McDonald said had not yet been released.

In the commercial, a mom asks what her family wants for dinner. Dad and the two kids all adamantly want something different. The family members call out pizza, stir-fry and sushi, and one of the kids even holds the family cat hostage until he gets his way.

A voice-over says, "Having trouble deciding what to have for dinner? Try Star Markets' Chef a la Carte. Our chefs are always cooking up fresh, great tasting meals so you never have to worry what's for dinner." Chef a la Carte is the name of the chain's chilled prepacked entrees and side dishes, as well as chef-made items in its service cases.

Besides using broadcast media to disseminate its marketing message, Star Markets is also relying on print media. It has already devoted full-page space to its HMR offerings in its ad circular and is currently talking up its meals solutions in direct-mail ads.

The print advertisements focus in on what the chain official called the company's "core competencies, such as our pizza program, stir-fry wok program and our steak tips."