SUTTON PLACE PLANNING GROWTH, NEW CONCEPT

ROCKVILLE, Md. -- Sutton Place Gourmet here has announced a fast-track expansion plan that will begin with a new concept store to open within two months.Called Sutton On the Run, the 1,200-square-foot prototype ministore will target prepared foods customers who want to get in and out more quickly than they can at the company's larger, full-service stores, said Katherine Newell Smith, vice president

ROCKVILLE, Md. -- Sutton Place Gourmet here has announced a fast-track expansion plan that will begin with a new concept store to open within two months.

Called Sutton On the Run, the 1,200-square-foot prototype ministore will target prepared foods customers who want to get in and out more quickly than they can at the company's larger, full-service stores, said Katherine Newell Smith, vice president of communications for Sutton Place.

Sutton Place Gourmet currently operates five larger-format, 12,000- to 20,000-square-foot stores, and one 2,500-square-foot unit, all in the Washington metropolitan area. Within the next year, the company plans to open three to seven Sutton On the Run units and up to eight more full-service Sutton Place Gourmets in the Baltimore-Washington area. In addition, a move into at least one other market on the East Coast with both store formats is planned, Smith said.

Smith said the company's decision to expand so quickly has been spurred by dramatic growth in the prepared foods category. Sales of Sutton Place's full line of prepared foods have climbed 15% to 20% over the previous year for each of the past two years, she said.

Sales success at the smallest of the Sutton Place Gourmet units, where emphasis is on prepared foods, has also figured into the decision to launch Sutton On the Run stores, said Mark Berey, the company's chief executive officer, in a recent statement.

"We know that restaurant-quality prepared foods are what customers want to buy and we want to make sure we meet their needs," Smith said.

The strategy is to locate the smaller stores within a few miles' radius of the larger, fuller-service stores in order to more fully cover

each market, she said. The ministore concept provides "an additional way for customers to buy from us. We don't expect sales at Sutton On the Run to interfere with sales at our traditional stores," said Smith. The smaller store size itself will enable customers to get in and out faster, she said. "The idea is to get lunch customers who are in a rush, and perhaps people driving by on the way home from work, people who may not pass one of our other stores on their way home," she said. "Our regular stores offer more of a shopping experience. They're designed to keep the customer in the store longer," Smith said. In addition to prepared foods, the traditional-format stores have 14 other departments, including meat, seafood, gourmet cheeses, floral and produce. Some also offer hard goods.

By contrast, Sutton On the Run units will have only deli and bakery in addition to prepared foods. Product mix and prices in the three departments will be the same as they are at the traditional stores, and emphasis will be on service just as it is in other units. Self-service will be limited to a small case, stocked with freshly made sandwiches and salads, Smith said. A similar, small grab-and-go case also is in-line at some of the traditional stores, she added.

In the larger of the Sutton On the Run stores, an ice cream bar, a cappuccino bar and limited outdoor seating will be included, Smith said.

There is plenty of market for Sutton Place Gourmet to expand into in the Washington-Baltimore area alone, Smith said, adding that in the areas of the company's existing stores there is little competition from retail stores. "Fresh Fields, which does have some stores close to ours is more health-oriented, and other specialty stores that offer upscale prepared foods don't give us competition because they're not close enough to us," Smith said. Except for the Sutton On the Run store to open soon, Sutton Place has not yet chosen sites for future mini or traditional-format stores, Smith said.