TOPS ROLLS OUT RECIPE KIOSKS IN MEAT AISLES

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Computer kiosks loaded with meat and seafood recipes are up and running in the meat departments of Tops Markets and many Giant Food stores.The kiosks, rolled out through a partnership agreement with Buffalo-based ShoptoCook, were installed at 121 of the chain's stores last month and are going into the meat departments of Giant Food stores, Carlisle, Pa. Tops and Giant are operated

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Computer kiosks loaded with meat and seafood recipes are up and running in the meat departments of Tops Markets and many Giant Food stores.

The kiosks, rolled out through a partnership agreement with Buffalo-based ShoptoCook, were installed at 121 of the chain's stores last month and are going into the meat departments of Giant Food stores, Carlisle, Pa. Tops and Giant are operated by Ahold USA.

This month, Tops stores officially rolled out the program, dubbed "Recipe Solutions," as a service to shoppers who don't have a game plan for dinner yet. User-friendly, the kiosks require shoppers to choose the type of meat or seafood they'd like to prepare, then scan the UPC barcode on the package. Within seconds, three recipes appear on the computer screen. Customers can pick and print out a recipe, or search for more recipes. They also can print out a shopping list of all the ingredients needed to prepare the selected recipe.

"As customers find them and learn how to use them, they find they're very easy to use," said Denny Hopkins, vice president of advertising and public relations for Tops and Giant Food. "The recipes are creative and easy to follow."

Store associates who work in the meat departments have been encouraged to show shoppers how to use the kiosks, Hopkins said.

The decision to install the kiosks at all stores followed several months of in-store testing at a handful of Tops, Hopkins said. Officials are considering other fresh food departments for recipe kiosks, though nothing definite is planned, he added.

The meat and seafood departments seemed like a logical place to start, since most meals are anchored by a meat or seafood dish, Hopkins said.

Shopping for and cooking meat and seafood continues to challenge consumers. In fact, when they go to the supermarket, many shoppers want more recipes and tips for preparing the main dish, according to consumer research unveiled at the Annual Meat Conference this year.

In focus groups, younger consumers in particular said they're in the dark when it comes to cooking, and would appreciate any pointers they can get.

"A lot of younger customers need help in cooking," Hopkins said.

For Giant and Tops, the program is so new officials have no data on use, and have not seen any effect on sales, Hopkins said. According to ShoptoCook, the kiosks in other supermarkets are well-used. In target stores, kiosks scan 450 items and print out 350 recipes every week on average, the company said.

Kiosks are also low maintenance, with an "uptime" ratio of 98.7%, according to ShoptoCook. The company is connected to the kiosks via remote network access through retailers' virtual private networks. That lets ShoptoCook monitor activity and the "wellness" of the kiosks.

"There's very little maintenance," Hopkins told SN. "I'm not aware of any issues at all."

Under the agreement, Giant owns the hardware, and ShoptoCook provides recipe content management and promotional support. All store associates have to do is replace printer paper.

ShoptoCook provides retailers with "meal solution content delivered through customer-facing interactive technology," according to its Web site. Among the benefits, the technology offers shoppers a recipe in eight seconds, and can be a resource long after the meat cutters have gone home.

"The benefits of using the recipe center to the consumer are endless," said Frank Beurskens, co-founder of ShoptoCook. "For starters, the database has thousands upon thousands of choices for shoppers, all matching their mood, budget and family preferences."

The database contains more than 3,500 meat, seafood, produce and dessert recipes that include side dish suggestions, all with high-resolution color photos. The company's home economists review the recipes, obtained from industry trade councils and corporate kitchens of participating vendors. The database is updated nightly with new recipes and product information, Beurskens said.

To some extent, kiosks are catching on. ShoptoCook has installed them in 225 stores, and is negotiating with seven new retailers, Beurskens said. Based on projections, the company is planning for more than 500 kiosk installations next year.

Some Tops and Giant stores have self-scan checkouts and ordering kiosks in the delis, Hopkins said. Customers warmed up to scanning their own groceries quickly, while the deli ordering kiosks don't get used as much.

"We've had those in deli departments, probably for about four years," Hopkins said. "It started out much slower than self-scan checkouts and ShoptoCook. It's a slow-building program."