TWO ALBERTSON'S DIVISIONS TESTING IF SINGLE-SERVING MEALS ARE COOKING

BOISE, Idaho -- Albertson's here is currently test-marketing prepared, packaged entrees and single-serving meals in its southern California division and in Houston, and soon will be giving them a trial in Phoenix.The chain is displaying the items in shop-around, self-service cases, judging from store visits in southern California.At an Albertson's unit in Anaheim, the program was merchandised near

BOISE, Idaho -- Albertson's here is currently test-marketing prepared, packaged entrees and single-serving meals in its southern California division and in Houston, and soon will be giving them a trial in Phoenix.

The chain is displaying the items in shop-around, self-service cases, judging from store visits in southern California.

At an Albertson's unit in Anaheim, the program was merchandised near the store's entrance. The items, packed in microwavable trays with see-through dome tops, included fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, an enchilada dinner, chicken fajitas, smoked sausage with beans and chili cheese potatoes and stuffed shells.

A dangler over the case proclaimed, "New. Ready to Eat Entrees."

The dangler also featured the chain's new "Quick Fixin' Idea" logo, which shows a clock pointing to 5 o'clock. A fork and knife are placed by its sides. The logo is being used throughout the store to designate other products in various departments that have been value-added to make cooking time quicker or items already cooked An ad in an in-store circular at the Anaheim store offered the dinners at two for $3 with an in-store coupon and a purchase of $5 or more of other products. It said, "Service Deli. Introducing Quick Fixin' Entrees. Just Heat and Serve. Two for $3 with in-store coupon. Save $1." The coupon, elsewhere in the circular, was good for the week that ended Feb. 20.

Officials at Albertson's corporate offices here could not be reached for comment at press time.

A financial analyst who tracks the 750-unit chain's activities told SN that20the chain has been experimenting with the program over the last three or four months.

"They've been testing it and trying different ways of doing it," said Jonathan Ziegler, financial analyst with Salomon Bros., New York.

Ziegler said the chain is seeking a balance between quality and price that will be appropriate given the chain's typical positioning as a price-oriented competitor.

"They want to offer a home meal replacement that fits their customer's needs for ready-to-eat food, but they want to make sure the taste is there. They know it's taste that will drive the program, and that they can't afford to chase customers away with products that aren't to quality. At the same time, they need to keep the price down," Ziegler said.

A call to a Houston Albertson's unit revealed that everyday prices for the Quick Fixin' Entrees range from $2.99 to $3.49. An in-store source there said the items are available in all Albertson's units in Houston. She said the items available -- which include enchiladas, chicken fried steak and lemon chicken -- are made in-store.

A source in southern California, however, said that the 110-unit southern California division of Albertson's is sourcing most of the items from outside the company. In some cases, however, stores are adding their own enhancements, in order to provide some theater and add to the perception of freshness.

When SN called a Phoenix unit of Albertson's, a source in the deli said the store did not have the program up and running yet. It will be available in Albertson's Phoenix stores in another month or two, the source said.