VONS UNIT SERVES UP DO-IT-YOURSELF HMR

LA HABRA, Calif. -- A Vons store here has gathered together recipes and ingredients for quick dinners that consumers would make themselves, at a cross-merchandising meal-solutions center in the front of the store.The "Meal Makers" center, as it's called in the Vons store, is a shelf/refrigerator unit approximately 15 feet long stocked with ingredients needed to make up to five dishes -- appetizers,

LA HABRA, Calif. -- A Vons store here has gathered together recipes and ingredients for quick dinners that consumers would make themselves, at a cross-merchandising meal-solutions center in the front of the store.

The "Meal Makers" center, as it's called in the Vons store, is a shelf/refrigerator unit approximately 15 feet long stocked with ingredients needed to make up to five dishes -- appetizers, entrees, sides, desserts, beverages -- that can comprise a complete meal.

The menu items, pictured in restaurant-style Durotrans photos set above the display unit, can be made using recipe cards stocked in the unit.

Meat, seafood, chicken, pasta, produce and other perishable items stocked in the refrigerated coffin case at the heart of the unit are surrounded by seasonings and shelf-stable products needed to complete the meals.

Four meals are promoted simultaneously, with up to 20 different recipes available altogether on the four cards at any one time. Menus have been developed for eight categories, including American, Gourmet on the Go, Healthy, Italian, On the Lighter Side, Oriental and Southwestern. Menus and recipes change weekly.

Chicken distributor Foster Farms and salad manufacturer ReadyPac, Irwindale, Calif., participated financially in the "Meal Makers" project with Vons, according to Ronda Hornbeck, marketing coordinator at Try-Foods International, the in-store perishable promotion company that supplied the shelves, recipes, recipe cards, menus, photos, in-store signage and other promotional products.

The unit was installed near the checkout counters at the front of the store in February, Hornbeck said, a visible high traffic area. Vons at one point considered introducing units in other stores, and had been seeking price quotes from Try-Foods for multiple units, according to Hornbeck, but since the acquisition of the company by Safeway, expansion of the program has been put on hold.

Officials at Arcadia, Calif.-based Vons Cos. did not return calls seeking comment.

After consulting with Vons, Try-Foods designed the "meal makers' unit and produced the meal photos, brochures, bag stuffers, in-store posters and meal guides with recipes. They also put together a training manual for the "Meal Makers" team, employees at the Vons store who officials felt would understand the cross-merchandising concept. Try-Foods sent in staff to train Vons' personnel to operate and manage the concept.

While no specific scan code data is available on sales from the "Meal Makers" unit, TryFoods will soon interview customers on site to gauge consumer response, Hornbeck said.

"This is a great tool for the shopper, because it gives them ideas about what to purchase," said Hornbeck. "But it's really a great suggestive selling tool for the retailer as well."