WHY SERVICE IS STILL IN ORDER

Sandwiches programs are increasingly a grab-and-go game, but retailers are realizing they have to hedge their bets as well with a service offering. Most of the retailers SN interviewed said at least 80% of their sandwich sales were from the self-service case. While some are adding sandwiches at the service counter, or setting up made-to-order stations, others are concentrating more on expanding the

Sandwiches programs are increasingly a grab-and-go game, but retailers are realizing they have to hedge their bets as well with a service offering. Most of the retailers SN interviewed said at least 80% of their sandwich sales were from the self-service case. While some are adding sandwiches at the service counter, or setting up made-to-order stations, others are concentrating more on expanding the program's self-service component.

A deli director from a Midwestern chain who asked to not be named said most of his stores' sandwich sales come from the self-service case. Still, it's important to let customers know that you'll make them any sandwich to order, he insisted.

"You can put a good variety of big sellers in the self-service case, but there's always someone who might want headcheese with mustard," he warned. "How could you anticipate that?"

Diane Velasquez, spokeswoman at Cosentino Price Chopper, an 11-unit retailer based in Kansas City, Mo., has a goal of expanding self-service sandwich space to 4 to 6 feet in every store within the year. At present, some of Cosentino's stores have only 2 feet of grab-and-go sandwiches, she said.

About 75% of her sandwich business is self-service, but she expects to boost that percentage. "I think we're missing a lot of business we could pick up in the self-service case," Velasquez said.

"People don't want to stand in line. We've already consolidated, limiting made-to-order sandwich-making to the shaved meat section. It's faster there," she said, adding that customers are directed to the section with signs. In the self-service case, two rows of children's box lunches have been so successful that Consentino is taking that concept a step further.

"We're going to offer a box lunch for adults and a low-fat box lunch will be one of the choices," Velasquez said.

Velasquez agreed with other retailers that self-service has to be well managed in order to generate sales and profits. Cosentino, for example, just hired a merchandiser whose main responsibility is to see that sandwiches and related items in self-service are merchandised properly.

Gianfranco DiCarlo, deli, bakery and food-service director at Harris Teeter, a 140-unit chain based in Charlotte, N.C., said "controlled self-service" is the way to go.

"You can't just put sandwiches in the case and forget about them. You need someone checking that case four, five, eight, 10 times a day to make sure everything looks good, to make sure the light hasn't faded out the meat or that someone hasn't overturned a container," he said.

"A piece of lettuce that's turned black or a wilted garnish can stop the sale of a beautiful sandwich," DiCarlo said. Harris Teeter recently switched from wrapping sandwiches in butcher paper to displaying them in clear clamshells for better presentation, he added.

"We decided it was important to show off the sandwich," he said.