WILD OATS FORMAT COOKS IN CENTER STORE

BOULDER, Colo. -- Wild Oats Markets here intends to open more of its "next generation" stores that offer the industry's latest experiment aimed at invigorating the center of the store.Wild Oats plans by mid-2005 to open its second and third stores in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Southwest Portland, Ore., in the style of its flagship store, which opened in May in the Boulder suburb of Superior.The natural

BOULDER, Colo. -- Wild Oats Markets here intends to open more of its "next generation" stores that offer the industry's latest experiment aimed at invigorating the center of the store.

Wild Oats plans by mid-2005 to open its second and third stores in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Southwest Portland, Ore., in the style of its flagship store, which opened in May in the Boulder suburb of Superior.

The natural and organic food retailer's newest format, at about 32,000 square feet, devotes a larger share of the footprint to fresh foods than its other stores, where perishables occupy about 60%. Yet one of its most noticeable features is the Center Store's Discovery Center: a round, open kiosk measuring about 12 feet across where people can find health information, sample new products, and watch cooking demonstrations.

"It's a way that, right there in the middle of the store, we can bring some activity" to the aisles, said Sonja Tuitele, director of corporate communications, Wild Oats.

One side of the wooden kiosk is used for demonstrations and sampling. The opposite is used to display new products, cookbooks, brochures, and racks with health and food information from Healthnotes, a news service. A dietician is on hand 40 hours a week to give lectures and one-on-one consultations.

The centers will carry themes on topics of popular customer interest. The Superior store, for example, recently hosted an expert on gluten-free living who prepared a gluten-free salad and lasagna. Simultaneously, shoppers could browse displays of gluten-free products and literature.

While the Discovery Center may not have an equal among its supermarket peers, many of its elements are in use elsewhere.

Retailers like San Antonio-based H.E. Butt Grocery and the new format from Marsh Supermarkets, Indianapolis, emphasize cooking demonstrations. The new Bloom, a Food Lion Market, has kiosks that provide recipes and help shoppers pair wine with food. Wild Oats' center brings to mind specialty retailers like Williams-Sonoma, with its demonstration kitchens, said Steve McGowan, vice president and creative director of FRCH Design Worldwide in Cincinnati, who designed the center with Wild Oats.

"It was really designed to be a beacon on the center of the store, a place where people could look deeper for lifestyle information," he said.

The Superior format also features wide grocery aisles with five-foot-tall aisle shelves to promote an open feel, an element borrowed from one of Wild Oats' other banners, Henry's Farmers Market.