Food Lion To Test Quick & Easy Aisle

Food Lion will soon begin piloting a convenience/prepared meal aisle in 17 stores, SN has learned. Rather than pair foods by category, such as microwave chili with canned chili, the retailer will test sets within a single Center Store aisle that are merchandised by level of convenience. Ultra-convenient items like shelf-stable microwavable meals prepared in under five minutes

SALISBURY, N.C. — Food Lion here will soon begin piloting a convenience/prepared meal aisle in 17 stores, SN has learned.

Rather than pair foods by category, such as microwave chili with canned chili, the retailer will test sets within a single Center Store aisle that are merchandised by level of convenience.

Ultra-convenient items like shelf-stable microwavable meals prepared in under five minutes and requiring no cleanup may be paired together near the front of the aisle alongside items like canned chili and stews that take less then 10 minutes to prepare. Likewise, boxed dinners that require a protein and take less than 20 minutes to prepare would be grouped together at the back of the aisle, close to the meat department.

“The extent of each aisle reorganization varies by store, depending on store size and the section sizes,” Marty Miller, category analyst for Food Lion, told SN. “We will use in-store signage to communicate the sets to our customers.”

Results from test stores will be compared against control locations when the pilot concludes next month.

The strategy comes at the recommendation of Hormel, Austin, Minn., which partnered with Cannondale Associates to determine how best to meet the needs of busy consumers, who spend 12 minutes on average preparing meals.

“We knew that 72% of grocery sales and 88% of profits come from Center Store, so we wanted to know from the shopper's point of view how the aisle should be set up,” said Bob Samples, director of category planning and support for Hormel.

Researchers conducted retailer and consumer interviews, tapped Hormel's proprietary research, analyzed Cannondale's loyalty database of 60 million shoppers and employed the help of a cultural anthropologist before comparing results against Willard Bishop's 2007 Grocery Shopper Study. They concluded that stores weren't set up in a way that was easy for shoppers to navigate.

With its previous recommendation of merchandising convenient versions of items alongside their conventional parent products, Hormel was contributing to the confusion.

“The anthropologist observed shoppers going down the same aisle three times looking for things,” noted Samples.

Among the other findings:

  • Shoppers who purchased shelf-stable convenient meals also buy ultra-convenient perishables, making way for cross-merchandising opportunities.

  • Pudding cups and fruit cups were found in the baskets of shoppers who sought convenient meals.

Hormel used the results to develop its Quick and Easy Meal Solutions aisle reorganization system. The plan advises retailers to organize items within the convenience/prepared meals aisle as a convenience continuum, including traffic drivers (soup and chili); basket builders (microwave soup, microwave meals, microwave chili, microwave pasta and boxed dinners); and profit drivers (canned seafood and canned meat).

Mindful that shoppers perusing convenience aisles often seek brown-bag components, Hormel also developed a plan to organize adjacent endcaps featuring lunchtime meal ideas. Food Lion has leveraged some of its ideas.

Each week, the chain merchandises “Meal for Four for Under $10,” “Lunch for Less” and “Quick and Easy Meal Solutions” endcaps.

A recent Lunch for Less endcap featured cans of Campbell's 100 Calorie Soups, five for $5; Nabisco Munch Packs or Dunk 'Ems, 12- to 15-count pack, $4.49, regularly $6.39; and Hi-C drinks, 10-pack, two for $4, regularly two for $5.

“Each offering is available for three weeks, and one is featured in our weekly flier,” explained Miller. “We have experienced great success with these programs.” Miller couldn't provide specifics.