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ATLANTA -- A morning request for 40 pounds of large shrimp, cooked, peeled and cleaned by 4 p.m.? Done.A special order for an exotic flower arrangement that includes banana leaves by tomorrow? No problem.Home delivery of a food order by this afternoon? But, of course.These are all typical requests that are satisfied daily at Harris Teeter's new store here, its first in the Atlanta market.In this increasingly

ATLANTA -- A morning request for 40 pounds of large shrimp, cooked, peeled and cleaned by 4 p.m.? Done.

A special order for an exotic flower arrangement that includes banana leaves by tomorrow? No problem.

Home delivery of a food order by this afternoon? But, of course.

These are all typical requests that are satisfied daily at Harris Teeter's new store here, its first in the Atlanta market.

In this increasingly competitive market where new supermarkets with fresh departments in the spotlight are starting to seem as

indigenous to the landscape as peach trees, the creator of the Harris Teeter unit believes it stands apart when it comes to giving customers what they want -- when they want it.

"We did market research and asked people what they liked in the market and what they didn't like," said Rush Dickson, senior vice president of marketing for the 141-store Charlotte, N.C.-based chain, which began upgrading its perishibles presentation in its home state before this jump into Atlanta. There are two more stores on the drawing board for the Atlanta market, he said.

Atlanta customers said they wanted a "modern version of a neighborhood food store," where the central philosophy is, "They know me and take care of me." Apparently, at least according to Dickson, the store delivers on that philosophy. Response "has been overwhelming," said Dickson, who has confidently dubbed the new unit "the superior food store." That slogan appears on the store front and in other marketing materials.

The store, which opened in October, devotes about half of its 45,000 square feet of floor space to fresh departments. Whether a shopper enters from the left or right entrance, fresh is what they'll see. To the right is produce -- fresh-cut fruit and fresh-squeezed juices -- and to the left is a coffee bar, followed by extensive food-service offerings, including pizza and sandwiches, followed by a scratch bakery. Unlike many new fresh formats in the United States, where the fresh departments have been clustered in a wide aisle at one side of the store, here the departments are laid out around the perimeter of the store, with grocery and frozens clustered in the middle -- a traditional approach in theory, but not in practice here.

While the fresh departments indeed ring the grocery aisles, the ring they form is much wider than in a traditional supermarket.

In a recent interview at the store, Dickson said sales have been 15% to 20% ahead of projections, and "what's doing best is the whole food-service area. This is actually one of the first stores where we have extensive prepared takeout foods offered, and I see it as a wave of the future in an urban market where people are time-stressed," he added.

About 20% of the store's sales volume has been in food-service departments, which include pizza, bakery and salads; about 12% in meat and seafood; about 10% to 12% in produce, and about 42% in dry grocery, which does not include frozen foods and dairy, said Dickson.

While much of the store has been tailored to fit the Atlanta market, it has been based somewhat on a flagship Harris Teeter store opened in Charlotte, N.C., last year, which gives heavy emphasis to prepared deli items.

The store has a European marketplace feel, with bold accents of red and green and a high, vaulted ceiling. Employees are dressed in uniforms of tan pants and white shirts, accented by green aprons and caps.

With its attention to detail, the store has set out to fill a niche by delivering "variety, quality and service," Dickson said. So if a customer wants a slice of pizza, a special cut of beef or a salmon steak cooked to order, up until closing at midnight, there will be someone on hand to do it. And with more than 400 people on staff -- including some 35 professionally trained chefs -- it is nearly double the staff of a typical Harris Teeter store.

"Everything is made here fresh, daily, except for the pizza crust, which comes in dough form for the in-store pizza program," said Dickson.

Each store associate completed a two-and-a-half-month training program that covered customer responsiveness and selling, product-knowledge training, and work-process training.

"We are trying to create a food lover's emporium, and the people working in here have a love for food, and we try to bring that to the business," said Dickson.

But it is not only the on-demand service offered here that will keep shoppers coming back, Dickson suggested. It is the quality and variety of products and the store's comfortable layout and eye appeal.

For example, the meat and seafood department, located in the rear of the store near the center, was designed "to keep people in it," said Dickson, rather than present a linear approach.

"We created a little shop unto itself" so people could stay within it before they decided what they wanted, said Dickson. "We created areas and we created flows around those areas."

Based on that strategy, circular-type departments were formed throughout the store. That concept is especially apparent in the produce department, which is snugly placed in the right front corner.

The produce department has four sections along the walls, with three wooden European tables for fruits and vegetables, and lower shelves for additional merchandising.

Special features include a fresh-cut melon bar that also offers fresh-squeezed juices, vegetable and fruit dips, and vegetable and fruit platters, all made daily.

Bananas, merchandised in meticulous rows on a European table surrounded on either side by single rows of pineapples, were priced at 35 cents a pound. Nearby, mangoes were retailing for $2.09 and kiwis at four for $1. About seven varieties of apples were available, all set at 99 cents a pound.

Some products available included bean dip for $3.99 a pound, grapefruit juice at $2.99 a quart and $4.49 a half-gallon, and red grape and carrot juice for $2.29 a pint and $3.49 a quart. A platter of crudites, about 15 inches in diameter, was priced at $14.99; a similar-sized fruit tray was also $14.99. And clamshell-packaged, single-serve fruit salads were priced at $1.99 a pound. Precut vegetables included celery at $2.49 a pound and broccoli for $2.99 a pound.

Close by was the store's full-service floral department, which includes a walk-in refrigerated case and a computer system offering information to customers at no charge, including care instructions.

According to Bonnie Bolton, a department associate, the operation is full service and can provide just about anything a customer wants. "We are not limited. We buy from everywhere. We can give customers a good selection. And we can get it for them the next day," she said, adding that "this is a very social area and there are a lot of parties and entertaining." Offerings included gardenias for $16.99, astromeria bouquets for $4.99 and heliconia for $8.99.

The full-service seafood department gets two deliveries daily and offers about 50 varieties of cooked and raw items at any given time, said a counter worker. All fish, with the exception of orange roughy, arrive as whole fresh fish and are scaled, gutted and filleted by Harris Teeter workers, most of whom have undergone training for certification in a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point program administered by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Workers take turns going to fish suppliers to hand-pick the daily selections. The cases are rearranged every day, so that "on no two days is the case the same," said an associate.

In addition to offering the raw product, workers will steam, poach, grill or fry any item a customer wants at no additional charge. Personnel will also freezer wrap, vacuum pack or rewrap a packaged product if a smaller quantity is desired.

Chefs also develop recipes, including crab cakes at $12.99 and seafood sausage. Some other items in the case included marinated swordfish at $10.99 a pound, smoked trout at $5.99 a pound, mussels at $3.99 a pound, alligator tail at $6.99 a pound, and tiger shrimp from Peru for $8.59 a pound.

The full-service meat case includes a section for prepared and ready-to-cook meats. The department featured Bradley beef, which a sign tells shoppers is raised without antibiotics, steroids, artificial hormones or feed additives. Some cuts included: sirloin steak at $5.99 a pound, filet mignon at $13.99 a pound and ground chuck at $3.09 a pound.

Other items included butterflied pork chops at $4.39 a pound, lamb rib chops at $9.99 a pound and quail eggs for 95 cents each. Various game is available on request, according to a chalkboard.

Following along the rear wall, the scratch bakery begins with a case of some 25 varieties of doughnuts at three for 99 cents; nine kinds of muffins at 79 cents each, and some 14 flavors of croissants ranging from 99 cents to $1.99.

Beyond that, going toward the front of the store are glass cases devoted to cakes and pastries. Some specialty items included character cupcakes at 79 cents each; miniature cakes for two for $3.99, and standard 10-inch layer cakes for $9.99. Other items included caramel brownies for $1.99 and pies by the slice for $2.25 in seven varieties. A separate case of pastries contained items with an average price of $2.25 each. The bakery also has a wedding cake program. Following along the perimeter, next comes the deli meat and cheese case.

Closer to the front of the store is prepared food, which focused on freshly made salads, offering about 23 varieties daily. Selections included chicken salad for $4.99 a pound and Mediterranean pasta salad for $4.99 a pound.

Finally, rounding out the left wall near the front of the store, is the counter for pizza and deli sandwiches. A seafood-topped, 72-ounce pizza was $10.99. Standard pepperoni and plain sold for $6.99.

TAGS: Center Store