TAMPA, Fla. (FNS) -- A new fresh-meals program at Publix Super Markets' remodeled store on Bruce B. Downs Blvd. here places renewed emphasis on at-home preparation of fresh, simple meals, and uses laminated recipe cards to help shoppers retrieve the items they need to make the featured meal.
The program, called "Apron's," marks something of a strategic departure for the Lakeland, Fla.-based retailer, which has developed a number of innovative, high-quality fresh-meals programs over the years, such as its Quick Takes line of entrees and sides. This program makes a strong point in encouraging shoppers to "get back to eating healthy" by cooking simple meals at home.
Jennifer Bush, spokeswoman for Publix, said Apron's was developed as a multistore concept, though "it's the only location currently. We'll monitor the results there."
The Apron's kiosk is built with classy multicolored tile and wood-paneled walls; and is centered around a stovetop, set in an open market-style deli near the entrance to the store, which re-opened a month ago. Here, culinary-trained specialists showcase recipes, hand out samples and discuss the benefits of cooking home meals, all while actually cooking the featured meal on the combi-range, which includes a stainless-steel exhaust hood.
The day SN visited, Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and Publix brand frozen vegetables were on the menu, and Salisbury steak recipe cards were given away. Shoppers could also buy the binder to hold the recipes -- a new one is issued every five days -- for $4.99.
The full-color cards include a description of the meal; total preparation/cooking time; a "shopping list" of ingredients, divided by category; required utensils and cookware; and "short cuts and tips," which, if followed, can further reduce preparation time. The flip side includes the specific prep and cooking directions for each item, and a nutritional analysis based on the recipes.
For the Salisbury steak dinner, the entire preparation and cooking time is 30 minutes, according to the card: 15 minutes for prepping the meat, another 10 minutes for cooking the patties through the other side, and the final five minutes for preparing the potatoes. The shortcuts section notes that "frozen chopped vegetables in this meal make preparation and clean up a snap."
"At Publix we only buy the amount of food we need and it's fresh, unlike restaurants, which get a lot of food in frozen," the associate manning the station told customers over his headset microphone, as he prepared the steak, potatoes and vegetables.
The cook/meat specialist not only has the responsibility of upselling customers on the Aprons menu, he spent time educating them about food safety, and comparing fresh foods sold at supermarkets to the food served in restaurants.
"People in restaurants don't care. They work eight hours, then their shift is up," said the associate, who is a retired chef. "We only buy what we need, not a huge inventory, like Publix cold cuts over there from our warehouse."
The ingredients required for customers to prepare that meal at home -- down to seasonings and butter -- were conveniently displayed to the side of the cooking area in an 18-foot display that includes a refrigerated grab-and-go section. On this day, the wood-paneled, Apron's case held packaged Publix ground beef and seafood. Meal ingredients are also displayed in a refrigerated case directly in front of the cooking station. Dry ingredients were featured on wooden roll-away, European-style merchandiser next to the refrigerated case.
Another 4-foot case near the Apron's area retailed hot dogs, sausages and a variety of mustards, while a 12-foot refrigerated case with packaged deli meats and cheeses also included a very limited selection of packaged meals to go. A small container of meatloaf in tomato sauce retailed for $3.49, while a large container of lasagna sold for $5.99. The packaged items are shipped from Publix' warehouse, according to a store-level source.
At the opposite end of the 500-square-foot deli/bakery, submarine sandwiches are made to order and a grab-and-go case holds entree and side salads, such as a large Turkey Cobb Salad for $4.99.
Pointing to the packaged salads, the cook/meat specialist guaranteed the freshness of Publix salads. "There is an FDA inspector right there in the plant. No one gets sick off of these salads," he told shoppers who had stopped to listen and watch him cook.
The 12-foot sub sandwich station features a row of clear-plastic bins with hoagie rolls at eye level, and several Publix deli products are merchandised in the refrigerated glass case below. Publix tabouli, cut fruit in plastic containers and banana pudding, $1.09 each, are included in the narrow case.
Customers can choose from either Boar's Head or Publix own store-brand sliced meats for their sandwiches. Boar's Head subs retail for about $5.89 for a whole sandwich, and $3.59 for a half; while Publix subs retail for between $4.39 and $5.89 for a whole and $2.19 to $3.59 for a half.
Next to the sandwich station, rotisserie chicken in three varieties retailed for $6.99 each, and fried chicken was also sold. A freestanding j-peg rack holds a variety of branded, ready-to-heat pizza crusts, as well as sauces and toppings. A small seating area serves as a gathering point for the fresh departments, including Apron's and the store's wine section, and brings additional consumer focus to the concept.
The fresh-meals theme doesn't stop there. It is carried through to the meat department, where signs announce that free recipes are available. The seafood department includes a 4-foot case of grab-and-go fresh sushi, traditionally more common in rival upscale Gooding's Supermarkets in central Florida.
The cook-at-home concept is carried through to an extensive housewares selection, much of which is located directly behind the cooking station. Utensils, glass and metal cookware -- one Wearever set was priced at $99.99 -- fill about 12 running feet. Another aisle in back of the cooking station, labeled "Gourmet Kitchen," featured 20 running feet of utensils, cutting boards, salad bowls and other housewares.