BALTIMORE -- An increasing number of famous restaurants are finding the best signature items from their menus sell just as well in the supermarket, much to retailers' delight.
They're finding that there is value -- and profit potential -- in offering products manufactured by restaurants, particularly if those establishments are local, since they are more likely to be patronized by shoppers. In turn, shoppers who find such a food item in the store might be more open to an impulse buy, especially if they recall eating it, and enjoying it, in the restaurant.
"Name recognition is so much more critical now than it has been in the past," said Scott Samuels, managing partner of Overland Park, Kan.-based Horizon Hospitality Consultants. "Consumers are naturally attracted to brand names they recognize and are willing to pay premium prices for a product they know and trust. This is a great opportunity for restaurants looking to expand revenues and sales."
Retailers like Landover, Md.-based Giant Food; Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif.; Weis Markets, Sunbury, Pa.; and Klein's Supermarkets, Forest Hill, Md., have begun to carry signature, restaurant-quality crab cakes in the seafood and frozen-food departments of their Baltimore and Washington-area stores.
Introduced to the supermarket industry about a year ago, the Maryland-style crab cakes are a product of Phillips Foods, a division of Phillips Seafood Restaurants, based here. The recipe blends jumbo lump and special-grade swimming crab meat to create a cake that is more than 70% crab meat. Phillips controls the entire production process, from the harvesting of the crabs to the cooking and pasteurization.
Deciding where to stock the crab cakes is left to the individual retailers. Company officials said some stores, like Giant, have chosen to carry them in cases adjacent to their seafood department, while others are carrying them in their frozen-food aisles.
The cakes are prepared at Phillips Quality Assurance Center. The company follows the same recipe it has used for more than 40 years in its restaurants. The Baltimore manufacturing/processing plant is the same location that hand-prepares the crab cakes for Phillips Seafood Restaurants. The same product that is shipped fresh to the restaurants is flash-frozen and packaged for the retail sector.
"This is a trend that makes a lot of sense and I think you're going to see a lot more of it," continued Samuels. "The customer enjoys the consistency of the product from the restaurant to the store shelf and doesn't mind paying more for it. From a retail standpoint, the name brand product is always going to sell better."
Phillips test markets new recipes and products in its seven restaurants located in the Baltimore/Washington area and along Maryland's Eastern shore. The ongoing testing allows it to perfect recipes before presenting them for retail sale.
Loyalty to the original recipe has served Phillips well. Phillips crab cakes were recently charted as the No. 1 item in dollar sales -- in the frozen-fish and -seafood category -- for the Baltimore/Washington region. The rating, for the period ended Jan. 24, 1999, came from Information Resources Inc., Chicago, an industry monitor service that ranks supermarket sales.
Officials at the company said they have already expanded their sales region to include Philadelphia-area supermarkets and are currently expanding into the Florida market as well.
Additional restaurant menu items now being marketed for retail sale are Phillips' Maryland vegetable crab soup, New England clam chowder and crab and spinach dip -- the No. 1 selling appetizer at Phillips Seafood Restaurants.
"Restaurants are tapping into a great market with the supermarket industry," added Samuels. "And more and more [restaurants] are realizing the potential of the retail market. It's a great move for a regional restaurant with an established name and loyal customers."
Phillips Foods, a division of Phillips Seafood Restaurants, produces more than 5 million pounds of crab meat a year, as well as a full line of crab products for the retail and food-service industries.