CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Boston Chicken has launched a second market test in a store here, to experiment with expanded home-meal replacement options and more on-site production capability.
Charlotte's Boston Market test store No. 2 will evaluate new programs that differ from those at Boston Chicken's first test market here, which began in August. For example, a grill, a panini grill and a staffed, made-to-order salad station at the second test store are all firsts for the quick-service restaurant chain.
As the new wave of HMR testing got under way in mid-November, the company also announced that its five other stores in this city will be converted to test sites by late spring 1998. All the Boston Markets in Charlotte are owned by Boston Chicken, Golden, Colo.
The menu experiments are intended to broaden, yet not stray too far afield from, the Boston Market format's existing lines.
"Our latest Charlotte test store is designed to examine a variety of meal solutions that do not require developing an additional supply chain, if we decide to offer these new items on a wider scale," said Saad Nadhir, co-chairman and chief executive officer of Boston Chicken, in a statement.
The addition of a grill, in particular, is seen as a pragmatic move operationally, as well as a way to provide consumers with a larger variety of menu items, company officials told SN.
"The new Market Grill has an impact on the entire store, because it provides grilled products that are part of the entree salad and sandwich offerings," explained Jeff Beckman, Boston Chicken spokesman.
The latest retrofitted store here builds on the product test begun in August at the first Charlotte test unit. That store launched a self-service salad bar and a selection of prepacked entrees, salads and desserts, most of which are produced by Harry's Farmers Markets, Roswell, Ga., partner with Boston Chicken in the joint venture Progressive Food Concepts.
The initial test store has seen a 70% increase in overall sales since those additional HMR options were introduced there, Beckman said.
"What's particularly intriguing is that we've seen substantial increases in sales of our traditional menu there, too," he added. "Offering the added items has enhanced our traditional menu. It shows us there's still a strong response to hot, ready-to-eat meals."
Boston Garden, the service salad program at the second test store, offers a menu of four entree salads. There is no self-service salad bar.
The first test store's salad program -- also called Boston Garden -- features only self-service items such as couscous, pasta salads and mixed greens sold by the pound. A "premium section" of it offers such things as marinated asparagus and portabella mushrooms at a slightly higher price point.
Unlike the first test site which offers no items that are packed in-store, a Boston-To-Go case in the newer test site offers main-dish salads packed in-store, as well as prepacked desserts sourced from outside.
Asked why the salad program was changed and other departures instituted at the latest test store, Beckman said, "All of this is a test and that's the spirit of a test, to allow us to look at a variety of different options and to read consumer reaction to them. We'll be able to see what's the strongest as we take these forward."