SALT LAKE CITY -- Following the lead of its corporate parent, Fred Meyer Inc., Smith's Food & Drug Centers here is poised to begin installing expanded nutrition departments at a number of its stores.
Plans are not final, but the new departments, including vitamins, herbal supplements and sports nutrition products, will contain "upwards of 700 to 1,000 stockkeeping units," or one and half times what the chain currently devotes to these items, said Bill Robbs, associate brand manager at Weider Nutrition, also based here.
Weider, which manufactures vitamins and supplements under the Schiff label, among others, is working with Smith's to develop the new departments.
The rollout is set to begin within the next month, when store No. 44 here will be the first to unveil the upgraded section, Robbs said. Smith's plans to have between 20 and 32 departments installed by the end of the calendar year, at which time it will extend the concept, with adjustments based on performance, to even more stores.
"They'll implement it in a couple of them, see how it turns out and go from there," Robbs said.
A Smith's executive did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Portland, Ore.-based Fred Meyer, which purchased Smith's last year, has long been acknowledged as a leading retailer of vitamins and herbal supplements. Fred Meyer officials, most recently at the company's annual meeting, have stated their intention to bring successful nonfood concepts to its newly acquired divisions, including Smith's and Ralph's, Compton, Calif.
In May, Smith's Southwest division began rolling out a 3,000-square-foot nutrition department called Natural Choices -- "a complete health food store," according to the company -- to Smitty's Marketplace stores in the Phoenix area.
"Fred Meyer is definitely influencing [Smith's] to go in this direction," Robbs said. "This is similar to the Fred Meyer format."
According to Robbs, each of the new nutrition departments will be manned by a trained supervisor, whose job it will be to answer shoppers' questions and to offer advice. Customers will also be able to access literature and a computer link detailing the makeup of specific products, what they are meant to do, contraindications and side effects.
The revamped sections will also be distinguished by wood floors and canopy fixturing, he said.
It is unclear where Smith's will situate the new departments within the store. Robbs said one location the chain is considering is next to produce, at the front of the store. Another possibility, he said, is that the nutrition sections will not move -- they are currently next to the cheese and deli areas, also near the front of the store -- but will expand in place.
Smith's is certain not to install the new departments next to the pharmacy, he said. And aside from minimal product duplication between nutrition and health and beauty care, "they want to separate the two."
Schiff and Twinlab, Ronkonkoma, N.Y., will be the most prominent brands in the new departments, accounting for about 100 SKUs each. There will be about 100 private-label SKUs as well.
Larger sets will also include Boca Raton, Fla.-based Rexall-Sundown's Thompson and Sundown brands, Robbs said.
Smith's has yet to determine how it will organize products in the new departments, he said, but the retailer will likely group them by type -- vitamin A, vitamin C, etc. -- rather than by brand, a layout meant to be more inviting to the customer.