By any statistical measure, Target Corp., Minneapolis, the nation's No. 2 discount retailer, is a distant second to Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., which is not just America's but the world's largest retailer.
For years, Avis, the also-ran of the rental-car industry, used to declare in its ads, "We try harder." Target's take on this tag line could be, "We try differently."
In apparel and housewares, the company has been aligning itself with cutting-edge designers, including Michael Graves, Philippe Starck and Isaac Mizrahi.
The idea has been a success, according to Sandy Skrovan, vice president, Retail Forward, a Columbus, Ohio, retail consulting firm. "Target has done a remarkable job developing a distinct marketing position and merchandising strategy," she said, "that enables them to compete successfully against Wal-Mart on something other than price.
"Target has stated its intention to bring 'fashion to food,' to carry their merchandise strategy over into the food department and create something unique in the market place, and do it on a national scale, to become the first national upscale retailer.
"What they've done in apparel and general merchandise, they're trying to extend into the food area."
One way Target is extending it is through tie-ins with a celebrity chef and even a celebrity sommelier.
The celebrity chef, Ming Tsai, is the proprietor of Blue Ginger, a Wellesley, Mass., restaurant, a cookbook author and the host of shows featuring his blend of European, American and Asian cuisine on the Food Network and PBS. Target offers his Blue Ginger line of dinnerware, cookware and food.
The most recent product that Andrea Immer, an award-winning sommelier, author and host of a show on the Fine Living Network, designed for Target was introduced in October. The Wine Cube is a box that holds the equivalent of four wine bottles, sells for $15.99 and comes in four varieties -- Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Grigio and Shiraz.
Skrovan noted that Target is also "hooking up with food-service players to bring more packaged food-service offerings into their stores, to bring in a differentiated product from what you find in a typical supermarket."
Among the companies she cited were Cheesecake Factory, Calabasas Hills, Calif.; Dean & DeLuca, New York; and Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon, Wichita, Kan.
Last month, Target announced some further ventures into the food world. It will introduce 1,000 new private-label items featuring its premium Archer Farms and entry-level Market Pantry Brands into its SuperTarget units. The move, according to Gregg Steinhafel, president of the company's Target Stores division, should boost its percentage of private-label penetration in food "from the single digits to the mid-teens."
Steinhafel also said last month that beginning in March, all new and remodeled regular Target discount stores will have a "Consumables World" section featuring food and other supermarket-type items.
However, to what extent the company will be able to fill SuperTargets or even the soon-to-open Consumables Worlds with chic, upscale foods remains to be seen.
Earlier this fall, the company started its first television advertising campaign for SuperTargets. The initial spot, according to published reports, featured prominent brand icons -- including Frosted Flakes' Tony the Tiger and Pillsbury's Dough Boy -- making their way onto SuperTarget shelves. Chef Tsai and sommelier Immer were nowhere in sight.