EDINA, Minn. — An authentic Asian quick-service concept has been performing well in several Lunds and Byerly's delis here, leading the retailer to expand its offering of the in-store restaurant's products into other departments.
Big Bowl Chinese Express' potstickers, egg rolls and bao — a meat-filled dough — were so popular at the seven Lunds and Byerly's locations where they operate that frozen versions have been rolled out to all 21 of the locations owned by Lund Food Holdings.
“It is another way to grow the brand and introduce the brand to guests,” said Drew Gass, managing partner and president of Big Bowl Chinese Express, a concept developed by Chicago-based Big Bowl, part of the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group. The Big Bowl Chinese Express concept was created through a partnership between Lund Food Holdings and Big Bowl, in which Lund Food Holdings provides front-of-the-house customer service employees, and Big Bowl handles all ordering and other day-to-day operations.
Big Bowl is known for its made-from-scratch authentic Chinese and Thai cuisine, which often features organic, natural and sustainable ingredients. The eight full-service Big Bowl restaurants in the Minnesota, Chicago and Washington, D.C., markets have experienced steady sales growth over the last three years and are set to reach a projected $30 million in 2008.
“Asian food has become very American. As the younger American palate craves different flavor and spice profiles, it has been a positive thing for the Chinese and Thai food segment,” said Dan McGowan, president of Big Bowl.
Big Bowl's focus on premium, local meats, such as FreeBird free range chicken and local heirloom pork, has also kept shoppers going back to the Big Bowl Chinese Express locations, according to Lund executives.
“We've built a reputation during the past seven decades of offering customers fresh and high-quality meal solutions,” said Aaron Sorenson, spokesman for Lund Food Holdings. “Big Bowl Chinese Express helps to further that reputation by offering our customers made-from-scratch meals that feature fresh and premium ingredients.”
Big Bowl Chinese Express' frozen line has grown similarly, starting more than a year ago with chicken potstickers and chicken egg rolls, then expanding to include vegetable egg rolls, vegetable potstickers and bao. The potstickers retail at $7.99 for a bag of 24, and the egg rolls sell for $5.99 for a box of four; both packages are sold exclusively in Lunds and Byerly's stores. Next year, the Big Bowl Chinese Express line will include shelf-stable dipping sauces, such as “Sweet and Sour Plum” and “Mustard Sauce.”
In addition to placement in Lunds and Byerly's regular frozen food doors, a frozen case featuring Big Bowl's egg rolls and other items is also placed near the entrance to the deli, drawing more shoppers to the area.
Grab-and-go cases, added about a year ago, are another draw to the Lunds and Byerly's delis and to the Big Bowl Chinese Express concept. The 4-foot refrigerated cases include Big Bowl's staple salads, as well as salads on monthly specials, which often feature locally grown produce.
The Big Bowl Chinese Express locations recently added “Big Bowl Breaks” to the refrigerated cases as well. These snack-size packaged entrees retail for $2.99 each. The Big Bowl Breaks are 8-ounce microwavable bowls that include rice topped with Teriyaki Chicken, Kung Pao Chicken, or other standard Big Bowl fare. The bowls have been very popular among Lunds and Byerly's shoppers, Gass says, because many customers just want to grab a quick snack rather than an entire meal.
Expanding its “family style” package program has also paid off for Big Bowl Chinese Express and for Lunds and Byerly's. The larger packages, which include two to three entrees plus appetizers for $24.99, came about because shoppers were looking for food to bring home for four or five people, instead of individual servings. Soon, area businesses started ordering the packages for their employees as well. In addition, a $5 discount on family packages every Friday has been one of Big Bowl Chinese Express's most successful promotions.
“On Fridays, we do 10 times more business than the rest of the week,” Gass said.
McGowan agreed, noting that “we learned that there is a certain amount of traffic late Friday afternoon, when mothers and fathers are looking to pick up dinner for that evening.”
The various merchandising efforts — along with the focus on local and organic ingredients — has paid off for the Big Bowl Chinese Express locations. Three years ago, when Big Bowl took over the Lunds and Byerly's Asian concept, called Shanghai Circus, the seven stores were averaging $75,000 a week in sales. This year, sales have spiked to an average of $100,000 per week.
“Byerly's and Lunds have been fantastic partners. There have been things we pass on to them, and we're learning things from them all the time about their business,” said McGowan.
Despite tough economic times, consumers are proving that they will pay for meals with high-quality, natural and sustainable ingredients. Prices on meals, such as organic Kung Pao Chicken and an egg roll, average $6 to $8 each.
Big Bowl Chinese Express has also kept shoppers interested by offering variety, featuring a different special daily and creating a new dish once per month.
“The lunch business drives most of our stores' sales. We offer 50 cents off daily on certain items, and carry an additional station in our steam tables to provide an additional dish,” Gass said.
In addition, executives go back to old Big Bowl recipes that were popular but are no longer served, and re-create those dishes as monthly specials.
“These are small things to execute, but guests come in each time and feel there is something new about this place,” Gass said.
Reflecting what most supermarket delis and cafes have learned along the way, Big Bowl Chinese Express executives also found that recently added beverages have increased its average ring.
“In our Big Bowl restaurants, we have distinctive drinks, such as Fresh Ginger Ginger Ale and Fresh Hibiscus Iced Tea. We weren't taking advantage of that inside our Express stores,” Gass said.
Now, 75% to 80% of Big Bowl Chinese Express customers add a beverage to their meals.
“Why not make their trip a one-stop-shop, and offer guests more variety?” Gass said.
Percentage of Big Bowl Express shoppers purchasing specialty beverages with a meal.
Source: Big Bowl officials