JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Winn-Dixie Stores, with a “transformational” remodeling plan under way that emphasizes prepared foods and other fresh departments, opened its seventh and eighth such remodels this month and will open another next month.
The latest is in suburban Fern Park, Fla., on the edge of Orlando.
The layout of the remodels has been opened up with wider aisles and space brought forward from the back room and transposed into retail space. Some curved aisles, an exposed ceiling and improved lighting add to “an open marketplace” feeling. The idea is to enable customers to see fresh produce and fresh food being prepared immediately upon entering the store.
“A vast amount of space has been allocated for in-store prepared foods, much more than in our other stores,” Eric Barnes, spokesman for the 482-unit chain, told SN last week. “The prepared foods display is the first thing to greet guests when they enter the store, followed by a separate wing bar with seven flavors of chicken wings, a barbecue bar and a carving station with fresh fish, poultry and prime rib.”
Pizza, made to order, is featured as well.
“You can have a personal pizza served to you in three minutes,” Barnes said.
Theme nights are a big part of the ramped up prepared food program. Taco nights and Italian nights have been standouts, and Barnes said customers are raving about the new emphasis on chef-prepared food.
“A gourmet cheese counter, salad bar and expanded meat and seafood departments wrap to the back of the store,” Barnes said.
He emphasized the importance of offering a large variety of products in all the perishables departments.
“Variety is paramount,” Barnes said. “This store [in Fern Park] also has an expanded variety of kosher meat, dairy, bakery and frozen foods to appeal to the needs of the neighboring Jewish community.”
Attention to excellent customer service, too, tops priority lists. About 50 additional personnel have been hired at the most recent remodel.
Bringing in trained chefs from restaurants and hotels has played an important role in the transformed stores.
“Each of the transformational stores has a chef as well as a culinary manager, a cheese steward and a wine steward. They’re critical to how we operate these stores,” Barnes said, adding that the aim is to offer restaurant-quality food.
“Most new hires are culinary-trained and come from central Florida’s robust hospitality industry.”
Keeping up with the times, the chain has added a cafe with free WiFi at the transformed stores, including a relaxed seating area with 14 barstools, two lounge chairs and a sofa.
In addition to prepared foods’ starring role, an expanded in-store bakery and a new gourmet cheese shop add to the ambiance at the remodeled stores.
Some of the transformational stores — such as one opened earlier in Covington, La. — are new builds, Barnes said.
“We see a huge opportunity to elevate our brand and explore new territory as a grocery store. We’re already seeing the benefit. We know our transformational stores are performing well.”
There are plans for 17 remodeled stores to be opened by the end of this calendar year, beginning with another reopening in March in Palm Bay, Fla.
“We’ll pause for a while after our merger with Bi-Lo takes place. We’ll be devoting time to integrating [the two chains] before we do anymore transformational stores.”