by Steve Mehmert/T4 Solutions LLC
As I sat down to write this article, I was drawn back to a meeting when I was a young designer working at Wetterau in St. Louis. We were doing a plan review with a retailer. We had worked our way through the plan from the entry of the store, to produce, through bakery and deli, and had rounded the corner of aisle one into the meat department. As we moved across the plan the retailer commented “Ah!” “Finally.” “The Center of the Plate.”
I’m confident that I remember this meeting so well because I had no idea of what that retailer was talking about. After the meeting, and a quick education from the on-staff meat and seafood specialist, I became better versed on the terminology. As my career progressed, I worked hard to understand as many details about this incredibly important part of the store and decided to work hard to understand where every retailer we worked with was positioned in their local market regarding meat and seafood. These departments, whether combined or independent, should always garner the attention of those tasked with modifying an existing store or building a new one. They still are, after all, the center of the plate.
Fortunately, the design, interior décor, construction and equipment side of the grocery industry has an abundance to offer to the meat and seafood departments. Whether self-serve or full-serve, combined into one department to gain size—or independent of each other to create unique identities—the meat and seafood departments have long been the focus of many plans and still are today. Here are just a few innovations you can consider as you review where you are positioned in this important area of your store.
• For too long we have seen the back wall of the sales area turned into one long linear display of meat cases. It does not have to be that way. Whether you are working on a design for a new store, a remodel, or just an update to the meat and seafood departments, work with your design firm to change it up in this area of your store. Whether you are a full-service store, self-service store or a combination of the two, work to change up the pattern and create some excitement for your shoppers.
• Lunch meats and smoked meats can create a department of their own with islands and cross-merchandising to add a new shape and shopping pattern. Merchandisers for lunch meats and smoked meats have incredible variety. Many retailers are using medium-temp doors to replace open (5) decks. Multiple gains are available in this way as pack-out is improved, energy consumption is reduced, LED lighting enhances packaging and presentation and departments are more comfortable for customers as cold air in the department is reduced with door cases. Low profile multi-deck islands work well for peg sets and allow great visibility across the department while improving the number of facings displayed compared to coffin style cases.
• Fresh meat and fresh seafood may well have the greatest array of merchandisers available. Single decks, two decks, three decks, four decks, five decks, full-service enclosed cases, full-service/self-service combo cases, open top merchandisers, iced merchandisers…the list is incredible. If you are not already providing full-service meat, consider adding it. It is a commitment. It will take time to develop. There will be some growth pains along the way. But it is a huge differentiator. If you are providing full-service meat and seafood, consider the age, style and condition of your merchandisers and determine if it is time to expand into an even larger presentation for your clients.
• Take a moment soon and look at the lighting in your meat and seafood cases. LED lighting did not have a very good start in the meat department…unless you liked purple meat! But that has changed. The LED manufacturers have developed color rendering for meat that is fantastic. This is also an area of multiple benefits. LED can be retrofitted into your existing cases. Lighting is much improved and enhances the product. Energy is dramatically reduced. And, the amount of heat the old fixtures produced and left inside your case is virtually eliminated meaning the refrigeration room is getting a break and the temperature integrity of your product is improved. But please note: LED is still a “buyer beware” product. There are still many products you will not be pleased with. Please make sure you are working with a qualified and reputable company for LED conversions and insist on a sample section being done in your meat department before you approve the project. Remember, no purple meat!
• The construction beneath, above and around your meat and seafood department will wrap up any enhancement. Flooring is always an opportunity to make a change from one department to another. From polished concrete to luxury vinyl to many of the now standard VCT products, flooring is making a statement in every department. General and specialty department lighting outside of the cases brings new life to a department from above. If done right, lighting just appears to come out of nowhere and create the feel of a space. When the product shines, the lighting is doing its job. Décor, including your wall finishes and colors, put the final touch to your meat and seafood departments. Synthetic materials that replicate brick and stone and tile can take your department back in time to the butcher shop on the corner from days gone by to a modern and sleek feel. Your professional design team can help you evaluate your market and your store and assist in taking a single department or your entire store to the next level in your community.
So, when you sit down to enjoy dinner tonight, pause for a minute and take a look at the center of your plate. Then consider if your store has placed the right amount of effort and emphasis on that critical place in your customers meal. Is it time to update the center of the plate in your store?
Steve Mehmert has spent his professional career working with independent grocery retailers across the U.S. He began his career at Wetterau in St. Louis, Missouri, with a transition to Roundy’s in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Mehmert and his wife Shelley founded Mehmert Store Services in 1990, through which they and their team focused on site planning, building design, store planning, interior design, equipment procurement, project management and construction super-vision. Mehmert also regularly assists retailers in solving issues beyond the construction and fixturing of new stores and remodels. Over the past two years, Mehmert has moved his focus to the area of e-commerce delivery methods through his new company, T4 Solutions. T4 will work on solving the dilemma of providing a great customer experience in the grocery delivery process while allowing the retailer to avoid losses that have become somewhat standard in the delivery side of the industry.