BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Everywhere you look in the newly remodeled Kings stores, there are subtle suggestions that take the shopping experience to the next level.
And it all starts with produce. Baskets of fresh pears complement a gourmet cheese display. Fresh basil sits atop a mobile meat display. A spillover shelf of lemons greets you at the seafood case.
Parsippany, N.J.-based Kings Food Markets launched a company-wide rebranding and remodeling of its stores last year, starting with Bedminster. As it closes in on its first anniversary in February, Paul Kneeland, vice president of produce, floral and seafood, reflects on the changes and what’s to come.
The whole process revolves around the tagline “Where Inspiration Strikes,” and Kneeland says it’s reflected everywhere in the store, especially in produce.
“We wanted to tie in all food components to people’s thoughts and the way people go about their shopping, and that includes fresh produce,” he says. “Everybody had to get into the game.”
That meant taking signature categories and enhancing them with new products.
“And that included merchandising as well,” Kneeland says. “We put in all brand-new equipment, things we’ve never used before, making the departments more of a market.”
The Bedminster store serves as an inspiration and launch point for ideas taken throughout the company.
Bedminster’s produce department moved to the front of the store. The company took over three adjacent businesses for the expansion, which allows the department to use natural light from the windows during the day for a fresh market feel. Grocery lighting also was replaced with spotlights throughout produce.
The department leads off with the best of what’s available in seasonal organic produce, paired with complementary items from other departments.
In early December, that meant apples paired with New York cheddar cheese. Further in the department, a display of red, ripe tomatoes was complemented with premium buffalo mozzarella, balsamic vinegar reduction and fresh herbs.
“We only bring in the best ingredients when we cross-merchandise,” Kneeland says.
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Bedminster also features innovative fresh-cut produce, such as easy-to-eat melon spears and pre-peeled clementines.
The changes weren’t only in produce. Kings emphasized its ready-to-eat foods with an extensive redesign of the prepared foods department, lowering fixtures and bringing chefs out into the open as they create dishes. The cheese section was enhanced and moved to the front of the store, and the company added a grain bar serving some of the latest in consumer trends such as quinoa and wheat berry salads. Details including premium serving dishes and an imported Italian pizza oven also enhance the foodservice experience.
Kneeland says the area surrounding the store features not only residential, but also a high population of offices and lunch shoppers.
The floral department also got a facelift, with more of a gift boutique feel, including New Jersey’s first open-air cooler.
The changes appear to resonate with consumers. Kneeland says customer counts are up about 20% through November, and sales are tracking at a similar pace.
Kings continues with the store rebranding strategy. In 2012, the company completed four stores, including expansion into Connecticut. In 2013, another nine stores are on the docket.
Kneeland says while the Bedminster store is a model for what the company plans to do with its rebranding strategy, each store has its own identity to match the surrounding community.
The rebranded north Hoboken store, which opened in October, caters to young professionals and urban dwellers, for example. It has an expanded produce department, a pizza oven, expanded salad bar offerings, a grain bar and fresh sushi made in-store.
“When you walk into a Kings, it’s all about the food and the presentation,” Kneeland says. “Displays are designed to greet you and show you the freshness, and that’s really what we’re all about.”