“In the Upper Midwest here, it’s meat and potatoes,” asserts Tom Carriveau, meat director for Hugo’s Family Marketplace, which has 10 stores in North Dakota and Minnesota. “People are still using [meat] as a cornerstone of their meal planning.”
For that reason, Hugo’s, which still has butchers in every store, devotes a large amount of space to its meat department, with anywhere from 38 to 48 feet of self-serve cases and 24 to 36 feet of service meat cases, in addition to 8 to 12 feet of seafood. Six stores even have double shelves in the service meat cases.
“The first [double shelf] we put in, I thought ‘What are we going to put in all this space?’ Now, in the summer, we wish we had a third shelf,” Carriveau says. About 25 percent to 30 percent of meat sales are from the service counter. “When people visit our Hugo’s meat department, they’re usually surprised [at] the large variety and the amount of signature items we sell,” he adds. “First-time visitors are really surprised; they didn’t expect this kind of variety in a small city in North Dakota.”
Those signature items are often sold under the Hugo’s Premier Choice brand, which offers 10 kinds of marinated chicken breasts, six types of beef like petite sirloin, and gourmet burgers in one-half and one-third pound sizes. Each burger size has about eight to 10 flavors for customers to choose from. The Hugo’s Premier Choice line also features three varieties of stuffed pork chops, as well as a salmon spread.
Carriveau credits the grocer’s long-term staff, some of whom have racked up more than 30 years of service, for the continued success of the department and the store overall. “We’re really lucky that our employees really enjoy working for an independent like this,” he says.
“The other thing is our owner. Kristi [Magnuson Nelson] is so committed to being the very best retailer in every community we do business in, even though we are always the smallest one, size-wise. She has great pride in our meat department.”