Supermarket prepared foods have hit a high mark, but even more opportunities await progressive grocers — like McCaffrey's — with the right menus and companion foodservice equipment.
It's early afternoon on a Monday, and there's a snow scare in the air, so even more sub-urban Philadelphia-area shoppers than usual are pouring into the prepared foods sections of the McCaffrey's Market in affluent Yardley, Pa.
Mondays during the NFL season are usually pretty busy anyhow, according to the store's prepared foods manager, Jennifer Blackshire, who says that after the at-home tailgating of game day on Sunday, and the back-to-work reality of Monday, a lot of folks "just don't feel like cooking." The coming snow and an Eagles playoff loss have ramped up the area's culinary avoidance quotient even higher — and McCaffrey's 40,000-square-foot Yardley store, one of the company's three high-volume units, all of them longtime prepared foods destinations, is ready and waiting.
Prepared foods are on a big-time roll. A recent Packaged Facts report predicts that supermarket sales of prepared foods will grow by 7 percent to $14 billion in 2011, largely motivated by consumers' migration away from restaurants during the recession in search of value and one-stop-shopping convenience.
And the Yardley McCaffrey's is a blueprint in motion for what can only be called the excitement of a flourishing prepared foods program. There is ceaseless friendly activity by both customers and store associates; it's like a TV commercial come to real, profitable life. Indeed, McCaffrey's VP, Mark Eckhouse, pegs prepared foods' share of the store's sales at a healthy 6 percent.
The prepared foods lineup at McCaffrey's Yardley store encompasses all dayparts, and there's bistro seating for 70 upstairs for those who want to eat in or take advantage of the store's dinner specials from the hot bar. "A lot of people bring it right up there at dinnertime," notes Blackshire. There are two cashiers near the stairs and elevator to expedite prepared foods checkout, a thoughtful innovation.
The grill, which handles cheesesteaks and burgers during lunch and dinner, makes eggs to order and other breakfast fare in the morning, according to associate Faith Jakaitis. The rest of the day, the foodservice area, roomy yet businesslike along the store's right wall, with attractive signage and a light-colored wood-composition floor, offers a lineup ranging from pizza to sushi to sandwiches to hot foods to an extensive number of Gourmet Express items to a salad bar to two well-stocked Quick Picks island cases.
The prepared foods section begins to the right of the entrance. The selection begins with pizza, and the Phillies pennant-draped sign there announces an eat-in special for Wednesday and Friday nights from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m.: an 18-inch plain pizza with four fountain sodas for $9.99. McCaffrey's makes its own pizza dough — the sign of quality pizza — at a central commissary, and the pies are available in regular, white and Sicilian styles. There are also fresh pizza dough and heat-and-eat 14-inch pies to go.
The salad bar is off to the left, with three soups in front, and a selection of 70 items at $4.99 a pound.
The grill and hot foods area follow pizza, and there are 11 items available at $5.99 a pound, including beef stew, barbecue chicken, the ever-popular mac and cheese, and Santa Fe baked potatoes. Posted on a board are nightly weekday dinner specials such as pork chops and mashed potatoes on Monday and meat loaf and mashed potatoes on Tuesday.
The sandwich section is next, and this lunchtime it's abuzz with orders being taken, filled and handed across the counter, often with a pleasant remark by one or both parties. There are wrapped hoagies in a case, but the major action is at McCaffrey's Sandwich Express, which features 16 Boar's Head Specialty Sandwiches at $7.49 each and includes selections like rosemary and sun-dried tomato ham, creamy havarti cheese, lettuce, tomato and honey mustard; pastrami-seasoned turkey breast with imported Swiss cheese, cole slaw and Russian dressing; and prosciutto and mortadella with fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers.
There are 10 hoagie varieties available, as well as 25 sandwich varieties, along with made-to-order selections. A Buffalo Chicken Special at $7.49 is freshly sliced Buffalo chicken breast with blue cheese dressing, creamy havarti cheese, lettuce and tomato on crusty Italian bread. Menus-to-go include a phone number for ordering ahead.
Asian foods come next, with about 20 selections, among them black pepper chicken, sweet and sour chicken, string beans chicken, sweet and sour soup, wonton soup, chicken dumplings, and vegetable tofu.
Well Equipped, Prepared for Profits
With prepared foods playing an ever-increasing role in retailers' profit structures, foodservice equipment is more important than ever. Following is a cross-section of new products in that critical area:
The Hybrid Convection Oven from Orting, Wash.-based Baxter Bakery combines the best features of the company's rotating rack oven and a traditional convection oven, in a small footprint. The patent-pending airflow system evenly bakes and cooks a wide variety of food items without physically or mechanically rotating pans. The artisan-inspired oven's window provides a theater-type experience for front-of-the-house exhibition baking or cooking. The front-load door makes it simple to add or remove pans with different cooking times.
The oven includes Baxter's patented cast iron steam system in which water dispensed from a single large opening interacts with the heated cast iron spheres, creating steam, which enables users to make artisan-quality crusts. The airflow system makes the hybrid difference possible: A rear-wall fan draws heat through the perforated side panels. Side-panel diffusers move the air from top to bottom and front to back, ensuring even results without the need to rotate pans. Because of its patented design, Baxter's steam system doesn't require flushing, making it easy to clean and maintain. The oven also has the ability to store up to 99 recipes.
For more information, visit www.baxterbakery.com/contactus.
The new Trauisen TS Series Prep Tables solve the problem of ingredient pans that don't keep foods cold enough with the TempAssure air channel system that circulates cold air around and underneath the pans, as well as lofting a protective blanket over the food surface, insulating it from warm kitchen air. And the patented Trauisen INTELA-TRAUL microprocessor control maintains a consistent 34-degree F to 38-degree F temperature by keeping airflow regulated to withstand harsh kitchen environments. This unique deign makes all-day performance to NSF Standard 7 test requirements possible, according to the Fort Worth, Texas-based company.
The prep tables can help prevent premature food waste, health department citations and possibly even unsafe food. The product won't freeze or dry out. There's no pan stirring required, and products can be stored safely in the rail overnight. No ice or water is required, eliminating the everyday cleanup common to cold-wall designs. Stainless steel construction inside and out provides durability, and the stainless steel finish, combined with high standards of design and construction, delivers excellent aesthetics for customer confidence and appeal in front-of-the-house applications.
For more information, visit www.traulsen.com/contactus.
Fort Wayne, Ind.-based AccuTemp has introduced the new Natural Gas Evolution Boilerless Convection Steamer that was winner of the GFEN (Gas Foodservice Equipment Network) Product of the Year Award for 2010.
Available connectionless or connected to a water and drain line, the steamer features a highly efficient heavy-duty stainless steel blue-flame power burner, is Energy Star qualified, and uses less than 1 gallon of water per hour in connected or connectionless mode.
SVT (Servotronics Inc.) technology creates steam convection with no moving parts, and the unit purports to have, overall, fewer parts than any natural gas steamer. There's UL Sanitation certified holding mode, as well as digital controls, no hood vent and no deliming treatment.
This convection steamer's warranty isn't voided by water quality, and there's a lifetime service and support guarantee.
For more information, visit www.accutemp.net.
The Fusion Food Warming Tray from Cleveland-based Tomlinson Industries is designed to slow the cooling process and features cool-touch handles, a "Power-On" light, and adjustable temperature control.
The new warming tray is constructed of high-quality stainless steel; it is compact, measuring just 20.5 inches by 14 inches; and it has skid-resistant feet. It is lightweight for easy handling, weighing 14 pounds, and available in 120-volt/250-watts/ 2.1 amps.
The tray is additionally UL listed and has a one-year limited warranty.
For more information, visit www.tomlinsonind.com.
Master-Bilt, a member of the Salem, N.H.-based Standex Foodservice Equipment Group, has introduced Mega Top Sandwich/Salad Prep Units, the latest additions to the company's Fusion series of refrigeration options.
The Fusion series Mega Top Sandwich/Salad Prep Units come in four new models that hold an additional row of pans for busy foodservice operations. The new Mega Top units hold up to 30 1/6 size pans.
Features of Fusion Mega Top units include a stainless steel interior and exterior, adjustable vinyl-coated shelves and insulated top lids. All cabinets are foamed in place with green-friendly, efficient polyurethane insulation. Master-Bilt MBSMP Series Mega Tops are equipped with a self-contained, generously sized refrigeration system, and include a standard limited four-year extended compressor warranty and one-year limited parts and labor warranty.
In addition to Mega Top Sandwich/Salad Prep Units, the Fusion series features a full line of heavy-duty equipment, including bottom-mount solid-door reach-ins, glass-door merchandisers, and undercounter refrigerators and freezers.
For more information, visit www.master-bilt.com/products/energysaver.htm.
The Centric 20E from Beaverton, Ore.-based Evo America is a plug-in, 120-volt electric tabletop cooking unit. The circular flat-top model is 20 inches in diameter and has a black-seasoned cook surface heated by a patented dual-zone electric heater with extremely fast heat-up and temperature recovery. Independent heat adjustments across inner and outer cook surfaces range from 150 degrees F to 525 degrees F, and the optional carry/storage case allows portability. The Centric 20E has a built-in USB port that allows program updates with customized heat ranges for managing temperature presets by item name or heat level.
"We designed the Centric to make it easier for the chef to prepare foods where the cook surface has to be consistent every time," says Bob Shingler, Evo's president and lead product designer.
For more information, visit www.evoamerica.com.
The obvious star of the McCaffrey's prepared foods program, Gourmet Express, is styled after the Asian foods lineup. It's well signed, including price per pound, ingredients and allergens, and there are 50 items to chose from, including tofu cutlet marsala, Cajun cornmeal flounder, turkey burger with spinach feta, seafood jambalaya, broccoli tempura, beef braciole, ranchero bean salad, Southwest turkey chili, champagne chicken breast and tilapia Française. The selection is well named, judging by the 20-foot case's contents.
The prepared foods line ends with 10 feet of sushi by Hissho Sushi, and features, in addition to the case's contents, a party platter with eight selections, and an ordering form.
On the day of PG's visit, the two Quick Picks island cases of packaged items on the floor adjacent to the salad bar were surrounded by shoppers, elbow to elbow, chatting and making selections. Blackshire paused from restocking the second case to explain that the menu of more than 35 items changes weekly, except for staples like grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, Scandinavian potato salad, and orzo with grilled mixed vegetables.
There are both single items like cheddar knishes, McCaffrey's Own potato and macaroni salads and cole slaw, roasted turkey breast, mini meat loaf, cauliflower au gratin, and chicken piccata, and one side of the second case features meals for one or two people, like meat loaf and mashed potatoes, ziti, pasta with lemon and dill, chicken parmesan, macaroni and cheese, pasta with eggplant, and lasagna roll with parsley pesto.
The front of the first Quick Pick island is a hot-chicken section, while the front of the second case is an olive bar. The first case has an array of quiches, and the second case features crusty chicken and turkey pot pies, and shepherd's pies.
"We have lots of customers who pretend they made it," says Blackshire, which is probably the ultimate compliment. "It's exciting to offer something like that. It's from our family to their family."