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Culinary Concierge
 
 


Albertsons’s Southern California Meat Marketing Team created an interactive program between customer and in-store service specialist to bring the art of hand sell back to the floor. Pictured here is Joshua Fisher, assistant meat category manager.

 

Recommendations from a trusted retailer often have more clout than any other communication: whether it is initiated by a respected wine or food critic, a print or billboard advertisement or a celebrity endorsement.

When Albertson’s Assistant Meat Category Manager Josh Fisher moved to Southern California from Las Vegas, he brought with him some phenomenal ideas spurred on by the almost cult-like reverence to wine in Sin City.

So involved was he with the notion of the union of food and wine and how it would relate to increase in-store sales, he and the Albertsons Southern California Meat Marketing Team created their own think tank, and facilitated a “solution” that would not only endear customers to Albertson’s through a hand-sell approach but also train the store’s service-food specialists at a gourmet chef level.

 

The Solution is in the Meal

It makes all the sense in the world: Create a recipe, package the ingredients and instructions for easy follow-through, add the perfect wine marriage and you are instrumental in streamlining the hardest decision some customers have to make in the day: What to eat and which wine is best with the meal.

Some of us pros in the business may be able to dream up these scenarios in our sleep, but the average shopper often sees themselves a football-field’s length away from owning the ability to do so. Even if you visualize the meal, the work lies in gathering the goods to put it on the plate.

“We call the concept ‘bundling’ where each store offers an attractive package for its specific recipe,” explains Fisher. Utilizing five upscale area Albertson’s to kick off the program (San Diego, Ladera Ranch, San Clemente, Fullerton and Huntington Beach) the recipes and bundles rotate, from chicken to pork to seafood (see recipes and photos on opposite page).


Vendor partners can add ingredients to the “bundled” recipes

 

Cooking Classes

Unlike the “bundled” recipes from back in the day, a box of Hamburger Helper sought to relieve the headaches after the 9 to 5 stress, but as customers aim towards sophistication the term “service industry” strives to really attain its true definition. Fisher’s brainchild of Simple Meal Solutions must go beyond straightforward point of sale that merely designates a culinary “how-to.”

The genius here is education; isn’t it always?

The classes and training is sponsored by Centerra Wine Company, one of four operating company's within Constellation Wines US, the largest wine company in the world. Centerra features brands like Robert Mondavi Private Selection,  Toasted Head,  Ravenswood, Woodbridge, and Arbor Mist to name a few.

 Albertsons Simple Meal Solutions program kicked off in November, with a group of three classes dedicated to teaching three groups of specialists – from the meat counter, the seafood counter and the deli – to cook as adeptly as a trained chef.

Utilizing the well-appointed kitchen at Newport Beach’s Sur la Table, a gourmet’s shopping paradise, Centerra Executive Chef Paul Squiciarrini led specialists from Albertson’s through step-by-step preparations to gear up for perfecting dishes that would ultimately be memorable – and even more important, easy – to offer customers.


Jose Ortiz, a meat cutter for Albertsons San Clemente is looking forward to sharing ideas with customers

First-Hand Experience
 
Picture this: Trained specialists with first-hand experience in creating these dishes offering advice to customers and adding the invaluable, mistake-proof pairing of a value-driven wine.

“During this pilot program, we’ll track upc (codes) and results in the five stores,” offers Fisher, who plans to test-drive the program for five months and then roll it out to 50-60 stores throughout Southern California and Las Vegas.

Jose Ortiz, a meat cutter in Albertsons San Clemente location pointed out, “Most of our customers come to us already, seeking information, recipes and hints. Now, not only can I offer fresh ideas, but I can actually counsel on how to cook these meals.”

Added Larry Bingham from Albertsons in Mission Viejo’s Ladera Ranch, “We’re giving our customers the tools to be creative.”

 
Albertsons’ meat, seafood and deli specialists will go from behind the counter to a position of on-floor hand-selling of food and wine unions through the novel approach of acting as a culinary concierge. (left to right) Taking cooking classes that include food safety and sanitation are John Donohue and Larry Bigham of Albertson’s Ladera Ranch with Josh Fisher, ass’t meat category manager, who thought up the concept.

 

 

Applied Techniques


Centerra Executive Chef Paul Squiciarrini

Centerra Executive Chef Paul Squiciarrini launched the Simple Meal Solutions cooking classes at Sur La Table for the Albertsons in-store specialists. Demonstrating techniques from sautéing to braising, chopping to searing, Chef Paul is also instrumental in expertly finding wine pairing solutions to each meal.

The Albertsons “students” are not only instructed during class, but their homework assignment is to cook each meal at home, photograph the results and come up with their own unique tips to share with their colleagues (and customers).

Steak with Wild Mushrooms, Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes and Red Wine Sauce, paired with Ravenswood Zinfandel
 
 
Sweet and Spicy Orange Glazed Scallops, Sesame Steamed Rice, paired with Robert Mondavi Private Selection Johannisberg Riesling
 
Wild Salmon with Puttanesca Sauce and Pesto Scented Orzo paired with Robert Mondavi Private Selection Pinot Noir