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    Going Trans-fat-free, Stew Leonard's Sees BBQ Sales Rise

    NORWALK, Conn. -- Stew Leonard's, based here, has switched to Whole Harvest SmartFry, a trans-fat free oil made from 100 percent pure soybean oil, to prepare fried chicken, wings, and other menu items in its stores' barbeque departments. Last year the grocer's Norwalk store began testing the oil, the first commercial trans fat-free cooking oil available. Customer response was so positive, the Danbury and Yonkers stores followed suit.

    NORWALK, Conn. -- Stew Leonard's, based here, has switched to Whole Harvest SmartFry, a trans-fat free oil made from 100 percent pure soybean oil, to prepare fried chicken, wings, and other menu items in its stores' barbeque departments. Last year the grocer's Norwalk store began testing the oil, the first commercial trans fat-free cooking oil available. Customer response was so positive, the Danbury and Yonkers stores followed suit.

    "The chicken is crispier on the outside and juicier on the inside, and customers have noticed, too -- sales have increased 5 percent since we made the switch to the trans-fat free oil," said Stew Leonard's executive director of prepared foods Zita Sebastian in a statement. "In addition to being nonhydrogenated, Whole Harvest SmartFry is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and is a natural source of vitamin E, both of which have heart-protective benefits."

    Although the new oil is significantly more expensive, Sebastian said that the taste and health benefits, as well as the environmentally friendly process by which it's made, which avoids releasing harmful gases into the atmosphere, outweigh any cost considerations.

    The grocer is also testing several trans-fat free products in its bakery departments, and will begin introducing the new items early next year. Trans fats are known to raise LDL "bad" cholesterol and reduce heart-healthy HDL cholesterol.

    In other Stew Leonard's news, Stew Leonard Jr., president and c.e.o. of the company, will speak at the University of Bridgeport's (UB) Walter Levine Lecture Series on Leadership and Lifelong Learning on Wednesday, Feb. 23.

    Leonard's talk, "Why Is the Customer Always Right? Lessons Learned from Running Stew Leonard's -- The Disneyland of Grocery Stores," will be held at Littlefield Theater of the Arnold Bernhard Arts and Humanities Center. Sponsored by UB's Business School Club, the free event is open to the general public.

    According to Leonard, his approach to management is summed up by the acronym S.T.E.W.: Satisfy the customer, work together as a team, strive for excellence at everything you do, and get the customer to say, "Wow."

    Stew Leonard's, a family-owned and operated grocery founded in 1969, currently has three stores in Norwalk and Danbury, Conn. and Yonkers, N.Y., with additional stores planned in East Farmingdale, N.Y. and Orange, Conn.

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