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    Publix Testing Stand-Alone Meal Assembly Shop

    The unit carries the Apron's store-brand moniker, and will be a test pad for Publix.

    Publix Super Markets will launch its first stand-alone meal assembly operation, under the Apron's Make-Ahead Meals banner, in Florida on Sept. 4, an experiment that extends the grocer's existing in-store Apron's meal solutions program and might tap into a larger trend of diminishing restaurant visits.

    The stand-alone site is in Lithia, home to FishHawk Ranch, a residential development thirty minutes southeast of Tampa. The Lakeland, Fla.-based grocer already operates an Apron's Make-Ahead Meal site at one of its Jacksonville, Fla. stores, but the Lithia operation is the first that stands on its own.

    "We will learn from this test at Lithia and determine if we will have future stand-alone sites," says Maria Brous, company spokeswoman.

    Like other meal assembly retail outlets-a format that has seen ups and downs over the last few years-the Publix operation is a service provides customers with "a social atmosphere while they prepare food for two hours."

    Customers at the Apron's Make-Ahead Meals shop will assemble meals using Publix ingredients and recipes. Meal assembly customers will browse menu options, register to reserve a time, and prepay online for meal packages priced at $59.99, $109.99, $134.99, or $189.99.

    The Apron's shop features meal assembly stations where customers use ready-to-cook ingredients. The meals are then packaged and kept refrigerated until the session is complete.

    For those who do not have time for meal assembly, Publix said it is also offering a "Make-Ahead Meals To Go" program that allows customers to select menu items and pick up preassembled meals.

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