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    TECHNOLOGY: Touch up

    Interactive information kiosks are helping grocers sell across categories and giving shoppers more reasons to eat at home.

    Creating meal solutions is a key element of current category management trends in supermarkets, typically manifested in a cross-merchandised display that brings together products from several departments, united by a particular theme.

    While common examples are wine-and-cheese pairings, or total grilling solutions encompassing ingredients and implements, the only real limit to the amount of meal solutions a grocer can develop through cross-category tactics is the available space in the store.

    Some grocers are even getting around this barrier with the help of touchscreen information kiosks that provide services ranging from simple ingredient lookups and food-and-beverage pairing suggestions, to building custom shopping lists and printing out coupons for a meal's components.

    While the various kiosk vendors may differ in some of the finer points of their offerings or equipment functionality, they're all designed to help shoppers plan meals that they prepare at home. Optional add-on functions include coupon dispensing, an integrated price checker, an aisle locator, and a loyalty card interface.

    Here are a few examples of the types of kiosk programs grocers are lately bringing into their operations.

    Supervalu shares tips, coupons

    Edina, Minn.-based Customer-Facing Media's (CFM) Touch 'n Save interactive kiosks are now available at all 56 Twin Cities-area Cub Foods stores to help make shopping easier.

    "We are always striving to meet our customers' needs, and the Touch 'n Save kiosks are another tool to accomplish this," says Steve Irland, v.p., advertising/marketing at Cub, a division of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Supervalu. "Customers want easily accessible product information, food preparation tips, and money-saving offers."

    The kiosks feature full-color displays with full-motion graphics and video capabilities. An integrated high-speed thermal printer allows shoppers to print recipes, shopping lists, and coupons.

    Each kiosk is tailored to the store department where it's located, with content specifically developed for the department. For example, the produce kiosk has information on everything from exotic fruits to the proper way to peel a mango. The kiosks also provide shoppers access to cents-off coupons, which in turn boosts both convenience and cost savings.

    Associated's wine tie-ins

    Harvest Markets, based in Pembroke, N.H., is piloting a touchscreen kiosk in one of its two stores to provide shoppers with meal solutions that can be created using ingredients found in the aisles.

    The kiosk, provided by Buffalo, N.Y.-based ShoptoCook, Inc., is located in the produce department near the entrance of the 19,000-square-foot store in the upscale town of Bedford, N.H.

    "We installed the ShoptoCook Recipe Center because we thought our customers would relate well to it," says Tim Merrill, g.m. of Associated Grocers of New England, which owns the retailer. "It's been a good tie-in because we're a big player in the wine business, and we've had a very good response from consumers."

    Harvest stages wine samplings in its stores every Thursday and Friday evening, and the kiosk's wine-and-food-pairing application has quickly become a shopper favorite.

    During the first 40 days of the kiosk's deployment, about 900 recipes were printed, representing over 6,600 ingredients that are available for sale in the store.

    1 million users at Bloom

    For Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion, 900 kiosk interactions is just a drop in the bucket. The retailer's Bloom stores installed the ShoptoCook units in June 2006, and just one year later hit a milestone when the number of shoppers who've used them for meal planning, price checking, or locating products surpassed 1 million.

    Each of Bloom's 52 stores in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina is equipped with six kiosks.

    "Bloom takes the hassle out of shopping and makes it fun and easy," says Robin Johnson, the banner's director of marketing and brand development. "The interactive informational kiosk with its savvy technology allows our guests to find products, select from thousands of recipes, select and get information on wines, print grocery lists, and visit the Kids' Corner for interactive games, plus a host of other options. We've seen increased usage by guests of all ages. The millionth customer documented using the kiosk validates how accepted and valuable a tool it is."

    The kiosks are typically located in or near such departments as produce, meat, wine, and organic/natural foods. To use the kiosk, shoppers scan the bar code of any meat, seafood, or produce item, and are instantly presented with three recipes that use the scanned item. Shoppers can then select a recipe or view additional choices, up to hundreds per cut. They can then print the recipe to use as an ingredient list.

    Publix's healthy plan

    Publix Super Markets plans to install health-and-wellness information kiosks in its Publix GreenWise Market stores to provide its customers with healthy-living ideas and recipes during shopping trips.

    The Lakeland, Fla.-based retailer will offer Healthnotes Connect "Fresh Ideas" kiosks from Portland, Ore.-based Healthnotes, Inc. in response to growing consumer interest in health and nutritious eating. The installation will be an in-store extension of a service Publix has been offering online for the past three years under the "Wellness & Pharmacy" section of its Web site.

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