Make us your home page

Publix spices up recipe with Lithia meal-preparation store

Clerk Tori Gittere, right, and sous chef Mike McClure of Publix Apron’s Make-Ahead Meals prepare before customers arrive.


Clerk Tori Gittere, right, and sous chef Mike McClure of Publix Apron’s Make-Ahead Meals prepare before customers arrive.

LITHIA — Lydia Lemon was checking out her second meal-assembly store in a month.

"This one helps me put the ingredients together faster. Their stainless steel bowls make it easier to fill Ziploc bags," she said. "At $3.75 a meal, it's cheaper than a Happy Meal."

Lemon and five of her pals from Apollo Beach were among the prospects invited to staff practice at Apron's Make-Ahead Meals, Publix Super Markets' first foray into the easy prep meal business.

A lot of eyes are focused on the Lakeland-based chain's first stand-alone store that opens Thursday at FishHawk Crossing shopping center. It's part two of a test that began last October with a meal-assembly shop in a Jacksonville supermarket.

"Publix will help define an industry still trying to figure itself out," said Gary Karp, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago research firm. A few grocers have similar experiments: a pair of South Carolina Piggly Wigglys and local chains in St. Louis and Philadelphia.

The bigger picture: Publix is among the few megachains trying to teach shoppers to make food from ingredients — the products that fill the middle of their stores. They're challenged by a public that doesn't cook.

The platform is Publix Apron's, a program of cooking classes, celebrity chef appearances and kiosks that peddle samples and package easy-to-make entrees.

The store is a slick, pro-kitchen version of the no-shopping, no-chopping, no-cleanup, no-meal-planning way of feeding families from scratch that emerged as a foodie fad in 2003. By last year that initial meal-prep movement lost much of its steam after 260 stores closed nationally, including eight of the 21 in the Tampa Bay area. That left 1,153 stores with $370-million in sales in 2008 that are forecast to hit $650-million in 2010.

Most fans are stay-at-home moms or time-pressed career women. They save time, energy and money by buying enough premeasured food to put together a month's worth of dinners in two hours at a meal-prep store. Before filling a freezer, they enjoy a social event complete with wine samples.

Publix brings higher standards, brand recognition and sharper pricing to an industry dominated by independents that deliver an uneven experience. Publix uses fresh, never-frozen food, hires people with culinary degrees and rotates 14 recipes monthly from a list of 140.

"Top sellers are comfort foods with a twist: chicken marsala, Italian spice meat loaf and cranberry almond chicken," said Bill Donnelly, Publix corporate chef.

Publix lays out the makings. Customers bag. Or the staff does it for a fee. A Publix supermarket in the same center stocks the "take-and-bake meals."

Experts think Publix will learn how to grapple with changing trends. For instance, three years ago 90 percent of meal-prep fans assembled ingredients themselves. Today half do. The rest pay for the convenience of a finished product.

What is Apron's?

Apron's Make-Ahead Meals is a Publix meal-prep business. The first stand-alone store opens Thursday in Lithia at the FishHawk Crossing shopping center.

At Apron's, customers can assemble meals using Publix ingredients and recipes. For those pressed for time, Publix also offers "take-and-bake meals." Apron's also offers cooking classes, featuring celebrity chef appearances.

Publix spices up recipe with Lithia meal-preparation store 09/01/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 4:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst


    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. Three-hour police standoff ends, thanks to a cigarette


    TAMPA — A man threatening to harm himself was arrested by Tampa police on Tuesday after a three-hour standoff.

  3. Another Hollywood nursing home resident dies. It's the 9th in post-Irma tragedy.

    State Roundup

    The Broward County Medical Examiner's office is investigating another death of a resident of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills — the ninth blamed on the failure of a cooling system that became a stifling deathtrap three days after Irma hit.

    Carlos Canal, pictured at 47 years old, came to Miami from Cuba in 1960. Above is his citizenship photo. [Courtesy of Lily Schwartz]
  4. Despite Hurricane Irma, Hillsborough remains on pace to unlock hotel tax that could pay for Rays ballpark


    TAMPA — Despite the threat of a catastrophic storm, it was business as usual at many Hillsborough County hotels in the days before Hurricane Irma bore down on the Tampa Bay region.

    The Grand Hyatt near TIA closed during Hurricane Irma, but many other Hillsborough hotels were open and saw an influx.
  5. New Graham-Cassidy health care plan stumbles under opposition from governors


    WASHINGTON — The suddenly resurgent Republican effort to undo the Affordable Care Act was dealt a blow on Tuesday when a bipartisan group of governors came out against a proposal gaining steam in the Senate.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., joined by, from left, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks to reporters as he pushes a last-ditch effort to uproot former President Barack Obama's health care law, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. To win, 50 of the 52 GOP senators must back it -- a margin they failed to reach when the chamber rejected the effort in July. [/J. Scott Applewhite | Associated Press]