June 6, 2008, 12:00 AM

Mealbox widget debuts as first offering of Fry/Meijer joint venture

Supermarket retailer Meijer and web designer and developer Fry have formed a joint venture to build a widget-based online ad network.

Retailer Meijer and web design and development firm Fry Inc. have formed a joint venture to launch Qponix, a widget-based online advertising network. The partnership has rolled out the Meijer Mealbox widget as its first offering, and Qponix president Corbin de Rubertis says he plans to introduce more widgets for Meijer as well as for other retailers and manufacturers in the months ahead.

The downloadable Meijer Mealbox widget application integrates features designed around meal planning, budgeting, and purchasing activity. Consumers can plan a calendar of meals by selecting recipes on Meijer’s web site. That automatically populates a shopping list for the ingredients and generates printable coupons available on any of those items.

Meal planning features aren’t new at grocery store and supermarket sites; neither are printable coupons. But Meijer’s Mealbox offers a twist in that it isn’t confined to Meijer’s site. As a portable widget, it extends Meijer’s reach across the web. Within the first few days of the Mealbox widget going up on Meijer’s site in late May, some 1,500 widgets were downloaded and installed on consumers’ personal home pages, blogs, social networks and community sites. “The widget can exist in a number of destinations online that consumers typically frequent more than the brand web site,” de Rubertis says.

The Mealbox widget also has been placed online as an advertisement at MLive.com, an interactive news and information web site that aggregates content from eight Michigan newspapers.

Some 70,000 coupons printed off the Mealbox widget have been redeemed in Meijer’s 181 Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky-based stores within the first few weeks of its launch, according to de Rubertis. The widget has generated significant incremental web traffic for Meijer, he adds, though he would not say how much. Meijer is taking the opportunity to cross-promote products within the application.

As the widget is downloaded and installed by more consumers, it will in effect create its own advertising network. De Rubertis notes that once the widgets are installed, they can be updated across the network with fresh promotions and content all at once by Meijer.

Qponix is the first such retailer joint venture for Fry. Both Fry and Meijer are investors in the partnership, which is headed by de Rubertis and Kevin Thomas as chief operating officer, both formerly of Fry.

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