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Outback Upfront

Shopping at the Publix supermarket chain is about to get a lot more appetizing, now that the company is teaming up with Outback Steakhouse (NYSE: OSI  ) to offer patrons hot Italian delicacies out of its Carrabba's recipe book.

Outback's Italian eatery, Carrabba's, will be leasing a 1,000-square foot space inside a Publix in Sarasota, not too far from Outback's corporate offices. With a wood-burning oven and grill, many of the same specialties served in the growing casual dining chain will be offered as takeout purchases for Publix patrons shopping for groceries.

It's an interesting notion in many ways. Sure, Publix has always had a deli where folks can have subs made to order or pick up some fried or rotisserie chicken and warm side dishes. Tasty stuff. Really. However, having Carrabba's in their grocery store will give shoppers one less reason not to fire up the stove once they get back home.

Home meal replacement was a buzzword through the 1990s, but not a lot came of it. Brinker International's (NYSE: EAT  ) Eatzi's even won the Hot Concept award from Nation's Restaurant News, but expansion has been slow to nonexistent for the gourmet takeout chain. Boston Market tried to position itself as a "home meal replacement" staple but stumbled, ultimately cashing out to McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) .

The Carrabba's move bears watching. Success in Sarasota will likely encourage Publix to open up enough space in its existing markets to offer Carraba's in many of its 875 locations. If you're not familiar with Publix, you probably just haven't needed groceries in certain parts of the Southeast. It's a quality chain -- probably the biggest reason why Winn-Dixie filed for bankruptcy reorganization, and why a national winner like Albertson's (NYSE: ABS  ) got tripped up in South Florida.

Supermarkets in general have come up with ways to expand their offerings by leasing space to others. From banks to video rental chains, they've been sound moves in some cases, but they can't match the logic of providing warm, ready-to-eat meals from upscale eatery brands. Outback and Publix may not be changing the world with this move, but they're certainly going to give it a go, one baked cannelloni at a time.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of both Carrabba's and Publix, but an even bigger fan of Outback's upscale Fleming's steakhouse chain. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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