(Aug. 26) It’s not a huge deal, but it could be an indicator of things to come.

Publix, the Lakeland, Fla.-based supermarket chain with more than 700 stores in the Southeast, has made an equity investment in the 13-unit quick-serve restaurant chain Crispers, also based in Lakeland. The investment should provide a solid foundation for expansion by the restaurant chain. It’s building four units in central Florida, and nine more are planned by next August.

What makes this deal interesting is not the size of the chain or the investment. Publix doesn’t appear to have plans to put Crispers units in its stores, nor does it appear there will be a combination of supply and distribution operations.

What makes it interesting is simply the step outside food retailing.

Cross-merchandising is, of course, a possibility, said Michael Calhoun, chief financial officer of Crispers.

What better way to learn more about consumer preferences for ready-to-eat foods than to be on the inside track of a restaurant operation. And Crispers just happens to specialize in salads, soups and sandwiches loaded with fresh produce.

As lines between retail and foodservice continue to blur, it makes sense that Publix is exploring the competition. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this trend develop in retail sectors, similar to Royal Ahold’s purchases of online grocer Peapod and foodservice distributor Alliant.

It’s worth keeping an eye on.