December 11, 2003
Grocery stores cooking up more innovations
By TERRY STEPHENS
Special to the Journal
It's easy to be a part of today's supermarket revolution.
Grab a lemon-honey roasted chicken or an order of Chinese fried rice for tonight's meal as you fill your cart with groceries for future meals.
Save time in a hurried day by combining a lunch break and grocery shopping. Pick up a few items for the weekend, then relax at a cafe table as you enjoy a bowl of chili or a deli sandwich.
Just remember that your spouse's boss is coming for dinner tonight? On your way home from work, stop by your favorite grocery to pick up a marinated steak ready for the grill.
Today's super-sized supermarkets and specialty grocery stores are responding to changes in shopping and eating, particularly in households where both spouses work outside the home.
Grocers have responded to consumers' changing needs as well as creating new needs for them, adding not only fresh meals-to-go and in-store cafes but also coffee bars, flowers, wine and fresh seafood. Some supermarkets are even adding day care and display kitchens.
For many real estate developers, architects and interior designers, supermarkets have become a major source of business. New and larger markets are being built, amenities are being added and colorful banners, displays and merchandising are going up, part of trying to make grocery shopping more fun and exciting, according to Mark Simpson, vice president and principal of the Bumgardner/Carlson Alliance, a Seattle architecture group.
Many of these trends reach back to the Pike Place Market, Simpson said, where people shop frequently, know many merchants by name, enjoy the eclectic mix of specialties from fish to flowers and often take shopping breaks at the market's restaurants and coffee counters.
“Grocery stores, even decades back, have always meant more than just a place to get a loaf of bread,” Simpson said. “The guy behind the counter knew your name. It was a meeting place as much as it was a food shopping place.”
Simpson was the principal in charge of design for Epicenter, the new Fremont project that features a PCC Natural Markets at street level, underground parking and 128 apartments above the grocery. In dry weather, the market's large outdoor eating and gathering space is usually full, he said.
His firm is now working on a similar project in West Seattle: 16,000 to 20,000 square feet of retail space anchored by a grocery. The Carlson side of the architectural alliance is also involved in developing creative grocery marketing concepts, having designed all of the Larry's Market stores.
“We're seeing more emphasis on fresh products and the idea of combining the dining experience with the shopping experience,” Simpson said. “The newer grocery stores in urban areas are proving to be a perfect fit for urban development, attracting people who want a more enjoyable grocery shopping experience as well as being able to live downtown and walk to the grocery.”
A major draw for specialty supermarkets is fresh seafood, said Larry Andrews, the retail marketing director for Alaska Seafoods in Seattle.
“A number of stores, including Larry's Markets, Thriftway, Haggen, Top Foods and QFC, do a tremendous job in marketing seafood, with a wide variety in their counters. Many value-added products are marinated, ready to cook. There has been a 25 percent growth in these value-added products between 1992 and 1997. Also, people are becoming more educated about the health values of seafood as an alternative to more fattening foods,” he said.
Andrews said Americans only consume about 15 pounds of seafood a year, compared to more than 60 pounds per person in Spain and other countries.
Seafood counters also generate more interest in trying new types of seafood, including scallops, black cod and Alaskan spotted prawns.
“They are seeing the seafood consumption numbers creeping up," Andrews said. “Also, more people are discovering that fresh frozen seafood has the flavor frozen in and that it's as good as fresh seafood that's not frozen. Then they can keep a freezer full of seafood, ready for any occasion.”
Major players in Washington state's grocery industry are all responding to changes in food marketing.
Albertson's, founded in Boise in 1939 by Joe Albertson, was a forerunner of today's emphasis on specialty products and customer service, introducing a scratch bakery, magazine racks, home-made ice cream, popcorn, nuts and an automatic donut machine.
In 2002, the chain's nearly 2,500 stores produced revenues of $37.9 billion. Over the next five years, Albertson's plans to build 1,850 food stores, stand-alone drug stores and gasoline stations, and remodel 730 existing stores.
Quality Food Centers will anchor Vulcan's mixed-use development in the South Lake Union neighborhood, on the site of the former Quinton Instruments facility. It will also add Starbucks stores and specialty product sections in its existing stores.
Safeway is planning to convert an older, 15,000-square-foot store on lower Queen Anne into a 35,000-square-foot grocery and 3,800 square feet of other retail, topped by 50 condominiums. The company is also planning to redevelop its grocery in downtown Bellevue. The new Safeway will have 350 to 392 apartments above it, plus an additional 20,000 square feet of retail.
Larry's Markets, a national leader in grocery innovation, has found success with its Market Cafe, Produce Row and Market Deli, plus new sections such as Lorenzo's, a soda fountain and espresso bar, a floral shop and B.I.O., featuring natural, organic and environmentally friendly products.
Larry's food courts now include cooked-to-order menus for breakfast, lunch or dinner, including Taqueria Aprisa, serving authentic Mexican burritos, tacos and salads made from scratch, and Panizza, offering grilled Italian sandwiches.
Haggen, the Bellingham grocery chain that also owns Top Food & Drug stores, last year opened a store in Auburn with a child care center, restaurant, fresh seafood and 15-foot-wide doorways without doors, using new technology to keep heat in and cold air out, according to industry sources.
The newest player in the highly competitive grocery market in the Puget Sound area is Whole Foods Market, the Austin, Texas, company that has proclaimed itself the world's largest natural foods supermarket chain.
With a three-year-old store in north Seattle and another under construction in Bellevue, the natural foods marketer is expanding here, with five to six more stores planned within the next three years, according to the firm's Pacific Northwest real estate representative, Dean Trenery of DJT Real Estate Advisors in Seattle.
Terry Stephens is a freelance writer based in Arlington. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
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