WASHINGTON (FNS) -- Bread & Circus has exported its first natural foods supermarket outside New England to a posh location here -- and is happy with the early performance of the store, according to a company official.
The 35,000-square-foot unit, with a strong emphasis on fresh foods, has been open in Georgetown, an upscale neighborhood of Washington, for about three weeks.
Initial sales at the store "were about how we expected, maybe a little better," said A.C. Gallo, regional vice president of Whole Foods, Austin, Texas, which owns Bread & Circus.
Gallo said in an interview with SN that the opening went smoothly, except for a few unexpected runs on specialty items. "We went through three cases of fresh fennel on the first day, which is a lot more than usual. And we ran out of arugula by Saturday night," he noted.
He said the store was packed with shoppers over the first weekend, some of them apparently lured by 20,000 promotional videos the company mailed in the neighborhood prior to the opening. The videos could be exchanged at the store for coupons worth $25.
The store opens onto a main Georgetown thoroughfare, with a windowed cafe and espresso bar at one corner fronting the street and featuring a rotisserie and brick oven. Just beyond the cafe at the entrance is a large floral department and then produce, while deli and bakery are positioned at the opposite corner on the other side of the checkouts.
Although supermarket-sized, the store is more inviting
than a standard supermarket. The atmosphere relies greatly on fresh food presentation, and the decor features touches such as display tables, racks and architectural accents made from blond wood and flooring of tile and wood. The lighting is product-oriented and less harsh than the typical supermarket's fluorescent glare.
Products in the produce department appear ultra fresh and are meticulously displayed. Samples are displayed on small, freestanding tables; a small garbage can stands underneath each to hold discarded toothpicks and fruit peels.
Every yuppie specialty food imaginable is on display, from smoked portobella mushrooms to radicchio to dried chile peppers to fresh rosemary.
Next along the perimeter is a case of fresh seafood, including value-added items such as salmon patties and salmon sausages. The meat and poultry counters are stocked with a wide variety of products, most marked with labels such as "nitrate free" and "free-range" and "organic."
Along the far wall, dairy leads into a huge cheese display of many fine imported cheeses, followed by bakery and deli. The bakery includes a bread counter specializing in European-style loaves and a second counter of gourmet pastries.
The large deli department offers items such as pureed butter squash for $3.99 per pound and smoked salmon lasagna for $8.99 per pound. A nearby salad bar ($3.99 per pound) includes mixings such as fresh watercress and seaweed.
Adjacent to the cheese, bakery and deli sections is a large wine and beer department. The store's center is devoted to organic and healthy versions of packaged fare: pastas, sauces, canned soups, baking needs, snacks and so on.
Gallo said he was struck by how knowledgeable Washington shoppers appear to be about their consumables. "We noticed a very intelligent, sophisticated shopper that really knows their food. In some markets we have to tell them what monkfish is or what skate wings are. Here they know, not just the basics, but everything."
Bread & Circus plans to open a second Washington-area store in Arlington, Va., later this month. A third is planned for the fall in Vienna, Va.
The company is waiting to evaluate the performance of its first stores before it decides how many units in total the area can absorb. "There is a certain critical mass you need to make it work for distribution," said Gallo.
Bread & Circus' expansion plans also include Philadelphia, where a site near the Rodin museum has been selected for a fall opening. New York is in the company's sights for 1997.
In Washington, Bread & Circus is butting heads with Fresh Fields, a natural foods supermarket chain based in the suburb of Rockville, Md. In early January, Fresh Fields opened a store in Washington's Tenleytown neighborhood, which is about two miles from the new Bread & Circus.
Sutton Place Gourmet, a chain of smaller retail stores that specializes in upscale prepared foods, operates a unit about one mile from the Bread & Circus. In addition, there are supermarkets operated by Safeway and Giant Food within a couple of miles of the new competitor.
One of the apparent differences between the Bread & Circus unit and the Fresh Fields nearby is the former's 250-item bulk foods section, which abuts the produce department. It includes 25 types of granola, 22 kinds of rice, several stove-top grain-and-bean mixes, six types of sugar, dried fruit, nuts and snacks. A separate bulk herb department stocks nearly 100 varieties of herbs.