CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Organic produce and dairy products are among the cornerstones of the new Natural Choice store-within-a-store concept being rolled out by Bashas' Markets, based here.
The Natural Choice section will take up approximately 500 square feet inside each Bashas' unit. It will bridge the store's pharmacy and produce departments, which are both typically near the public entrance.
The first of 20 planned centers opened in mid-February in the retailer's Broadway and Houghton store in Tucson, Ariz. The second opened at a store in Show Low, Ariz., on Feb. 26th; a third opened in Payson, Ariz. on March 8.
Natural Choice pulls items from several departments under a unified whole-health banner, including organic produce, organic dairy and natural beef and poultry, as well as dietary supplements and natural grocery products, according to Rich Dalton, company spokesman.
"People more and more are going to supermarkets expecting to purchase these items, rather than going to a specialty store, and then to a grocery store to get everything else," he said. "They like the convenience of doing it all in one shop, so I think that if we didn't do this, we'd be losing part of our market."
Shoppers are alerted to the section with large overhead signage and displays of the whole-health products. Officials also sought to differentiate the section from the rest of the store by installing faux wood-grain flooring to give the department a separate identity.
With few exceptions, all of the items in the new concept have been pulled from their traditional departments and are now located in, or directly adjacent to, the Natural Choice section.
The shopping pattern in this store-within-a-store is comprised of five open-ended aisles, each of which measures between 14 and 16 square feet. Along the left perimeter are three doors of perishables, where meat alternatives, cheeses and cheese alternatives, perishable soy products and yogurts are merchandised, among other things.
They are followed by a larger frozen section made up of nine doors, containing brand-name entrees, tofu wraps, organic vegetables and desserts. According to officials, they are full-profile units, but just a little bit shallower than what is used in traditional in-line store sets.
Fresh organic produce is merchandised on the far right of the shopping pattern in an 8-foot multideck cooler case.
"[Produce] is not really in line with the natural food set, but it's in close proximity," said Tim Means, regional sales representative for Mountain People's Warehouse, Auburn, Calif., Bashas' principal supplier for the Natural Choice concept. "From the set you can see it, but it's [still] within the produce department. They change the [produce] sets depending upon what's most appealing to the customer."
Means added that the organic meats, however, are still sold in the full-service meat department in the back of the store.
To further delineate the Natural Choice concept from the rest of the store, Bashas' has assigned a single associate to manage the section.
"We want that person to be knowledgeable in whole health, someone who uses these items on a regular basis so that they can tell the customers from first-hand experience," said Dalton.
The associate, called a "natural foods specialist," wears a uniform designed specifically for the concept: a green polo shirt bearing the Natural Choice logo, and khaki chinos.
"They're there in that area to specifically help customers, since there's such a variety of vitamins and supplements and new products coming out all the time," said Dalton. "They'll also do all the ordering and stocking and maintaining of the department."
The associate appointed natural foods specialist at the first department in Tucson had a background in vitamins and supplements, he added. Besides culling their own experience, the specialists will receive training in all the products in the section from Mountain People's Warehouse, one of the country's largest whole foods distributors.
The company is supplying most of the stockkeeping units for Bashas', including the produce, through its Albert's Organics subsidiary, which it acquired last September.
Dalton said one of the benefits of the new concept lies in the clustering of these like items, which, when merchandised together, is expected to create a larger consumer pull.
"We hope that [customers] will get used to the new format, and use it to buy other products that will interest them, since it's all together," he said.