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Publix Switches to Hybrid Stores

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publix_front.jpg Earth Day wasn’t always a big deal for the food industry. It’s only been in the last few years that supermarkets have built events, promotions and educational campaigns around the special day, which falls annually on April 22.

Supermarkets have responded to the increasing interest in green living with a number of consumer options. There’s more organic food in conventional stores, and reusable bags to hold groceries. Stores themselves are more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

But nothing quite captures the level of attention as a new store opening — particularly one with “hybrid” in the name. Earth Week is tailor-made for this kind of event, and that’s just what Publix Super Markets is hoping when it cuts the ribbon on its first “hybrid” store in Atlanta.

At 56,000-square-feet, the Publix is larger than the company’s conventional stores, which average about 10,000 square feet less. The “hybrid” aspect comes into play inside the aisles: The store will offer conventional items combined with an abundant selection of earth-friendly, all-natural and organic products.

“Customers continue to look for a variety of all natural and organic products and services while seeking traditional items on their shopping list,” said Brenda Reid, the retailer’s media and community relations manager, in a statement.

The first hybrid store opened in upscale Naples, Fla., in late 2010. Officials point out that these units emphasize expanded product selection, more elegant shopping environments and premium service. Indeed, along with more organic produce, there is also going to be a staffed artisan cheese counter in the deli area, featuring more than 200 varieties of artisan cheeses from the United States and around the world. If nothing else, Publix has become a master of mingling health and gourmet foods.

The question we’re asking, however, is: What happened to Publix GreenWise Markets? Wasn’t this the format that was supposed to be the vanguard of the chain’s green marketing? With the hybrid format gaining traction, it would seem the answer is “no.”

The answer is, when you look at recent history, no surprise, either. A number of chains that launched natural/organic/green stores have not done very well. Publix knows this and has tread carefully. The first GreenWise opened in 2007, and as of today, there are only three units — in Tampa, Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens.

The glacial pace of development says enough, but there are more clues. We’ve written about the traces of gourmet and indulgent foods that have crept into the GreenWise mix. I think it’s safe to say that these three stores are probably more “hybrid” than GreenWise.

And that brings us around to strategy. Hybrid is the way to go. Publix doesn’t get locked into a format as it does with putting GreenWise on the marquee. The exteriors of the hybrids just say “Publix.” It’s not until you walk inside that you get the feeling that this is a different kind of store. If anything, officials probably are using best practices learned inside the three GreenWise stores and implementing them within the hybrids, but on a smaller scale.

It’s the same strategy pursued by Supervalu when it closed its Sunflower Markets natural/organic concept. Traces of that noble experiment can still be found in the Supervalu banners that have a natural/organic presence.

So, no matter what ends up happening to the GreenWise stores, they’ve already helped the company in creating these next-generation hybrid stores.

[Photo credit: Publix Super Markets]

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