IKE IS ONE YEAR OLD and walking tall in Tucson.
The name actually belongs to Bashas' Supermarkets. The Chandler, Ariz.-based retailer opened Ike's Farmers' Market in the state's southernmost city last May. It's a new concept for the privately held company that also operates Bashas' Supermarkets, AJ's Fine Foods and Food City stores.
“We went in the opposite direction from the stark, white presentation of other natural retailers,” said Ken Straub, who heads up special projects for Bashas'. “We wanted to create a treasure-find store, one where customers could find their needs in natural and organic items in a warm-feeling environment that is truly like a farmers' market.”
The result was the reformatting of an existing Bashas' unit into a 35,000-square-foot Ike's. The decidedly different decor package was developed to differentiate Ike's from nearby competitor Sprouts Farmers Markets, with its 15 Arizona stores, and a single Sunflower Farmers Market in the area.
Ike's is doing well enough here that officials are planning to open a second unit in Phoenix. Selecting the original Tucson site was rooted in the fact that the northern fringes of the small city boast 10 high-tech firms, an income level more than 50% above the national median and a median age of 45 — all demographics that bode well for natural retailers.
“At Ike's, customers are empowered to make smart food choices so they can manage common health challenges and live healthier lifestyles,” said Johnny Basha, vice chairman of the 160-store chain. “Arizonans want to incorporate healthier foods into their diets. Our team is ready to answer questions and offer tips about how to make everyday meals healthier.”
Training of the associates is key to the sales success of the store, added Straub. Ike's associates are trained under Organic Trade Association standards regarding proper handling of natural and organic items and learn exactly what natural products are. Vendor-assisted training rounds out the staff education program.
The feel of the store is akin to popping into a roadside farm stand. Low-profile fixtures present everything from cauliflower to cookies. Drop-style lighting spotlights items in the produce department and reflects a “just enough” presentation style, as opposed to the classic “stack 'em high” approach.
Each department is cast as a little village, with its own awning or design element. Peripheral departments have large, graphic signage. The effort gives each department an independent personality within the total store, starting with produce.
“Entering the store, customers do not want to walk through cash registers and other stuff,” said Straub. “They walk right into the produce department.”
Produce at Ike's is set out on a variety of refrigerated and ambient-temperature walk-around merchandisers. These woodgrain stands are boxlike and portable, which allows staff to better position features and specials. A single wet rack, at the back of the department, frames the area with a decorative awning.
True to its mission, Ike's stocks both conventional and organic items. Organics are generally segregated onto separate merchandisers, or occupy half-sections of merchandisers. On one recent day, there were more than 130 organic items available, ranging from pineapple and oranges to Granny Smith apples and Romaine lettuce.
Adjacent to the produce department are the service bakery and service deli departments, with the service meat and seafood areas rounding out the right-leaning shopping pattern.
In the bakery department, items are all-natural, preservative-free and contain no trans fat or high-fructose corn syrup. Within the bakery is a 30-seat area where customers can take advantage of self-service drip coffee, muffins, bagels and doughnuts. A microwave and a toaster are available for customer use.
The service deli sports both a service hot case and a service refrigerated case. Hot case favorites are in-store, oven-baked chicken in a variety of flavors such as Savory, Chipotle and Malibu. The natural slant of the department is showcased in the store's choice of Boar's Head for slicing meats and cheeses. Self-service deli options, across the aisle from the service case, include a 4-foot, double-deck refrigerated case with ready-made sandwiches and salads on one side and hot soups on the other. Another walk-around has prepackaged cheeses, olives, heat-and-eat entrees, and dips and spreads. A third merchandiser is the home for an olive bar consisting of five large jars of organically produced olives on one side and crackers, pine nuts and Marcona almonds on the other.
The service meat case is another demonstration of Ike's commitment to wellness. Items are “all-natural,” from animals raised without antibiotics or added hormones. Primal cuts and ground product are joined by specialty items like ready-to-cook sausages, stuffed pork chops, Kobe beef burgers, chicken Cordon Bleu, carne asada and signature kabobs. Service seafood shares the adjacency, with a selection of wild finfish and farm-raised Atlantic salmon and catfish, plus clams, mussels and shrimp on ice.
Adjacent to the service meat case are several self-service merchandisers presenting natural chicken, pork, beef and lamb cuts. A frozen case across the aisle from this line of cases features more natural selections, including ostrich, chicken, turkey and Topco's Full Circle seafood, which has selections of wild-caught, natural or organically raised product.
The store's large but tidy bulk department boasts 300 bins filled with snack mixes, nuts, dried fruits, beans, flours, cereals, grains, spices, teas and coffee beans. Raw honey dispensers and grinders for nut butters are also part of the department.