TAMPA, Fla. - Wild Oats Markets' new store here takes a sharp turn from the natural food chain's prototype stores, which are typically between 24,000 and 27,000 square feet, and have separate areas for produce, deli and other perishable departments.
This 37,000-square-foot location, which opened in early April, groups all perishable departments together on the right side of the store. Another prototype, exceeding 40,000 square feet, is slated to open late this year or early next year in the company's headquarters market of Boulder, Colo.
"Usually, prepared foods are on the other side," said Heather Musselman, communications manager. "We wanted to bring all the perishable [departments] together - you smell pizza, you see sushi - it brings it all together."
While the 4,500-square-foot produce and floral department are the visual anchors of this perishables group, the food-service sections are also a main draw. A 7,500-square-foot section with the Wild CafT banner includes a juice and espresso bar, a grille with rotisserie chicken and several other foods, sandwich station, salad station, sushi station, deli meats and cafe seating.
Wild Oats expanded its salad and sandwich bar to include made-to-order salads and sandwiches, and added a staffed, gourmet dessert station. A made-to-order sushi bar and adjacent cheese island are also in this section.
A breakfast program has been added to the Wild Oats Grille, with "very basic" offerings, said Robert Norris, director of merchandising, meat and seafood/food-service for Wild Oats. While a few other stores serve breakfast, the program "has been very well received" in this store, Norris said.
The store is in Hillsborough County, where the average household income is $75,000 and up, and there are no natural supermarket competitors.
"The demographics are upper-middle income. It's one of the best markets in the state and growing like crazy," said John Crossman, principal in the Orlando, Fla., office of commercial real estate firm Trammell Crow Co., Dallas.
The other tenants in the newly built shopping center include Target, Linens and Things, an upscale wine store, and a PetSmart - stores with shopper demographics that match Wild Oats' demographics, said Sonja Tuitele, director of corporate communications for Wild Oats.
"Target rates very high with our demographics, and natural food shoppers [typically] have pets," she said.
And the area is not saturated with grocery stores: A Publix Super Market and a Sweetbay one or two miles away are the primary competitors.
Although there are smaller health food stores in Tampa, Wild Oats is the first of the supernatural chains to enter the market.
Wild Oats chose Tampa as part of its Florida expansion because "Hillsborough County is one of the fastest growing counties [in the nation] and the 11th largest media market," Tuitele said.
The retailer now has four stores in Florida, and another one "coming soon" to Naples, according to its website.
With the store's larger space to work with, Wild Oats executives decided to significantly expand the produce, cheese, bulk foods and holistic health departments, along with other categories.
They also opted to segregate departments that are usually in line, and feature them as store-within-a-store concepts.
For example, the 2,200-square-foot holistic health section at the front left of the store is separated from the frozen food section by a tall, green Holistic Health Information Center column at the entrance to the department and upscale wood flooring that differs from the rest of the store, and sports a sun-ray design.
Also, Wild Oats' juice and espresso bar at the front of the store is segregated into an island that is twice as large as most Wild Oats juice bars, and features countertops and upscale barstools. Large signage promotes fair trade coffee, but natural juices and smoothies are also sold here.
A circular, 1,200-square-foot cheese section includes 300 cheeses from around the world and an olive bar. "We created a cheese island, with the largest variety of cheeses [of any Wild Oats store]," Norris said. The island is always staffed, to educate shoppers about how to use unique international cheeses, he added.
The cheese island came about after Wild Oats tried a separate cheese section in one of its Boulder-area stores and realized higher cheese sales, Tuitele said.
The produce and floral section, adjacent to the cheese island and the grille, is about 15% larger than those in most other Wild Oats stores and features about 70 percent organic produce.
Specialty items are highlighted, as are packaged salads - 16 running feet of packaged salads primarily feature Earthbound Farms organic lettuce mixes. Wooden stands in the center of the aisle are piled high with produce, including a separate tomato section.
Flowers lining the floor on either side of the entrance of the store and various staffed departments, including the dessert station, seafood and meats, give the store a "European market feel," Tuitele said.