The concept of “value” can be a tough sell in a natural and organics world known for premium prices and gourmet cache, and so retailers in this space have had to work hard to change consumer perceptions. Supervalu tried and failed with its Sunflower Market banner. Same with Bashas’-run Ike’s Farmers Market, which shuttered its last store in 2009. There’s success to be had, as companies like Trader Joe’s and Mike Gilliland’s Sunflower Farmers Market have proved, and now there’s one particularly precocious retailer stepping up to show how it’s done.
Sprouts Farmers Market has done a lot of growing in its seven years. Started back in 2003 in Chandler, Arizona — right in the heart of Bashas’ country — Sprouts has expanded across the southwest and California at a rate of about ten stores per year. Next week, the privately held company will hit a milestone with the opening of its 50th store.
What’s the secret behind this impressive run? The recession, which cut expansion plans for most retailers, appears to have worked in the favor of Sprouts, which banks its image on price and freshness. Its mission statement is, “Helping America eat healthier, live longer and spend less.”
Success has required the chain to master the “spend less” aspect of the business. It also actively courts its customers, plays up its ability to build jobs within communities, and serves as an effective counterpoint to Whole Foods.
“We were very fortunate in the way we were positioned,” said Doug Sanders, Sprouts’ president, in an interview with Supermarket News reporter Roseanne Harper.
The stores seem to be hitting all the right notes. Bulk foods are really taking off as a trend, and Sprouts sports an expansive department offering everything from dried fruit to granola and chocolate novelties. Gluten free is a big focus, too, with many of these products in stores and an online shopping guide available for customers, as well.
And Sprouts doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon: By 2013, the company hopes to hit the century mark. Look for the retailer to build on the loyalty it gained in hard times, and to capitalize where others couldn’t. Sanders mentioned that he’s interested in several locations formerly owned by Bashas’, which recently entered Chapter 11 reorganization.
There’s one tantalizing question lingering in the background with all of this. Could Sunflower Farmers Market vs. Sprouts Farmers Market become this generation’s Whole Foods/Wild Oats showdown? The way they’re both growing, it’s definitely a possibility.