NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — City residents, commuters and kids are the primary focus of a soon-to-open supermarket that’s bringing fresh, wholesome foods to a community that’s gone more than 20 years without a full-service food retailer.
The Fresh Grocer, an independent chain based in Philadelphia that specializes in urban retailing, is serving as the food anchor of a new $105 million development in this central New Jersey city to be called “Wellness Plaza.”
The project also includes a 62,000-square-foot fitness facility, a rehabilitation center affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and a major rail commuter station. The supermarket would serve daily travelers, as well as students from nearby Rutgers University. Special attention is being given to inner-city residents who until now had to travel outside the city to get fresh food.
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“There’s real potential here, with interaction between commuters, the community, food and health,” said Pat Burns (pictured left), president and chief executive officer of The Fresh Grocer. “We thought it was right up our alley, right where The Fresh Grocer’s mission is.”
Burns co-founded the chain in 1996, but he found his true calling in 2001, when the retailer opened its first inner-city store in Philadelphia under The Fresh Grocer banner. Since then, four more units have been built there, as well as in Drexel Hill, Pa., and Wilmington, Del. The 50,000-square-foot New Brunswick location will mark the chain’s entry into New Jersey.
The new store includes features designed to appeal to the diverse consumer base. Immediately inside the front door is a large produce section, filled with an average of 400 items. From the entrance a V-shaped line of fresh food stations stretches along the outer perimeter. On the left, a brick pizza oven offers hot pies, slices and related Italian favorites. There’s a seating area inside the store with a fireplace, flatscreen television and free Wi-Fi, or diners can go upstairs where additional seating is located at a cafe and smoothie bar, also operated by the retailer, next to the entrance to the fitness center.
Grab-and-go customers also have the option of selecting ready-to-cook pies, or separate packages to assemble a homemade pie.
Along the right side is a large prepared food area with a wide variety of entrees and sides. Here, shoppers will be able to take advantage of The Fresh Grocer’s daily Meal Deal, which includes an entree, two sides and a pint of deli salad, with a pricepoint starting at $7.99. The section is bolstered by a Chinese food station and a sushi case. All foods are prepared fresh, on-site every day.
The selections, their presentation and the service level are all designed to meet the special needs of customers, some who are rushing home from work, others who are on limited budgets.
“We’re not just supermarket operators that sell food in cities. We also have a real community interest, and the more we interact with people, the more loyal they’ll be to us,” Burns told SN.
As part of its commitment to inner-city residents, many of whom are on fixed incomes, The Fresh Grocer has developed a special section within the produce department that consists of bagged and prepriced product. The fixed price helps those consumers who need to monitor their spending overcome the guesswork involved in purchasing bulk fruits and vegetables.
Children receive special incentives to adopt healthy eating habits. Prices at the salad bar are reduced by 50% every day between the hours of 5 and 8 p.m. for kids aged 13 years and under. In the prepared food section, The Fresh Grocer entices little shoppers with their own self-serve case, stocked with healthful products like yogurt, fresh-cut fruits, low-sugar juices and special kids’ lunch boxes containing a half sandwich on whole grain bread, a piece of fruit, yogurt and water or juice. The boxes are assembled at cost and sold with no mark-up for $3.99, Burns said.
“A lot of these markets didn’t have the access to healthy, nutritious foods.”
The new store is also helping The Fresh Grocer fulfill its pledge to the Partnership for a Healthier America to build five stores in neighborhoods without supermarkets. The New Brunswick store is the second unit constructed as part of that commitment, with a third already sited in Camden, N.J.
Focusing on the urban market puts The Fresh Grocer far ahead of the pack of larger operators that have rediscovered the potential of the nation’s long-neglected cities. Chains like Wal-Mart Stores are shrinking footprints to gain access to underserved customers.
Burns said the big chains will find The Fresh Grocer already well established when they get to his market area. “We’ve been doing this since the mid-’90s, going into urban markets where no one else would go,” said Burns.
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