WHILE PUBLIX SUPER MARKETS seeks to emphasize variety within its stores to appeal to a broad range of shoppers, it also operates a handful of different retail formats that help the company reach a diverse customer base as well.
The Lakeland, Fla.-based chain operates more than 1,000 traditional supermarkets in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama, but it also runs liquor stores, convenience stores, a chain of quick-service restaurants and two specialty supermarket banners — one focused on organic and natural product and the other on reaching Hispanic and Caribbean customers.
The company views the specialty stores — GreenWise Market and Publix Sabor, respectively — as learning labs rather than vehicles for aggressive expansion, at least in the near term.
“I think the biggest thing we have learned is what products people are looking for,” said Todd Jones, president of Publix, told SN. “With the Sabor stores, we have taken some of those Hispanic products and pushed them out into our mainstream stores, and they are doing very well.”
Maria Brous, director of media and community relations at Publix, said several products that have been successful at the Sabor stores have been added to the mainstream mix in some Publix locations.
“There is an array of Hispanic and Caribbean products that have been incorporated into our traditional stores, including larger sizes of product,” she said, citing as examples 20-pound bags of rice in some stores and larger bottles of spices and cooking oil.
In addition, Brous said Publix has integrated some of the Latin soda flavors to its traditional set, as well as brands, such as Goya, Iberia, Libby and Badia.
Publix debuted the Sabor banner in 2005 at a 39,000-square-foot converted traditional Publix location in Kissimmee, Fla., and now operates four of the locations.
GreenWise, the organic and natural banner, includes three locations in Boca Raton, Tampa and Palm Beach, and a 55,000-square-foot hybrid store combining elements of the GreenWise banner with a mainstream Publix store is scheduled to open later this month in Naples, Fla.
As it has done with the Sabor format, Publix has taken some of the successful offerings from GreenWise and incorporated them into its traditional stores, Jones explained, citing natural, grass-fed beef products as an example. Those products and others are segregated with GreenWise signage inside their respective departments.
Jones said Publix has no immediate plans for a rapid rollout of either the Sabor or GreenWise formats.
“There is enough that we can actually learn from them,” he said. “Right now we don't have any expansion plans for those stores, but we might in the future, given the right opportunity.”
Publix also owns a 38-unit “fast-casual” restaurant chain called Crispers, which focuses on soups, salads and sandwiches.
Jones said the banner, which was fully acquired by Publix in 2007, also has provided some lessons that Publix has been able to apply to its traditional stores, including some “things that apply to the deli, such as workflow.”
“That works vice versa — we are teaching them some things as well,” added Brous.
Jones said Publix has no immediate plans for the further rollout of Crispers, either.
“We have been at about 38 for a while now, and we're just trying to make sure we learn it before we make any more expansion plans,” he said.
In addition, Publix has 116 liquor stores in Florida and 14 Pix convenience stores, including 11 in Florida, two in Georgia and one in Tennessee.
Neil Stern, senior partner at consulting firm McMillan Doolittle, Chicago, agreed that Publix can glean lessons from the variety of concepts it operates that can help its traditional stores.
“You are always looking for that next format that may give you some growth legs beyond what you have, but even if that doesn't always pan out, the lessons and learnings you get from those concepts help your mainstream stores,” he said.
“Recently, they have been a little more aggressive and experimental, and that's good. As good as they are, you can't rest on your laurels, so they have to keep testing and investing in those kinds of stores, and maybe one day one of those is going to be significant in its own right.”