The economy may be sputtering like a stalled engine, but for one Philadelphia-area independent, it's full steam ahead.
The Fresh Grocer opened its seventh store late last year — marking the debut of its larger, full-service prototype in Wilmington, Del. — and has two more locations planned for late this year.
“We're ready, willing and able to grow, and we are looking for opportunities where we can expand our base of stores,” said Grant McLoughlin, executive vice president at The Fresh Grocer, which is based in Drexel Hill, Pa. “We're really not tightening our belt at all. Contrary to what's going on in the business world, we're looking to grow our business.”
In addition to the 45,000-square-foot Fresh Grocer in Wilmington — the location previously had been a limited-assortment Great Value store — the company is planning to open full-size stores this year in Philadelphia near the campuses of Temple University and La Salle University. The Broad Street location near Temple, in a development called Progress Plaza, will measure about 45,000 square feet, while the La Salle store, which recently began construction and should open this summer, will be closer to 50,000 square feet.
Operating near college campuses has become somewhat of a specialty for the company, which McLoughlin said has enjoyed “terrific success” with a full-service store at 40th and Walnut Street on the University of Pennsylvania campus, also in Philadelphia.
“This company's methodology has been to grow wherever we can, and it has cut its teeth operating in areas where traditional supermarkets haven't really opened,” he said. “We have urban stores, we have suburban stores, and we have stores on college campuses — we are looking for any opportunities that may be out there for us.”
The store that opened late last year in Wilmington is a downtown, urban location, just a mile and a half from a giant new ShopRite that opened a few weeks later (see Page 16). It is located about 25 miles from The Fresh Grocer's headquarters.
All of The Fresh Grocer stores are supplied by Minneapolis-based Supervalu.
To introduce The Fresh Grocer to Wilmington, the company doubled the size of the existing store and added the full menu of services that it typically offers in its suburban stores. The Great Value store, which The Fresh Grocer previously had acquired and operated, had a much more basic offering, McLoughlin explained.
“We essentially doubled the size of that store, modernized it, and put in all the features that we have in our ground-up stores — sit-down eating, brick oven pizza, a full catering operation, restaurant-quality meals made on site, customer sandwiches and hoagies made on site, full-service seafood, a full-service meat department — all the bells and whistles that we have in our ground-up prototype.”
All of the fresh departments have been expanded, and the grocery area also has expanded to include more offerings geared toward the local urban demographics.
The store seeks to appeal to the Hispanic shoppers in the area with two full aisles of groceries catering to the Hispanic shopper, plus specialty produce items favored by Hispanic consumers, who are becoming a larger portion of the population in the city. Also included are Hispanic desserts in the bakery, an ethnic hair care section, and an assortment of Imusa cookware, which specializes in kitchenware for Hispanic shoppers.
Also included is a new Fresh n Fast Cafe with a sit-down dining area, plus a full catering menu. The store also includes a bill-payment service, a Western Union service and a Redbox movie rental kiosk.
McLoughlin declined to discuss the cost of construction or the financing of the store, deferring to the company's owners. The owners were not available for comment.
He joined the company last May after a 36-year career at Pathmark Stores, the company that was acquired by Montvale, N.J.-based A&P in 2007 and also operates supermarkets in the region. He was senior vice president of sales and advertising at Pathmark when he left, shortly before joining The Fresh Grocer.