MINNETONKA, Minn. — Fresh Seasons Market here has noticed that the weak economy is having an impact on consumer shopping patterns, but sales growth has been good nonetheless, the owner of the upscale store here told SN.
“I would say that we are fortunate in that we have pretty good growth going on in our store right now, although inflation is still a bigger part of it each month,” Dale Riley, the owner of Fresh Seasons Market, told SN.
Riley said he thinks consumers began “tightening their belts a little bit” early this year, soon after the holiday season. By February, shoppers were trading down in cuts of meat to less-expensive alternatives.
“Instead of having tenderloin on Valentine's Day, you can trade down to what is still a very good quality steak, like a New York or a T-bone, and instead of having crab legs, you can have shrimp,” he said. “You can have a nice, at-home meal of restaurant quality, but you trade down a little bit.”
The local florist that Fresh Seasons partners with also noticed people cutting back at around the same time this year, Riley said.
Some areas of the store are hit harder than others during a downturn, he explained. “It might be hard to cut back on the real basic items, but people do trade down in the produce categories, and that can impact sales significantly.”
Although Fresh Seasons does not conduct price-and-item advertising, the company has been featuring its Our Family private label, which it buys through Minneapolis-based wholesaler Nash Finch, more prominently in its marketing.
“It's a very high-quality brand, a very good value — so we have been promoting that more,” Riley said.
Nash Finch reset the store to more prominently feature the Our Family label once the downturn began, Riley explained.
The Minneapolis market where Fresh Seasons operates is about to take a further economic hit with the pending merger of Northwest Airlines and Delta Airlines. Although Minneapolis will remain a hub, many of the executive positions at Northwest's headquarters in Minneapolis are expected to disappear or migrate to Atlanta, where Delta is based.
The slowdown in housing is also having an impact in the Twin Cities market, Riley explained.
“In our particular case, we were the first phase of a development,” he said. “When we opened in the fall of '05, the condo market and the housing market was very robust, and then things kind of turned around. Had the housing market not turned around, we would have had 200 condo units open literally within a half block of our store, but none of the condos have come to fruition at this stage.
“But we are fortunate that our business continues to grow, and so I think we are doing a pretty good job right now making lemonade with the lemons we've got.”