WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Call it a small compromise.
Heartland Pantry, Hy-Vee's new small-store format here, walks a delicate line between satisfying local communities demanding access to a local market and the company's own goal of operating high-volume combination stores serving a wide region.
The 27,000-square-foot store opened late last month in Lincoln, Neb., at the site of a former Hy-Vee store that was closed as part of a relocation to a larger store three miles away.
Hy-Vee describes Heartland Pantry as an “intriguing, practical and flexible” format that can be adapted for smaller towns that cannot sustain a large supermarket. It takes its name from a chain of convenience stores Hy-Vee previously operated and sold in 1999.
Heartland Pantry's arrival in Lincoln's University Place neighborhood may have been sparked in part by community protests surrounding Hy-Vee's actions in relocating its store. According to Diane Walkowiak, a local community organizer, residents of the neighborhood objected not to Hy-Vee's moving the store but to its decision to “sit on” the lease at that location so as to prevent a competitor from locating there.
She and other concerned citizens quickly organized a group to oppose the plan, including starting a website urging Hy-Vee to “release the lease,” and they collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition. The group was set to picket the grand opening of the new Hy-Vee when the retailer announced it would make its University Place store the site of a new, small-store concept it was developing.
Heartland Pantry avoids direct competition with its larger sister by emphasizing a smaller selection consisting mainly of private brands — including Hy-Vee's three tiered store brands and natural/organic lines from Topco — and by eschewing specialty departments like floral, service meat and service deli. It stocks about 10,000 SKUs. It also features pallet displays of brand-name special buys, Hy-Vee said.
“It's a good compromise,” Walkowiak told SN.
Hy-Vee officials said they are looking to open a second location of Heartland Pantry — believed to be smaller than the first — at the site of another store it plans on relocating in Des Moines.