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Go into any King Soopers supermarket in Colorado, and you can expect to receive the Customer 1st experience that Cincinnati-based parent company Kroger has advanced to great success throughout its stores across the United States.
Go into Fresh Fare by King Soopers, in Englewood, Colo., and you?re likely to receive an experience unlike most other stores.
That?s because this suburban Denver grocery store is one of a growing number of urban-format markets being developed by the Centennial State-based banner, in an effort to better serve the unique needs of each community in which it operates.
?They love it,? Store Manager Lee Lucero declares of his customers in this town of about 32,000 people, right next door to the University of Denver campus. ?It?s a local store. They like the variety, the freshness.?
It?s a good bet they like the environment, too.
The store?s architecture was designed to be reflective of the surrounding neighborhood, with an attention to detail that carries exterior elements to the interior design.
Making the most of a compact footprint, architects delivered a soaring design to maximize vertical space, decorated with, among other fixtures, a historic photo mural that includes an image of the Denver Seminary, which formerly occupied the store site. ?The high windows and skylights have helped reduce electricity use,? Lucero says. ?It?s beautiful when the eastern sun shines through in the morning.?
Handpicked by Kroger management to spearhead this new 30,000-square-foot concept store after winning a Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Store Manager Award grand prize in 2012, Lucero praises King Soopers for being ?a very open-minded organization? when it comes to trying new things. ?We cater to our guests,? he says. ?We look at the customer?s needs and wants, and that?s how we merchandise.?
That means more local products, from meat and produce to center store items. And it means more organic and natural products. The layout was created with an emphasis on fresh departments, including produce, bakery, deli and a signature meat market.
?The entire front end of the store is merchandised as organic,? Lucero says. ?This store has more organic products than most King Soopers locations. We have a couple aisles that are strictly natural items.?
Fresh Fare caters to shoppers seeking freshness, variety and quick meal solutions at affordable prices, offering a ?food-centric? shopping experience.
Featuring produce from local growers delivered daily, more than 100 USDA-certified organic fruits and vegetables are available, along with an expanded selection of fresh, pre-cut fruit and veggies. ?We contact growers and get items in that other King Soopers don?t have,? Lucero explains.
Prominent signage notes the number of fresh produce items available each day; on the day of Progressive Grocer?s visit in early June, it was 203. Colorado-grown tomatoes, peaches and corn are among the 80 to 90 local produce items on offer. Produce bins are fashioned from pine boards culled from trees killed by beetles, a problem in Colorado forestry. Atop produce displays are photos of growers ?to show the local appeal,? Lucero notes. (Similar signs call out other Colorado-based suppliers around the store, and the wooden motif is carried throughout.)
A Boar?s Head branded sandwich and panini shop is a highlight of the deli department. The store?s Bistro offers hot, chef-prepared meals and sides, and the Chef Shop sells entrées, vegetables and salads that are ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat. There?s also Chester Fried Chicken ? seasoned, double-battered and unique to the banner. Among the prepared food items available on the day of PG?s visit: apricot-glazed Cornish hen, enchiladas, beef empanadas, tamales, spanakopita, coconut-crusted tilapia and grilled asparagus.
Combo meal specials are popular with customers, including traffic from students and staff at the university, just 3 miles from the store, Lucero says.
Fresh sushi is made fresh in-store daily. There are fresh salad, hot soup, and olive and antipasti bars, along with grab-and-go salads.
There?s also a Murray?s Cheese Shop, the New York-based specialty cheese merchant with which Kroger has formed a partnership to operate curated cheese counters at many of its stores across the country. At this Fresh Fare location, one of 18 Murray?s shops in King Soopers stores, shoppers can find 130 specialty cheeses.
Fresh Fare?s in-store bakery offers party cakes unique to this location, as well as other exclusive cakes and muffins. ?We do more scratch baking than the other locations,? Lucero says. The store also premiered a cookie display concept called Cookie Hut, which features products from four Colorado bakeries. The baked goods offer a fine complement to the store?s Starbucks location, which offers free Wi-Fi and its own outside entrance. ?In the mornings, people are lined up,? Lucero notes. ?It?s a destination for our customers.?
Fresh, Fresher, Freshest
Fresh Fare?s butcher shop offers natural pork, and both natural and organic beef and poultry, including some locally raised beef and chicken, along with the store?s own Private Selection Choice Angus and Grass-Fed beef. An island cooler displays natural and organic meat, Red Bird chicken, and Simple Truth branded organic items. Shoppers can get prime beef cut to order, along with varieties of domestic lamb and veal.
There?s an assortment of thick, handmade gourmet burgers made in-store daily, along with value-added options like skewers, fajitas, and stuffed and marinated proteins. Lucero notes that the store?s specialty meat case, at 16 feet, is twice as long as those at other King Soopers locations.
The seafood counter displays more than 50 varieties daily from around the world, including salmon, swordfish, tuna, halibut, walleye, steelhead, shrimp, crab, live lobsters, oysters, littlenecks, clams and mussels. It?s all part of the store?s Easy for You seafood program, Lucero explains: ?The customer can choose the seafood; we?ll season it for them and put it in a bag that they can just put in the oven.?
Better-for-you products abound in every department. The store offers a selection of wheat-, lactose-and gluten-free products, and an assortment of natural and organic frozen meals, treats and snacks, including Kroger?s new Simple Truth brand.
Health-centric needs are further addressed by the store?s Optimum Wellness Shop. Located in the pharmacy (next door to the main store), it offers more than 1,500 natural vitamins, with a staff nutrition specialist on hand to help shoppers with their personal health-and-wellness goals.
With a smaller footprint than most supermarkets, every square foot counts. So, to maximize the selling area, Fresh Fare takes advantage of vertical space for back-of-house functions.
?All of our back-room and cooler storage is upstairs, so we can use all 30,000 square feet for sales space,? Lucero notes. Also on the upper level is the kitchen, where deli and bakery products are prepped for display and sale below.
One other King Soopers has a similar arrangement, but only features the prep areas upstairs, not storage, Lucero explains. And with so much back-of-house above, it takes careful coordination with the company?s logistics team to schedule loads at times when there?s enough available staff, he adds.
But logistics was just one of the challenges surrounding the launch of this store. ?Anytime you have a store unique to a division, there are challenges because it?s the first time you?re doing it,? says Kelli McGannon, director of public affairs for King Soopers. ?It?s trial and error, because you don?t know what won?t work and what will.?
Further, the store is at one of the state?s busiest intersections, and traffic in and out of the store, which is below street level, can be hectic. During PG?s June visit, there was also construction going on, presenting yet another, albeit temporary, challenge.
Of the store?s 11 checkstands, none are self-check ? and proudly so. ?We want to focus more on customer service,? Lucero declares, noting that the banner does use self-check at other stores, where appropriate.
King Soopers sees the urban-format store as a winner in a changing, ever-more-cosmopolitan Denver. Under construction at the time of PG?s visit was a multiuse retail and residential development, anchored by a King Soopers market, in the heart of the Mile High City near historic Union Station and Coors Field, the latter home to Major League Baseball?s Colorado Rockies. Expected to be a destination for city dwellers, commuters, tourists and sports fans, this new store is slated to open in early 2015.
Meanwhile, Fresh Fare in Englewood continues to draw raves from loyal customers.
?The store was intended to be part of the community,? McGannon says, and that was evident from opening day, when King Soopers presented a check for $161,000 to the American Red Cross to help with costs associated with the Colorado wildfires that summer.
?Our new store formats are inspired by our customers and building stores that are reflective of the community they serve. Our goal was to create a store experience that would be embraced by our customers and associates,? McGannon says. ?This store is a part of our overall vision. Our stores have to be relevant to the community they serve, and we can?t do that with a one-size-fits-all.?
?We cater to our guests. We look at the customer?s needs and wants, and that?s how we merchandise.?
?Lee Lucero, store manager