Albertsons is preparing to open two Treasure Valley stores that will take the grocery company’s promotion of fresh and organic foods to a higher plane.
Shoppers will be able to dine in food courts, order salads tossed before their eyes, and order hamburgers grilled for dining in or taking out. They’ll take in-store classes on foods they would like to try cooking but don’t know how. They’ll order from seafood counters twice as large as those in other Albertsons, able to order some fresh fish to be delivered the next day.
The stores’ target shopper is decidedly upscale. “Our dedicated chocolatier might partner with one of our scratch bakers to create an art deco cake for an exclusive event, or our head of catering might work with our sommelier and masters in our fresh team to craft an exclusive wine pairing experience with fresh fruits and cheeses,” said John Colgrove, the president of Albertsons’ Intermountain Division, in a news release this week announcing the stores. The division includes Idaho.
The stores will be so different from other Albertsons that executives decided they need a different name: Market Street Idaho.
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“Everything that we’re doing is going to be something like no one’s ever seen in Idaho before,” Colgrove told the Idaho Statesman.
The first store, opening this summer, is off Broadway Avenue at West Beacon Street and South Grant Avenue in Boise, the site of a small, aging Albertsons that will close in early April. The second is in a former Shopko store at Fairview and Eagle roads in Meridian that is expected to open by the end of the year.
The store on Broadway will have 63,000 square feet, more than twice the existing store’s 26,000 square feet. The Meridian store will have about 100,000 square feet, more than twice the 45,000 square feet of most Albertsons stores in the Treasure Valley, Colgrove said.
The stores will feature most of the products found in existing Albertsons stores. There may be only five brands of canned green beans, compared with nine elsewhere. But there may be varieties not found in the mainstream stores.
The new concept originated with Market Street stores in Texas, owned by United Supermarkets. Albertsons bought that chain in 2013. United operates 92 stores in north and west Texas and New Mexico, including 16 Market Streets in Texas that have done well, Colgrove said.
In Texas, Market Street bills itself at the place where “everyday meets gourmet” and is aimed at people who care about food, want a healthier lifestyle and are open to new food ideas.
Albertsons is taking a page from Whole Foods, which provides hot foods, pizza, sandwiches and other dishes with store seating that encourages customers to hang around rather than grab and go. Kroger, the parent of Fred Meyer, has also announced plans to enter the field.
The approach is part of Albertsons’ efforts to boost sales and profitability. Burdened by debt, Albertsons has been losing hundreds of millions of dollars per year since 2014.
“We think the market is right for this,” Colgrove said. “As the Treasure Valley continues to grow, people’s needs change and their shopping patterns change. We think we fill most of people’s needs in our traditional grocery stores, but this will be a special niche.”
Some of the key features are:
Cooking lessons: There will be cooking demonstration areas and in-store instructional classes. “You get so many individuals today — because of cooking shows — who want to experience different tastes, different cultures, but they really don’t know what to do or how to prepare it,” Colgrove said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Food courts: The two stores will feature large food courts that will offer many cuisines and expansive seating areas so customers can enjoy their food on the premises or take it with them. The Broadway store will include outdoor seating.
“You could buy those products and take them home and prepare them, or we can prepare them right there for you and sit in our restaurant-style seating and enjoy them right in the store,” he said.
Numerous studies over the last few years have concluded that increasingly Americans don’t want to cook much, said Christopher Muller, a professor at Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration. Grocers who offer eateries inside their stores can recoup sales they might be losing because families are eating less at home.
“They’re using that prepared foods piece to entice people into the store,” said Muller, who notes that while the average supermarket profit margin is around 1 percent, it’s between 8 percent and 12 percent in restaurants.
Party planning: The store will feature a concierge service, where people planning a party or gathering can come in and look through various menus to find foods they want to serve.
“We can go as far as preparing the products for you and having it ready for you to pick up,” Colgrove said. “We can deliver it or we can set it up for you. We can rent tables. We can do whatever the customer wants.”
Pharmacy: The pharmacy will include a large selection of healthy living items, including homeopathic products, natural lotions and soaps.
Meat: Market Street Idaho will carry prime-grade beef. Only 6 percent of the beef sold in the United States is graded prime, according to Texas Monthly. It is prized for its marbling; the extra fat adds flavor and helps keep the meat juicier as it cooks. It’s not commonly found in retail stores.
The deli will include roast beef, hams and other items cooked in the store. Traditionally, most store deli meats come pre-cooked and sliced at the store.
Breakfast and salad bars, and a grill: The food area will feature a breakfast burrito bar, a first for Idaho, Colgrove said. There will also be a salad bar, where customers can point to lettuce, tomatoes, nuts and other items that they want and then have it tossed in front of them. And a grill for preparing hamburgers and other items.
Bakery: The store will bake items from scratch and will use the much-praised doughnut recipe acquired when Albertsons bought Paul’s Markets.
“A lot of retailers today do not make bakery items from scratch,” Colgrove said. Referring to Joe Albertson, the Boise grocery company’s founder, he said: “All of our doughnuts, all of our breads, various different rolls will be handmade in this bakery, kind of like back in Joe’s day.”
The Meridian store is expected to employ more than 300 people. The Broadway store is expected to employ more than 200. Employees of the existing Broadway store will be offered jobs in surrounding stores and may apply for positions in the new store when hiring begins, the company said.