retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Interesting piece in Connecticut’s Stamford Advocate about how “lower land prices and years of retail stagnation have opened the door into Connecticut for a rush by new grocers intent on expanding their reach.”

The big name mentioned has just four letters - Aldi - which according to the story “opened 100 new stores last year, will open 80 new ones this year and plans for another 80 next year,” though none of them in Fairfield County, upon which the Advocate focused. However, the story also notes that the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. is replacing one of its traditional A&P stores in Bridgeport with its Food Basics discount format.

At the same time, on the upper end of the scale, Fairfield County is seeing the incursion of new stores from Whole Foods and Fresh Market, the latter of which recently opened a store in Westport, which shows “that southwestern Connecticut's high-income crowd continues to draw interest from some retailers, although other chains ratchet up the competition for price-driven shoppers.”
KC's View:
For years, I’ve bemoaned the fact that despite the fact that I write about the food retailing business, most of the supermarkets near my house are fairly mediocre at best; the local Stop & Shop is one of the smallest and least impressive in the fleet, and the Shaw’s is big but vanilla. There’s a good ShopRite store and another independent, Palmer’s...but I’ve always found myself driving by almost all of them to go to places like Stew Leonard’s, Costco, and Trader Joe’s - so-called “alternative formats” that simply are more compelling shopping experiences.

I visited the new Fresh Market the other day, and was impressed...though it seems to me that there could be limits on its appeal. The prices are actually pretty good, though the high-end design works against them...and my concerns would be that its limited selection could equal a limited customer appeal. (Though, to be fair, that certainly hasn’t happened at Stew Leonard’s, which has far fewer items.) The good news is that the Fresh Market has things that Stew’s does not have - like heirloom tomatoes - that could prove to have some appeal to local shoppers.

Two other things not noted by the Advocate story. One is that there is a Fairway store scheduled to be opened in Stamford, and this should ramp up the local competition if the store is anything like the fabulous unit opened by the company in Paramus, New Jersey, earlier this year. The other thing is that Stew Leonard’s is in the middle of a dramatic expansion and remodeling project, with new categories and products being added, giving the company’s original location a surge of new energy.

This is, by the way, very smart. You don’t wait for the competition to open up before you start competing with it.