Save Mart opens first Lucky California concept store

Save Mart unveiled its first new store format in nearly 20 years when the doors open on its new Daly City Lucky California store July 8. A reflection of the San Francisco Bay area food culture, this new store concept will provide shoppers with diverse, eclectic flavors and foods — whether they are looking for prepared foods to carry out or all the ingredients to cook at home.

"With the massive influx of competition in the grocery industry, we have seen tremendous market segmentation," Nicole Pesco, Save Mart's co-president and chief strategy and branding officer, said in a press release. "Through it all, traditional supermarkets have remained much the same. Save Mart is stepping out of the box with our introduction of Lucky California — a fusion of Bay area culture and California sourced and grown, presented with meal solutions at competitive prices."

Lucky California is inspired by the unique food culture of the San Francisco Bay area. Its offerings will reflect the diverse cultures, delicious cuisine and locally grown foods that have been inspired in the region. The store's new display concept will feature constantly changing snack and meal hubs where shoppers will be encouraged to try new flavors.

"As a Central Valley-based company, we get what locally grown means to our shoppers. We place a premium on sourcing our food from local farms, producers, manufacturers, chefs and purveyors. Lucky California will truly deliver the flavors of California," Pesco said.

As the concept store is refined, Save Mart will begin the process of renovating and rebranding its entire chain of stores throughout the San Francisco Bay area.

Metro's latest concept store opens in Quebec

Customers of the Metro Plus St-Nicolas store can now enjoy a completely reinvented supermarket. The remodelled store located on Route des Rivières in Lévis, QC, can lay claim to being the first in the Quebec City and eastern region of the province to offer many new cutting-edge products and services.

This project increases the investments made in the Quebec City region over the last five years to over $40 million. Metro, which has 35 stores in the area, provides jobs to over 5,200 people, while also helping to strengthen the community, including through the Green Apple School Program, which has awarded $358,000 to area schools over the last three years to encourage healthy eating habits among young people.

After eight months of work and an investment of close to $8 million dollars, the store belonging to franchisee Éric Gariépy was overhauled from top to bottom. This major expansion (almost 10,000 square feet) also provided an opportunity to reposition all of the departments and to improve product offerings. Furthermore, 35 new jobs were created in order to assist and better serve customers.

The store now includes an impressive produce department now includes a counter serving fresh juices, smoothies and fruit cut on-site. The store also features an outdoor terrace and a bistro area on the second floor where shoppers enjoy the many choices of meals prepared on-site, including an Aki Thaï counter and a cutting station for hot sliced meats. Consumers can expect to see new items in all departments.

“The tastes and needs of Quebecers when it comes to food are evolving more and more," Gariépy said in a press release. "Here, our customers will be able to find everything they want and have access to fresh, distinctive, high-quality products at good prices. We have gone all out to exceed our customers’ expectations.”

Stop & Shop's Buy Local produce program going strong

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Stop & Shop announced that a diverse assortment of farm fresh local produce from 72 area farms is now available at all Stop & Shop stores. While customers can find many local products in Stop & Shop stores throughout the year, the summer months bring in-season produce items from a nearby farm. buylocal

Among the local produce items currently in season and available at Stop & Shop are tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, lettuces, peppers, cabbage, beans, berries and many varieties of squash.

“Stop & Shop is proud to offer our customers a variety of farm fresh fruits and vegetables, picked at the peak of freshness and packed by hand nearby," Patrick Buonarota, director of produce for Stop & Shop New York Metro Division, said in a press release. “We embrace our responsibility to support the local economy by offering the widest selection of locally grown products possible.”

For customers who want to know more, inspirational “Buy Local” features can be found on Stop & Shop’s website, including videos, recipes and a list of local growers. Plus, back by popular-demand, all Stop & Shop stores will feature a fun, interactive cutout in the produce department where customers are encouraged to take a “farm fresh selfie.”

Stop & Shop has been a leader in the buy local movement for many years, supporting local farmers and manufacturers in the states where Stop & Shop stores operate. 

Raley’s new produce program supports growers, reduces food waste

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Raley’s Family of Fine Stores has begun selling produce that might otherwise be headed for the landfill. The new program will offer a new path toward affordable produce and an additional way to showcase Raley's best in fresh. The “REAL GOOD” produce program will offer customers scarred, aesthetically challenged produce for a lower cost than the unblemished products the chain is famous for.Imperfect---bell-pepper-image-for-Raleys

“Raley’s ‘REAL GOOD’ Produce program is a new way that we can support our growers and reduce food waste while offering our customers the best quality in fresh,” Meg Burrit, Raley’s director of wellness and sustainability, said in a press release. “While the ‘REAL GOOD’ produce may be uniquely shaped, sized or colored, you can also count on it having that great Raley's flavor and quality — at great low prices.”

Raley’s is partnering with Imperfect, whose goal is to market these cosmetically challenged fruits and vegetables so that they can be bought and eaten instead of wasted. According to an NRDC report , up to 30 percent of produce grown in the United States is discarded, often as a result of arbitrary aesthetic standards that do not affect the flavor or nutritional value of the produce.

Imperfect will work with farmers to provide slightly blemished produce to Raley’s stores.

“Imperfect is thrilled to be partnering with Raley's to bring ugly produce to their customers,” Ben Simon, chief executive officer of Imperfect, said in the release. “We expect folks to see that even the fruits and vegetables that look a little wonky on the outside still have just as great quality and taste. At the end of the day, it is what is on the inside that counts.”

The REAL GOOD produce program rolls out on July 11 at 10 Raley’s locations, with summer produce offerings such as REAL GOOD Plums, REAL GOOD Peppers and REAL GOOD Pears at prices 25 percent to 30 percent lower than flawless produce.

National organic promotion program moving forward

An effort by the Organic Trade Association to establish a national checkoff program for the research and promotion of organic commodities is moving forward, with a referendum expected on the issue within about a year.  

Laura Batcha, chief executive officer and executive director of the OTA, gave a presentation during last month’s United Fresh Produce Association convention in Chicago and also discussed the issue following that event with The Produce News.Batcha2Laura Batcha

OTA submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in early May. Under the normal procedural rules, USDA has announced that it will entertain alternative proposals until July 20. Batcha said soon thereafter the proposal or proposals should be made available for public comment.

She expects that period to conclude by the fall and then USDA will potentially incorporate the comments into a final proposal and hold a referendum within six months or so.

“We certainly expect that there would be a referendum in 2016, and then it would take time after that to get the program up and running,” she said.

As a lobbying group, OTA will not be involved in the administration of an organic checkoff program but the association has been intimately involved in its development. Batcha said it has been a three-year effort with many different ideas vetted and many different organic constituencies consulted.  

The checkoff program is utilized for many different agricultural commodities. It is similar to an agricultural marketing order, though a marketing order is basically geographic in nature, such as the one dealing with Florida avocados. Checkoff programs are national, such as the ones managed by the Hass Avocado Board and the National Mango Board.  

Sam Jones, a public affairs officer for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, said the organic effort is unique as it is not commodity specific.  

“All other checkoff programs deal with an individual commodity,” he said. “That is not true with this proposal.”

Batcha told the United Fresh audience that the organic industry had to get special legislation to give USDA the authority to establish this type of checkoff program. This program will include all organic products (fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, dairy, etc.) and the research and promotion effort will focus on defining and explaining the value proposition of the organic seal.

All holders of a mandatory organic certification under the National Organic Program will participate financially. The funding mechanism has been worked out so that each member of the supply chain would only pay on the net value added that they provided to the product.

So while a producer would pay a percentage based on the raw sales of the product, a processor would pay its assessment based on the differential between the cost of the product and their sales price.

The percentage in the initial proposal is one-tenth of 1 percent of net organic sales of products that are 100 percent organic. A smaller percentage would be assessed for products “made with organic” ingredients.

Batcha estimated that after administrative costs are deducted, the program would have a research and promotion budget in the neighborhood of $30 million.

One Los Angeles organic produce distributor, Heath & Lejeune Inc., estimated that its assessment would be about $3,000 annually. Company CEO Rick Lejeune, who is well versed on the proposal, said the assessment amount is not daunting but he is a bit skeptical of the idea. As a general rule, he said organic producers are suspicious of government involvement in their affairs. Many backed the National Organics Program as something they saw as necessary but this might not rise to that same level of need.

“We haven’t made up our minds yet as to how we would vote,” he said.

Batcha said she welcomes the skepticism, and in fact during the United Fresh presentation several audience members from the organic community articulated their fears.  

Batcha knows there is a lack of information out there but she said polling has shown that once they understand the proposal, proponents outnumber opponents two to one. She is confident that by the time a referendum is held the idea will have sufficient support.

Batcha told the United Fresh audience that it simply needs a majority of those voting to be in favor for it to pass. She estimated that there are 18,000 NOP certificate holders in the United States

She said there is also a lack of information among consumers as to what organic is and what it means. Though growth has been rapid, OTA does not believe it can be sustained without addressing such challenges as supply shortages, viable pest management options and market confusion.

With regard to consumer attitudes, the Batcha said that while 84 percent of consumers have bought organic products and 45 percent buy them once a month, there is a disconnect between what the organic seal means and what consumers think it means. Most consumers, she said, do not know what the regulations are or the value proposition that organics offer.

She was clear that no organic promotion program would include negative comments about conventional products. She said the regulations are clear: “You can compare but you can’t disparage.”

One potential issue that seems to be rooted in the regulations is the makeup of the board managing the program. The proposal calls for a 17-member board with eight handlers, eight producers and one non-voting at large public member. By law, the representatives will be elected regionally and represent various supply-chain classifications rather than commodity categories such as produce, meat or dairy.