This independent chain caters to consumers looking for produce that is interesting and of high quality.
The front of a recent circular for the Gelson’s Market on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, CA, featured the famed chiles from Hatch, NM, roasted in front of the store, combined with grilled corn and heirloom tomatoes in a salad available at the deli. Inside, a page headlined “Life Tastes Better at Gelson’s” offered Sugar Kiss cantaloupe and Envy apples.
“Produce is extremely important to what we do,” says Paul Kneeland, senior director of produce and floral operations at Gelson’s Markets, Los Angeles.
This independent chain caters, in particular, to consumers looking for produce and other food items that are interesting and of high quality. “For our customers, produce is about high quality, unique and exclusive items. It’s one of the reasons we built a new distribution center,” says Kneeland. “We’re the only retailer in Southern California that has maize, the white corn. We were also first with Sugar Kist melons, although some other stores have picked that up.”
With headquarters in Encino, CA, there are 26 Gelson’s in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, creating a 1.3 percent produce market share in dollars, according to the 2017 Chain Store Guide. And the company is expanding. “We’re opening two stores this year and one next year,” says Kneeland. “We opened six stores last year, including three in the San Diego area. Most of the new stores are pretty close to the coast.”
Gelson’s new facility allows it to handle greater volume and to expand its direct purchases from particular grower-shippers who can offer produce that is a cut above.
“We just built a new distribution center two-and-a-half years ago in Santa Fe Springs, CA,” says Kneeland. “We source a lot directly from shippers, which is helpful because we can pick and choose who we deal with. We also buy from the Los Angeles Wholesale Market.”
Gelson’s features a concept-of-service that was born in the Midwest, where the company founders grew up and learned the business. “On a warm summer morning in July 1951, two boyishly enthusiastic young men wrote the stirring first paragraph of an ongoing and endlessly appetizing story, as they cut the ribbon on the very first Gelson’s supermarket,” the company website explains. “The Burbank store may have been distant in miles, but not in spirit from Eugene and Bernie Gelson’s parents’ Iowa grocery store, where the boys learned the importance of exemplary customer service — which to them meant giving every last person who walked in the door the very best in quality, selection, and value.”
The quality must have been there because, by the company’s account, customers over the years have included John Wayne, Michael Jackson, John and Bo Derek, Mickey Rooney, Julie London, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John Wooden.
The produce goes a long way toward defining the store, including a number of other departments that also feature the fruits and vegetables. “We use our produce in other areas of the store,” says Kneeland. “The service deli definitely uses our produce, and the meat and seafood departments do, too.”
The clientele for the store tends to be relatively well-off residents of the neighborhoods on the West Side, closer to the coast. “Our customers are an older group,” says Kneeland. “Fifty and above is probably our target, mostly at the high-end. They want things that make life easier, like fresh-cut produce. For the most part, they come to us for quality.”
Yelp reviews for the Franklin Avenue store average four stars and suggest customers are finding quality. “There are a few things in life associated with actual greatness to the extent that once their names are spoken, listeners need not second guess,” one reviewer wrote. “Dubai’s Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, an autumn day in Paris, a Princess-cut diamond, anything made by Tesla and perhaps even … Gelson’s Markets – Any Location!
5877 Franklin Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90028
P: (323) 464-7316
Hours: Sunday – Saturday
7 am – Midnight