Originally printed in the February 2019 issue of Produce Business.
Florida boasts a variety of supermarket retailers, and many grocery stores base their operations in, or do large business in, the Sunshine State. The following is a brief look at some of the grocery store chains that compete along Florida’s I-4 corridor.
Economy grocer Aldi markets an assortment of fresh produce in more than 1,800 stores. Since 2016, Aldi has been revamping many of those locations, with nearly 75 percent slated to be remodeled nationally and more than 83 of 128 Florida locations to receive upgrades by the end of 2020. The refreshed looks also will include product-line expansions, including a plan to make at least 20 percent of Aldi’s offerings as organic and fresh.
“We partner with a wide variety of growers, including some local farmers, to offer a wide variety of fresh, in-season produce, including organic fruits and vegetables,” according to Aldi’s website.
Promoted as multicultural neighborhood grocery stores, Bravo Group operates 100 Bravo Supermarkets in the Northeast and Florida. Owned by Alpha 1 Marketing Corp. in White Plains, NY, Bravo focuses on Hispanic shopping needs. Other stores are in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
One of the reasons the Bravo Group started Bravo Supermarkets was to bring to Northeastern transplants in Florida the shopping experience they enjoyed in New York. The independently owned 48 Florida locations allow stores to better serve the neighborhoods they operate, according to Bravo’s website.
Costco’s 26 stores in Florida attempt to reduce costs and provide savings to its members. The membership warehouse club operates 766 warehouses in the U.S. and others overseas. Costco, which is based in Issaquah, WA, began operations in 1976.
Shoppers who enter the four Detwiler’s Farm Markets on Florida’s Suncoast are immediately greeted by large produce displays and sales. Henry Detwiler, Sr., who operated a roadside stand, opened his first store in 2009. Other Florida stores are in Sarasota, Venice, and Palmetto, which opened in 2018. The Bradenton, FL-based chain uses large, handwritten signs to merchandise its produce, which accounts for about a third of its store sales. Local is a big focus. During the winter, about 60 percent of Detwiler’s produce is from Florida.
Detwiler’s also sources from Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California. “Produce is what Detwiler’s Farm Market is known for,” the chain says on its website. “It’s a farmer’s market inside of a grocery store. It’s not uncommon to see a mountain of broccoli or a pyramid of sweet potatoes when you first walk in. We buy direct. We source locally when we can. We do everything in our power to provide you the freshest, healthiest harvest at the lowest price.”
Marketing “healthy food for everyone,” the Fletcher, NC-based Earth Fare is one of the largest U.S. natural and organic food retailers. It operates more than 40 locations in 10 states in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. In 1975, Earth Fare opened its first store in Asheville, NC. In 1997, it expanded to Charleston, SC, and in 2007, expanded with other stores in that state, in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. Earth Fare runs 13 stores in Florida, with locations in northern parts of the state in Tallahassee and Gainesville all the way down to South Florida, where one is slated to open soon in Boynton Beach.
“We are committed to local and organic,” according to its website. “We planted our roots over 40 years ago with a commitment to provide healthy, delicious and organic produce – and today we offer more certified organic produce than anyone else. We also relish the opportunity to bring fresh, local produce to your table by working with farmers who take great pride in growing heirloom varieties and seasonal favorites.”
Natural grocer Earth Origins Market operates eight stores, all in Florida. The locations, in Lake Mary, St. Petersburg, Palm Harbor, Port Charlotte, Gainesville, Ocala and two in Sarasota, “strive to be your green neighborhood market,” according to its website.
In 2018, the Palm Harbor-based chain was acquired by Omaha, NE-based The Healthy Edge, Inc., a subsidiary of AMCON Distributing Co., a consumer products firm. The stores opened in 1993 and originally operated under different names.
“Bringing the farm to you” is the slogan of FreshFields Farm, which operates stores in Orlando and Jacksonville. Started in 1973 in Orlando as a small meat market, Momm’s Meats Popp’s Produce later changed its name and underwent several expansions, including opening in Jacksonville in 2013.
A red barn façade is what shoppers first see upon entering the stores, which only sell produce and meat. The stores’ mission isn’t to be a conventional supermarket. “Much of our product comes directly from farmers, growers and packing plants. By buying in bulk directly from the source, we eliminate distribution trucks and warehouses, which gets farm fresh food to you fresher and cheaper,” the chain says on its website.
Produce is a big part of Fresco y Mas, a chain of 25 stores that caters to the Hispanic demographic in South Florida and Central Florida. In 2016, Jacksonville-based Southeastern Grocers, Winn-Dixie’s parent company, opened the Hispanic-themed chain in former Winn-Dixie stores. The stores serve shoppers in Miami, Hollywood, Hialeah, Homestead and Lauderhill. In 2018, Southeastern Grocers expanded the banner in Orlando and Tampa.
The produce department’s aisles are filled with many tropicals, roots and other items. Fresco y Mas is designed to provide shoppers “an authentic Hispanic grocery store experience,” according to Southeastern Grocers. The stores market products catering to each store’s neighborhood, according to its website.
Lucky’s Market was started by chefs Trish and Bo Sharon in Boulder, CO, who wanted to create a grocery store chain appealing to food lovers with affordably priced organic, natural and local foods. The chain of 36 stores in the Midwest and Southeast operates 16 stores in Florida.
Visiting the store, shoppers notice a large selection of fresh produce. The stores are designed as farmers markets, and the produce department features wooden crates, barrels, field bins and garage door entrances that portray a natural feel of the variety of produce sold in the store.
Fresh produce is important for the 800 Publix Super Markets stores in Florida. It began in 1930 in Winter Haven, FL, and has since expanded throughout the Southeast. Lakeland, FL-based Publix markets to customers through 1,213 stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. In Georgia, it operates 186 stores. Publix is the 10th largest U.S. volume supermarket chain and the largest employee-owned grocery store.
Publix touts its longstanding relationships with farmers closest to its stores. “We work together to get ripe, just-picked produce fresh from the fields to our nearby stores — ensuring that when you bite into a Florida strawberry or a Georgia peach, it’ll taste as fresh as if you’d picked it yourself. When we can get wonderful fruits and vegetables right in the states where we operate, you can bet that’s exactly what we do,” according to its website.
Since its beginnings shortly after the Castro takeover of Cuba, Sedano’s Supermarkets has supplied its customers with Hispanic products that return the flavor of foods in their home countries. Starting in Hialeah, FL, in 1962 as a small neighborhood grocery store, Sedano’s is one of the largest, independently owned U.S. Hispanic supermarket chain. Its 34 stores in South Florida and Central Florida serve an expanding Hispanic community.
Started by the Guerra and Herran families, Sedano’s is run as a family business and operates most of its 27 stores in the Miami area. Other stores are in Hollywood, Pembroke Pines, North Lauderdale and in the Orlando area. Sedano’s is the largest member of Supervalu-owned Associated Grocers of Florida.
Fresh produce has been a key ingredient of the success at Sprouts Farmers Market, which offers 19,000 products, 90 percent of which are marketed as natural or organic. The Phoenix-based chain began operations in 2002.
“Our roots don’t stop at yams and carrots,” the company states on its website. “We’ve actually been loving farm fresh produce since our fruit stand days dating back to 1943.”
Stores in North Naples and Wellington are scheduled to join Sprouts’ nine Florida stores by March. In 2014, the chain entered the Southeast by opening stores in Georgia, with more openings following in Missouri, Alabama and Tennessee. In 2017, Sprouts entered Florida and North Carolina. The following year, it expanded to South Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington. Sprouts’ more than 300 stores are mostly in the South.
Save-A-Lot is one of the first and largest U.S. deep-discounting supermarket chains. Florida accounts for around 150 of Save-A-Lot’s 1,300 corporate and licensed stores. Owned by a Canadian private equity firm, Save-A-Lot operates in 36 states.
In 1977, Save-A-Lot started its first store in Cahokia, IL. In the immediate years after, it embarked on an aggressive expansion. Today, Save-A-Lot calls itself one of the fastest-growing U.S. grocery chains.
Florida accounts for 18 of the 477 Trader Joe’s stores. The Monrovia, CA-based chain first entered the Sunshine State in 2012. In 2013, Trader Joe’s opened its first store in Louisiana and in 2015, expanded to Birmingham, AL. The store traces its roots to the 1950s, when it began as a small convenience store chain. The first Trader Joe’s opened in 1967 in Southern California.
“We buy direct from suppliers whenever possible; we bargain hard to get the best price and then pass the savings,” Trader Joe’s says on its website. “We buy in volume and contract early to get the best prices. Most grocers charge their suppliers fees for putting an item on the shelf. This results in higher prices … so we don’t do it.”
Touting itself as the largest buyer of locally sourced fresh produce, Walmart has in recent years increased the amount of locally grown produce it sells by 97 percent. Local produce accounts for more than 10 percent of all produce sold in Walmart’s stores, according to its website.
Of Walmart’s 386 Florida operations, 231 are supercenters, 97 are Neighborhood Markets and 46 are Sam’s Clubs. Eight Florida distribution centers supply the Sunshine State stores.
In 2018, the chain, founded in 1962, announced an $11 billion reinvestment which would include remodeling 500 stores and opening 20 new operations.
Whole Foods operates 29 of its 476 U.S. stores in Florida. The Amazon-owned chain which began in Austin, TX, in 1980 touts its produce, which is the first thing it shows shoppers entering the stores. “It’s a visual feast of color, variety and sparkling freshness piled high for your pleasure and convenience,” the chain describes produce on its website.
“We feature local produce in season. While the definition of local varies by region of the country, it generally means one day’s drive away or less, and it’s usually much less. We display the origin of every piece of produce we sell. To meet customer demand, we do our best to offer high quality fruits and vegetables year-round.”
Following a new local sourcing policy announced in 2018, about a third of the in-season fruits and vegetables sold at Winn-Dixie Stores are sourced directly from the Southeast. The chain’s 377 stores, a majority of which are in Florida, maintain a large Southeastern pedigree.
Part of Jacksonville, FL-based Southeastern Grocers, Winn-Dixie, which started in 1925, also sells in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. It has also started remodeling stores, with an expanded selection of fruits and vegetables. “Our home in the Southeast is a beautiful, living garden, and we treasure all that it has to offer our customers,” according to its website. “With more than 90 years of experience in the Southeast, we know how to pick the freshest produce, with the best flavors, and at the perfect time of year.”