The local supermarket field is getting crowded

honest weight food co-op new store rendering

A rendering of the new store Honest Weight is raising money to build.

The supermarket market in the Capital Region is going through some interesting changes right now. ShopRite is making a major investment by building as many as four stores in the area, seemingly with the aim of going to head-to-head with Price Chopper. The Chopper is planning "the store of the decade" in Latham. Fresh Market apparently has been doing well at its spot in Latham. Target has added expanded grocery sections to its stores here. Walmart keeps pushing low prices in its grocery sections. Hannaford continues being Hannaford. And now there's going to be a Trader Joe's.

As these development have come down the conveyer belt, there's been concern about where all this will leave places such as Honest Weight and the Niskayuna Co-op. And it's a good question. Both markets have passionate fans -- but they're also relatively small players, and the market is getting crowded.

So, we were interested to read how Honest Weight sees its place in the market shaping up. From an email the co-op sent out yesterday:

In the light of recent reports of major expansions from regional and national chain stores, it may bear repeating more often - to yourself, family, friends, customers, and acquaintances - that Honest Weight is NOT in competition. It is in a class by itself. We have a niche (hell, we created it!), and we will remain strong within it. ...
Perceived 'competition' is always a challenge. Honest Weight has faced and risen to the challenge over the years and we will do so now. While we have been planning for the new store, we've been tightening our belts and improving the things we're known for- diverse and natural product mix, fantastic produce, bulk, cheese and meat selections - and top-notch grocery and deli selections. We have been ramping up our catering department and honing our baking and cooking skills. You've seen the results, and eaten them. With our excellent customer service, our skilled and knowledgeable staff, our commitment to the community and our 35 years of passion for the healthiest food and widest product choice available, we welcome side-by-side comparison with any chain grocery.

The full email, which references Trader Joe's, is after the jump.

Whether you call it competition or not, having more players on the local supermarket scene will force markets to step up their game -- or risk losing out. And even then, they may end up with less than they had before the shake-up. The pie here isn't growing very fast -- but there will be a lot more people trying to take slices from it.

In the short term, that could be good shoppers -- lower prices, better service, better and more interesting selection. Let's hope it works that way in the long term, too.

____

From: Honest Weight Food Co-op Date: Wed, Jan 11, 2012 at 10:12 AM Subject: If it doesn't kill you it will make you stronger
In a class by ourselves
In the light of recent reports of major expansions from regional and national chain stores, it may bear repeating more often - to yourself, family, friends, customers, and acquaintances - that Honest Weight is NOT in competition. It is in a class by itself. We have a niche (hell, we created it!), and we will remain strong within it. You know what makes the co-op special to you and we encourage you to sing about it.
We are the epitome of LOCAL, and we have been far ahead of the curve on supporting organic, sustainable practices. Spend your money with us and it stays in the community. We support local producers, local farmers, local people. We pay our employees well, and offer a generous benefit package. We started here and we're still here 35 years later. Our people are from here, and our decisions are made here by our owners, not in some far-off corporate boardroom by people for whom Albany NY is just an afterthought. No one individual or overseas company stands to gain from our success. We all stand to gain, so let's keep working it.
We offer far more than food. We are a destination for our owner and customer base of 14 zip codes; we are a community. We engage one another about world events, the state of the planet, ingredients, and fair practices. Our triple bottom line (people, planet and profit) is evident in most of the things we do. People may initially come here for the food, but many remain and engage for the support, information and sense of connection the community provides.
Customer service is key. We set the standard for accurate information about food ingredients, cooking methods, and special dietary needs. We have people available at all times who can identify what has gluten in it, what is fair trade, and how to identify allergens in labeling code names. This sets us apart from those merely "trading" in natural foods in the Capital District. As we have grown, we've seen that this service can become even stronger. Staff has begun and will continue to undergo training to practice ways to be present during each customer encounter, and we are planning worker owner trainings to support the same. The happiness of customers, whether owners or potential owners, is the key to our success.
Perceived 'competition' is always a challenge. Honest Weight has faced and risen to the challenge over the years and we will do so now. While we have been planning for the new store, we've been tightening our belts and improving the things we're known for- diverse and natural product mix, fantastic produce, bulk, cheese and meat selections - and top-notch grocery and deli selections. We have been ramping up our catering department and honing our baking and cooking skills. You've seen the results, and eaten them. With our excellent customer service, our skilled and knowledgeable staff, our commitment to the community and our 35 years of passion for the healthiest food and widest product choice available, we welcome side-by-side comparison with any chain grocery.
You are at the core. What we have over other businesses is a strong cadre of owners - over 7,000 and growing. We know that by owning our store and helping to build the community we cherish that you remain connected the co-op and its mission. And we know that when we get into the new store, you'll be the first to come and check it out."
____


Yep, the Honest Weight Food Co-op advertises on AOA.

Earlier and elsewhere:
+ This week, Daniel worried that Honest Weight might over-extend itself in building a new location.
+ AOA: About the Niskayuna Co-op and ShopRite...
+ AOA: Honest Weight Food Co-op closer to moving ahead with new store

image: Honest Weight rendering by Envision Architects

Comments

Though I like that we have so many choices here, it seems to me that they are all located in pretty close proximity to each other. I mean Trader Joe's will be right across the street from a Hannaford and I don't even have to enter a street to switch from Hannaford and Price Chopper in Glenville. I was reading an article in Organic Gardening magazine this week about food deserts (places where people have no access to a major supermarket). I figured that applying to remote places in the Rocky Mountains but was shocked to see how many we have in the Capital District (http://1.usa.gov/desertlocator). I wish the supermarkets would pay more attention to that instead of building 6 supermarkets in Latham.

The chains are just competing for middle/upper-middle class dollars. Nobody is rushing to compete with the Delaware Ave Price Chopper or Save-A-Lot or the Madison Ave "Student Chopper". Of course, why would they, right?

The real question is, how much more difficult will this make the sort of annual AOA Grocery Store Wars?

I was discussing Honest Weight's new building just the other day with someone. Both of us could not understand why the co-op didn't buy an existing vacant building and upgrade it to be a green or greener building rather than building a whole new building. I would think it would be more environmentally friendly and cost effective to use an existing building...and I would imagine there are quite a few empty buildings in the region. For example the new Trader Joe's is just taking up in a former Staples. I love the co-op's dedication to local food and community but I don't always understand their decisions.

I've also heard that they've already cut back on the size and plan of the new store so it is just 1/3 of what was originally proposed, but that might just be a rumor.

Elise: I agree about their decisions regarding the new store. The location is also a puzzle given that customers will have to drive to it -- another anti-green decision.

Miss Blankenship: I heard that when picking the location for the new store they passed over a site in a neighborhood in downtown Albany (I believe one in a food desert). I wish they had taken the downtown location...I am biased though since I live and work downtown.

Still no place to get groceries in North Albany. Cool.

I don't understand why people keep saying shoppers will have to drive to the new Honest Weight location. I work almost across the street on Essex St, and I take the bus to work. There are 2 bus lines that drop off within a block. I also walk to work, and there are sidewalks and crosswalks throughout that neighborhood. The new location is also only 2 blocks from Central Ave, and additional CDTA buses.

The location is also near I-90, which will likely bring more business. Yes, it would be great if most people did not drive to the co-op, but the fact is most do drive there now. I'm not a member, so I don't know the stats, but I wouldn't be surprised if most of the Co-op shoppers live further than a 2 mile radius from the store. I know people from Schenectady and Rensselaer Counties that shop there at least monthly.

Does anyone know what the projected timetable is for the new Co-op location opening?

I have news for the HWFC. Many of it's 7,000+ "owners" are going to be shopping at Trader Joe's. Granted, I firmly suspect they will all continue to shop the co-op which will always have a special place in their heart.

But the money spent at Trader Joe's isn't going to be incremental. It is going to come from somewhere. And the co-op should expect a dip in revenue.

To me that spells competition.

And while the text of the letter says it's not the case, the subtext and even the very existence of this communication tell a different story. The board is putting its chips on Customer Service to differentiate itself between, "those merely 'trading' in natural foods." But in this economy I believe consumers are prioritizing value, and that is a big part of the Trader Joe's excitement in the first place.

I do really hope that this letter is just a bit of posturing and that the board does indeed recognize the competitive threat heading their way. It would be a shame if they put their head in the sand and get caught off guard should their monthly numbers decline.

There is a place for both TJs and the HWFC in Albany. But if the HWFC is making business decisions thinking they have no competition, I have real concerns about their longevity.

Chrissy's comment is dead-on. There are many smaller communities and neighborhoods in the region that are just dying to have a grocery store. I realize that not every community can have a supermarket, but it would be nice if the stores could come up with some sort of alternative, a smaller structure that could fit within an existing commercial district (e.g., the village of Ballston Spa).

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