The Honest Weight Food Co-op recently announced that it will be officially breaking ground next week on its long-planned new location on Watervliet Ave in Albany. It's a big step for the co-op -- the project is expected to cost $5.4 million -- and will be a significant upgrade in size and amenities over its current Central Ave location.
Of course, the co-op's expansion also is part of a rapidly changing local supermarket scene. The traditional players now face competition from ShopRite, Fresh Market, Trader Joe's, and (eventually) Whole Foods. That's prompted some concerns about how Honest Weight will fare in the re-arranging scene, especially given the leap it's about to take with the new store.
Curious about how Honest Weight sees the situation -- and how it's planning to adapt -- we bounced some questions to Lily Bartels, the co-op's communications leader.
What's the status of the new location? When will it open?
We're excited that our groundbreaking will be happening next Tuesday, [August] 14th, at 10:30 am, with both Mayor Jennings and Assemblyman McEneny, among others, slated to speak. It's a day we've long been anticipating, so to realize this milestone is thrilling!
The removal of the old building at the 100 Watervliet Avenue site is nearly completed -- 85 percent of its components are being recycled, by the way -- and construction plans are on track to achieve a May 2013 opening. It's a pretty heady time for us.
Besides parking and size, what will the new location offer that the current one doesn't?
Much easier accessibility, for one thing. In considering where to relocate, the Co-op was committed to remaining in the city of Albany, but with our current location tucked away off-street and an ever-challenging parking situation, our location has been less than ideal, though our members and other loyal customers have been undeterred.
Choosing the Watervliet Avenue site means we'll stay part of the West End neighborhood, but be better situated to serve the public. As you mention, our new store will increase our retail space, dramatically so, which means Honest Weight will be able to offer customers an even broader, more abundant array of the products they're looking for. And the spacious layout will go a long way toward a more comfortable and easily navigable shopping experience. We'll have outdoor as well as indoor café seating, and our prepared foods/deli department will be greatly expanded, giving our talented chefs and bakers the ability to offer an even richer, more diverse menu of tempting foods. We'll be growing our meat section as well, and providing a larger community meeting room. And we'll finally have the educational and fun advantage of a real teaching kitchen!
To what extent does the co-op have to grow its membership and customer base to support the new location? What are you doing to accomplish that?
Well, of course, we are open to the public and are always welcoming new faces who seek us out for a variety of reasons: increased focus on preventative medicine, emerging health concerns, or returning to a practice of more cooking at home.
In anticipation of the move, we have been offering promotions to our members which have helped us add over 750 new members to date. As far as supporting the new location, we based our forecasting on conservative sales projections, and reap the benefits of having data from co-ops in other markets across the country with similar competition to compare ourselves to. Our lenders recognized how conservative our projections were and that was a big reason we were able to procure support from 4 different lenders.
How is Honest Weight preparing to deal with competition from Trader Joe's, and eventually, Whole Foods?
By building on what customers tell us we do really well and ramping them up to an even more unbeatable level: great customer service; more of the local, natural products shoppers want; and a continued dedication to environmental sustainability.
That Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have identified the Capital Region as an area with a heightened awareness of healthy eating and an increasing demand for healthful foods and other products is no surprise to us. We take pride and continued inspiration from knowing that Honest Weight has been spearheading the natural-foods movement locally for more than three decades and helping educate our community about healthy eating and regard for the environment.
Since Honest Weight opened in 1976 with just a handful of owners, we've operated according to a co-operative business model, which simply means our members own and operate the organization. We've watched our membership grow to a base of 8,000 shareholders, and we continue to add many more every month, although we're also supported by an equally large segment of customers who are not members.
What is the co-op's place in the increasingly competitive local supermarket scene? How does it differentiate itself?
Well, certainly one aspect of our business that will continue to set us apart from our competitors is our intense focus on supporting our local farmers and producers. When people understand how the shopping dollars they spend at Honest Weight stay in our community to support a vibrant local economy, they feel good about that contribution rather than shopping at national chains that take profits out of state. And in big-picture sense, Honest Weight's commitment to education, community outreach, and social and environmental ethics has always been at the heart of what we do.
One of the concerns that often comes up about the co-op now is that, considering the more crowded supermarket scene, it might be overextending itself with the location. How much of a concern is that among the co-op's leadership?
We'd be much more concerned if we weren't expanding to meet the demands of our customers. We're almost literally bursting our seams at our current store, so much do our sales consistently outstrip our space.
Since we began planning for our new store, our sales have increased 65 percent. The Co-op has thrived since the arrival of Fresh Market and, more recently, ShopRite. Honest Weight has factored an increasingly competitive retail food landscape into our business plans from the beginning of our expansion project.
Interview conducted via email. It's been lightly copyedited.
Yep, Honest Weight advertises on AOA.
Earlier on AOA:
+ Checking out the Trader Joe's on Wolf Road
+ Supermarket Week
+ Whole Foods is coming to Albany
+ Healthy Living Market opening in Wilton
+ The local supermarket field is getting crowded (Jan 2012)
images courtesy of Honest Weight Food Co-op
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