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Publix Joins Supermarkets Developing Hybrid Stores, This Featuring Organics

Hybrid store concepts are suddenly all the rage among supermarket operators, and now Publix is planning to open a hybridized supermarket concept that combines elements of its standard format and it's GreenWise Markets.

GreenWise Markets emphasize organic and natural foods although they also offer some conventional fare as a convenience to shoppers, said Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten. The new store, to debut in the second half of 2010, will take operations as developed for GreenWise and adapt them for more conventional surroundings. "We're going to take best of Publix GreenWise Markets and infuse that into a traditional Publix supermarket," Patten said. Patten asserted that the company's customers are more interested than ever in natural and organic products. Publix recently introduced a program that identifies organic, natural and earth-friendly products on its shelves using hangtag signage. The idea, she said, was to help customers identify such products quickly rather than leaving them scrutinizing packages to find items that satisfied their preferences.

At GreenWise Markets, too, Publix wants to make it easier for customers to enjoy the organic and natural offering without any artificial â€" so to speak â€" barriers, so it recently added conventional soda fountains to an extensive prepared food/café section the stores provide. Also, despite separate marketing programs, it recently began accepting Publix coupons at GreenWise markets after customer prompting.

Patten said the hybrid store concept still is being designed, but the prepared food element and café will certainly be part of the new store concept, although the 10 or so food counters at GreenWise â€" including The Carvery, featuring slow roasted chicken among other offerings, and Pacific Wok, serving Mongolian beef, sweet and sour chicken, vegetable low mien, etc., â€" may be reduced in number.

Publix currently operates three GreenWise Markets in Boca Raton, Tampa and Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. All told the company runs more than 1,000 supermarkets.

A number of food retailers have introduced hybridized store concepts recently. Kroger, which has been operating its supermarket/supercenter hybrid marketplace stores for several years, just debuted a format in Houston that combines elements of its traditional supermarkets and gourmet-oriented fresh fare stores. The company remodeled the store on the new pattern to better compete with a new nearby HEB supermarket that itself combines traditional elements with operations developed for the company's upscale Central Market emporiums.

While not always resulting in hybrids, a trend has developed among food retailers who are developing and translating departments across store concepts. Since acquiring chains such as Shaw's and Jewel from Albertsons a few years ago, Supervalu has been taking specific operations that it identified within a best practices framework and putting them in place chain wide. Thus, the Wild Harvest organic and natural food operations developed at Shaw's were adapted by other Supervalu chains.

Both A&P and Meijer have developed new prototypes they've used as laboratories for more elaborate fresh and prepared food operations. Meijer has established several different variations over the past decade while A&P rolled out its so-called fresh stores just a couple of years ago, just about the time the company revamped its urban store approach at its flagship Food Emporium unit. Both chains have borrowed from those prototypes, elaborating key departments in more conventional stores to help them succeed in various circumstances. The trend falls under the idea of segmentation, which basically means finding methods of adapting stores to the specific communities in which they operate.

In the Kroger and HEB examples, the stores were tailored to serve an upscale Houston community. Publix, which is opening its hybrid in Naples, Fla., will serve a community that combines affluent and middle class populations as well as a strong senior citizen contingent with a significant element of younger outdoors-oriented consumers who are interested in health and wellness. Given the interest and the diversity, a hybrid concept should get a fair reception.