ALFALFA'S SETS GROWTH IN NORTHWEST REGION

SEATTLE -- Specialty retailer Alfalfa's has opened a new store here, its first outside Colorado.The company, which runs small supermarkets with a heavy emphasis on fresh foods and natural foods, plans to open several more stores in the area, according to Geza deGall, president of Alfalfa's new Northwest division.The new 16,000-square-foot store features a full-service deli and bakery, a coffee and

SEATTLE -- Specialty retailer Alfalfa's has opened a new store here, its first outside Colorado.

The company, which runs small supermarkets with a heavy emphasis on fresh foods and natural foods, plans to open several more stores in the area, according to Geza deGall, president of Alfalfa's new Northwest division.

The new 16,000-square-foot store features a full-service deli and bakery, a coffee and espresso bar, a juice bar, a meat and seafood department and a salad bar, according to deGall. The store also features a sit-down cafe.

"We're doing quite fine," he said of Alfalfa's performance since it opened last month. DeGall said Alfalfa's selection of gourmet and natural foods will enable it to fill what the company sees as a unique niche in Seattle.

Kristen Downs, marketing assistant at Alfalfa's corporate headquarters in Boulder, Colo., agreed. "In scouting the area, we thought we could fill a gap in Seattle."

While Seattle has upscale operators like Larry's Markets, and an independent health food co-op, Alfalfa's fills a niche, Downs explained.

The newest store here is Alfalfa's eighth. Its ninth is set to open this month in Santa Fe, Calif. The company is also a partner in several natural foods stores in Canada.

Alfalfa has long-term plans to open three to five more stores in the Seattle area, meanwhile, and is scouting out several sites, according to deGall.

In an advertisement in a local newspaper, Alfalfa's described itself as, "A natural foods supermarket with a neighborhood flavor. Alfalfa's is a natural meeting place for good friends and goodies

that are good for you."

The grand opening of the store featured a tasting fair, with an outdoor barbecue and samples. DeGall said he plans to feature one tasting fair per month for the next five or six months. The fairs are based on particular themes, such as an Italian theme or an organic theme. Each department is involved, and Alfalfa's receives significant vendor support, he said.

The company's advertisement promoted the natural aspects of Alfalfa's fresh departments. "Now you can bag the whole idea of heavy-metal farming, or chickens that spend too much time behind bars or cherries with a short fuse on flavor and food safety," it said.

In the produce department, organic produce is offered whenever it's available, Downs said. Besides its full-service supermarkets, Alfalfa's also operates a commissary that provides products to the deli and bakery departments in Colorado.

Since the Seattle store can't be serviced by the commissary, about 10% to 15% of the products in the bakery and deli departments are supplied by outside sources, deGall estimated. The outsourcing is done primarily for the bakery department, since most of the deli products are made on-site.

"It's a little difficult to produce everything you want to, and still keep labor costs down without outsourcing," he said.