BALL'S OPENS FARMER'S MARKET

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Ball's Food Stores has opened a new Price Chopper Farmer's Market that offers expanded fresh food departments with a distinct Hispanic flavor.The 75,000-square-foot store replaced an older, 58,000-square-foot Price Chopper in Roeland Park, a community with a sizeable Hispanic population just outside Kansas City. The store has a new tortillaria in the bakery, larger produce department,

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Ball's Food Stores has opened a new Price Chopper Farmer's Market that offers expanded fresh food departments with a distinct Hispanic flavor.

The 75,000-square-foot store replaced an older, 58,000-square-foot Price Chopper in Roeland Park, a community with a sizeable Hispanic population just outside Kansas City. The store has a new tortillaria in the bakery, larger produce department, new service meat counter, Chinese cookery, new slow-cooking smoker in the deli, and expanded dairy and frozen food departments.

The store was designed to convey a farmers' market feeling. Outside, there are three 18-foot-wide garage doors with glass panels to the right of the main entrance. On mild days, the garage doors are opened, and the floral and produce displays are pushed outside. Overhead, 24 feet of greenhouse awnings stretch across the sidewalk.

"That's what really gives it the farmers' market feeling," said Dave Gryszowka, vice president of operations for Ball's. "You pull in and see all this color."

Improving the produce department was a priority for the company as it embarked on the redesign. Produce is the first department that shoppers enter when they come into the store. It's the first produce department to have skylights in Ball's chain of stores. The 8,000-square-foot department, about 2,000 square feet larger than the old one, offers bigger displays of fruits and vegetables. The department carries more than 500 items, including a bulk display of triple-washed pinto beans.

"We sell thousands of pounds of beans," Gryszowka said. "I see those scoops and bags going like crazy. [Shoppers] buy those to make homemade refried beans."

Another destination department is the bakery. The company enlarged it to accommodate a tortilla machine used for making corn and flour tortillas from scratch seven days a week. Twelve-packs of flour tortillas are the top seller, followed by 36-count bags of corn tortillas.

The bakery has a huge bulk display of crusty bollio rolls, similar to hoagies, retailing at five for $1. Mexican sweet breads and tres leche cakes round out the bakery's Hispanic offering.

Products like the tortillas and bollio rolls have crossover appeal to Anglo shoppers, Gryszowka said. In fact, tortillas are driving much of the new business in the bakery.

"We don't use preservatives," he said. "We're sampling them out almost every day. When you eat a good fresh corn tortilla, if you were blindfolded, you'd think they were flour. They're soft and pliable."

The meat department offers 24 linear feet of service counter, a new feature. The counter stocks a selection of marinaded and pre-seasoned meats, along with thin sliced meats that appeal to Hispanic shoppers. The department also offers 24 linear feet of service counter for fresh poultry displayed on ice -- especially appealing to Hispanic shoppers, Gryszowka said. There's also a 24-foot service section for seafood.

The retailer increased display space in the dairy aisle to make more room for yogurt and cheese. In the deli, a new slow-cooking smoker cooks ribs and chickens, but Gryszowka sees potential for using the fixture to cook pork butts and other meats.

Near the front of the store, the Rice Garden offers a selection of cooked Chinese items. It's new for this location, but in place at eight of the retailer's other stores. A salad bar was installed in the cafe area nearby.

In redesigning the store, the company sought to emphasize the food, not the fixtures or finishes. The store has roomy aisles, painted and unpainted concrete floors and a natural color scheme and skylights that keep it bright during the day.

The no-frills strategy "helps in the cost of the building," Gryszowka said. "It helps in the price perception. When you come in, it's not glitzy or glamorous. We wanted the product to do all the talking. This store looks more like a Costco or Sam's Club."

In its first month, the store has met the company's sales expectations, in spite of construction going on in the parking lot. This Price Chopper is in a shopping center, the Fountains of Roeland Park, that ultimately will be home to a Lowe's Home Improvement Center and other retail businesses still being developed.

Officials are watching sales closely, since the new store has cannibalized sales slightly at four of the company's other stores. More important, though, the store is helping the company capture additional business.

"We're at a disadvantage now because of the parking lot," Gryszowka said. "We've lost some parking. On Saturdays and Sundays, you'll have cars that have to drive up and down the aisles waiting for a space to open up.

Nevertheless, "I'm real happy with the store," he added. "The community has welcomed it with open arms. We're getting new customers who are driving further. We're attracting the foodies, the chefs and caterers, because of all the variety. We know we've taken a lot of business from some of our competitors."

The retailer doesn't plan to duplicate the format, but may simply incorporate some of its elements into other stores, Gryszowka said. Ball's operates 15 Price Chopper and 13 Hen House Market stores in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

The market definitely sets the chain apart, said Gary Phillips, president and chief executive officer of Associated Wholesale Grocers, the Kansas City-based retailer-owned cooperative that supplies the store.

"It's definitely the most unique store in Kansas City," Phillips said. "It's a different presentation for Price Chopper."