NEW SAFEWAY FORMAT STRESSES FRESH, NATURAL PRODUCTS

PARKER, Colo. -- From the lush floral department to the ready-to-eat soup station, perimeter departments may be the stars of Safeway's new next-generation store in this affluent and growing bedroom community of Denver. However, Center Store does play a significant supportive role.Here, a heavy presence of grocery items is found cross merchandised throughout fresh displays. The products are often better-for-you

PARKER, Colo. -- From the lush floral department to the ready-to-eat soup station, perimeter departments may be the stars of Safeway's new next-generation store in this affluent and growing bedroom community of Denver. However, Center Store does play a significant supportive role.

Here, a heavy presence of grocery items is found cross merchandised throughout fresh displays. The products are often better-for-you options -- not a surprise in this area of active, outdoor lifestyles.

The store, located near a King Soopers and Wal-Mart, resembles the new prototype that Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway is rolling out in the Washington-Baltimore area, following tests in its home state.

During a recent visit, SN saw large, colorful lobby displays that combined bins filled with red apples, potted hearty mums and mini gourds and pumpkins, along with jugs of organic cider and candy apple ingredients in wooden crates.

Produce followed the vast floral department, Poetry in Bloom, replete with gift basket items, gardening tools and boxed chocolates. Cookbooks, oils and pesto sauce were featured on crates in a display of carrots, green beans and corn. Another produce display included nuts, dried fruit and cider.

Odwalla nutrition bars had a secondary display in the produce section, which was named Fresh from the Fields. The town's population is 5.8% Hispanic, and among the store's Hispanic features was a display of dried Mojave and Fernandez brand spices in produce. Included were corn husks and about 10 varieties of whole chiles.

Near the deli, the Olive Orchard self-service olive station was abutted with woven baskets of sausages, crackers and jam. At the Signature Soups station, where people could ladle out soup for immediate consumption or take home prepacked, one-pound, nine-ounce containers, crackers and chips were displayed in woven baskets as well.

Three of the nine Center Store aisles were devoted to natural and organic shelf-stable groceries, frozens and dairy. The section, called Natural Market, was located off produce. The section included Atkins low-carb products, which were displayed on a separate shelf that divided the middle aisle. Five-foot-tall shelving was used in this section, as well as in health and beauty care.

In the rest of Center Store, convex shelving interrupted the straight lines of the aisles, in an attempt to draw shoppers to specialty and imported products like salsas, olives and Italian sauces.

Five endcaps at the rear of the store conveyed themes, which were announced by large pastel signs: Lunch Time, Making Pasta and Grilling Steak, to name a few. The endcaps held cookbooks, cookware and shelf-stable products that suggested meals.

The decor suggested a country general store as evidenced by the rustic, wood-like shelving, wooden baskets, crates and wood flooring that ran through floral, produce and the natural foods section.

Service-counter employees were helpful when approached. While no extensive food sampling was under way during SN's visit, staffers enthusiastically opened packages of bread and cheese to let a shopper taste them.

The store didn't have a product locator kiosk, but an employee quickly found the shelf location for a requested organic breakfast cereal. Yet, like many in the category, it was out of stock. The employee explained that the store reorders organic cereal twice a week, but due to storage space limitations, products frequently are out of stock.

Safeway's own private-label lines were widespread throughout the store, reflecting the retailer's commitment to bolstering its store brands as a point of distinction. SN found prominent displays of Rancher's Reserve beef at the service counter and self-service meat cooler, Signature Soups and Safeway Select bulk coffee, including Organic Aztec Blend and, giving the selection a local accent, Rocky Mountain Roast.