ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH

Safeway is nestling into a healthy niche here at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.The retailer recently unveiled its first locally tailored "lifestyle" store, with features designed to serve the north Boulder area's health-conscious consumers."We're a full-service grocery store, restaurant and kitchen [supply] facility," said Scott Grimmett, president of Safeway's Denver Division, during the store's

Safeway is nestling into a healthy niche here at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

The retailer recently unveiled its first locally tailored "lifestyle" store, with features designed to serve the north Boulder area's health-conscious consumers.

"We're a full-service grocery store, restaurant and kitchen [supply] facility," said Scott Grimmett, president of Safeway's Denver Division, during the store's ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this month.

This store tweaks Safeway's lifestyle concept - which emphasizes natural offerings and freshly prepared foods - by locally sourcing many of the thousands of organic, natural and fresh products that the retailer expects will appeal to the area's nature-loving residents.

Last year, Safeway distributed $250 million worth of Colorado agriculture to consumers and it hopes to do even better this year, Grimmett said. Even its main energy source - a local wind farm - is Colorado-based.

Locally produced fresh foods include more than 20 Colorado cheeses.

"There is a lot of unique talent in every area," said Rojon Hasker, president of products and lifestyle operations, Safeway. "We can tailor these stores to the local demographic but still make them look and feel the same. For instance, in ethnic areas we can offer more ethnic foods."

The store has wide-open spaces, faux wood floors and natural lighting, which is used to showcase its natural and organic fresh produce and grocery aisle offerings on the west end of the store. Safeway uses brighter lighting to show off the Culinary Center and prepared food sections on the opposite end of the 77,000-square-foot unit.

In addition to doubling in physical size, the four-year-old store has significantly expanded its

prepared food menu. The store also has an outdoor patio seating area that's warmed with heating lamps in the winter and cooled by water-misters in the summer.

In the future, "we may begin to serve food to customers in the outdoor seating facility," Grimmett said.

Two express checkout lanes, separate from the rest of the store's checkout terminals, have been added near the entrance closest to the prepared meals section.

A variety of options include a Fujisan Sushi Bar with its own in-store seating area, a Chili and Chowder Bar, a Bistro-Style hot entree self-service bar, a cold salad bar and a Bamboo Bay self-service bar that includes hot Chinese and Thai take-out meals.

Two to three Safeway-employed sushi chefs work at the Fujisan Sushi Bar that serves two dozen varieties of freshly prepared sushi. Ingredients are sourced from Anaheim, Calif.-based Fujisan Fuji Food Products, which supplies a number of supermarket sushi bars. The six stools that line the bar's perimeter allow customers to watch while their sushi is rolled right in front of them. Packaged sushi is also available.

"Some people are a little apprehensive about eating sushi because it's raw fish, but the sushi bar allows for interaction where employees can recommend milder options like the California roll," which contains fully cooked crab, said Kenny Sung, president of Fujisan Fuji Food Products. "Sushi is viewed as a bite-sized meal that's like a tiny seafood salad."

So far, the north Boulder store's sushi bar sales are averaging between $12,000 and $15,000 a day, according to Sung. "By far this is one of our higher-volume facilities and that was even before the grand reopening," he said.

Safeway customers can also help themselves to two separate hot soup stations where packaged versions of Safeway's private-label Signature soups are also displayed.

The store's prepared food selection includes a panini and freshly prepared sandwich counter, fried and rotisserie chicken, and a Millenia's Pizzeria counter that offers freshly made packaged and unpackaged pizzas that can be purchased whole or by the slice. Calzones, strombolis, garlic knots and bread sticks are also featured.

Signature-brand prepared meals including meatloaf and ribs are cross merchandised with tubs of mashed potatoes, potato salad and gravy on displays along with packaged sandwiches and salads near the two express checkouts.

Beside the express checkout is a full-sized Starbucks, equipped with Wi-Fi Internet access, an electric fireplace and additional seating. Near the entrance on the store's west side, a Jamba Juice counter serves a variety of blended fruit drinks next to the floral section that opens into a vast produce area.

"This Jamba Juice is the fifth or sixth one that we've put in our stores," said Larree Renda, executive vice president of operations, Safeway. "We're still new at this and have only a few [Jamba Juice counters] in our store locations.

This Safeway has doubled its fresh produce selection to include 116 certified organic fruits and vegetables. Organic items are displayed in bins that are separate from the expansive assortment of conventional produce. The area also features a circular-shaped nut bar that offers 17 different types of warm nuts that are coated on site with 47 different flavors.

This area of the store is also home to the Natural Foods Department, which features organic dairy products, bulk foods including several varieties of granola, as well as 150 organic dry grocery items offered under Safeway's new "Organic Foods by Nature" private-label brand.

Following the perimeter of the store is a 34-foot service meat counter featuring organic and natural, hand-selected meats that are cut in the store. Locally sourced meats including Boulder Sausage, Louisville, Colo., were featured in the display case. Value-added Butcher's Cut brand meats, like chicken kabobs marinated with sweet-and-sour sauce and boneless, stuffed pork chops were also available.

In addition to cooking advice, meat counter associates will marinate meats with the shopper's choice of wet or dry marinades, in flavors like Cajun and Garden Medley.

Similar services are offered at the store's adjacent 28-foot seafood case that has doubled its fish and shellfish menu since the renovation.

"Eighty percent of seafood is sold in restaurants," said Mike Remington, seafood field merchandiser, Safeway. "A lot of people are terrified when it comes to cooking seafood and marinating it at home. We'll weigh the seafood first and then put it in a special, thick bag" - heavy-duty, plastic and sealable.

Shoppers also can choose shellfish and have it steamed in the store at no additional charge.

Meat and seafood items will be merchandised alongside ingredients for recipes demonstrated in the store's Culinary Center, which is equipped with a full working kitchen. The area was surrounded with displays of high-end and affordable small appliances, cooking tools, dishes and gifts.

Each weekend, advanced student chefs from a local culinary school will present cooking demonstrations of recipes that incorporate use of the culinary tools, according to Renda. Ingredients and supplies will be merchandised together on the cooking station and recipe cards will be distributed to shoppers.

The store's cheese selection, having doubled in size, includes 300 all-natural and kosher cheeses as well as local varieties, including handcrafted cheese from Bingham Hill, Colo. About 75% of the cheeses are imported.

The deli offers a full line of Golden, Colo.-based Coleman natural deli meats that are 100% vegetarian fed, and raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics.

The north Boulder location's bakery features an open-flame hearth oven where European-style artisan breads are made throughout the day on a zoned oven that ensures the bread stays soft on the inside and crispy on the outside, Renda said.

Breads and other baked goods are merchandised at the store's walk-around bakery kiosk that features cinnamon rolls and bagels. Shoppers can select a variety of cinnamon roll toppings and flavored butter spreads for their bagels in addition to specifying the thickness of slices of bread.

Customers can also customize cream puffs at the kiosk's cream puff filling station with custard-based flavors including green tea leaf, chocolate mousse and seasonal fruit flavors like mango and strawberry.

On the day of SN's visit, the store was crowded with customers who seemed to appreciate the new amenities.

"The store is phenomenal," said one shopper, as she waited in line at the express checkout in the prepared foods area. "It's a one-stop shop. It's great to see something that works. People really enjoy quality and they're willing to pay a little more for it."

Lucky Streak

Safeway aims to capture a piece of the granola pie here in the health-conscious Boulder, Colo., market.

With a large assortment of natural and organic foods, Safeway's newly remodeled "lifestyle" store competes with the country's largest natural food chain, Whole Foods Market, which operates a store just a few blocks away from the Safeway. Wild Oats Markets, which is headquartered in Boulder, has a store six miles away.

Smaller independent Lucky's Market, located two miles away, also vies for a piece of the natural food market. So far, the 13,000-square-foot discount retailer, specializing in natural and organic foods, hasn't felt any additional competitive pressure from the revamped Safeway.

"To be honest with you, I'm not worried about it," said Bo Sharon, owner of Lucky's Market, which he describes as the last independent in town. Safeway "finished much of the renovation work months ago and business has not changed whatsoever."

Lucky's has a distribution agreement with local wholesaler, Sunflower Market.

"[Sunflower's] philosophy is discounted natural foods with an emphasis on perishables," Sharon said. "It's hard for the big chains to compete against us at the price point that we offer. We don't have a lot of stockholders to keep happy so we're able to operate on a lower price margin then they are. Price and quality wins so I have a lot of faith in my store."

Sharon counts Wild Oats and Whole Foods among his biggest competitors.