WHY SWEETBAY IS MORE THAN JUST HANNAFORD SOUTHEAST

When Delhaize America decided earlier this year to remake its 103-unit, Florida-based Kash n' Karry chain with a new name and look, some executives probably suggested transplanting Delhaize's successful New England Hannaford Bros. chain to Florida.It would have been a logical thought. Hannaford, after all, has been a star performer for Kash n' Karry's Brussels, Belgium-based parent company, Delhaize

When Delhaize America decided earlier this year to remake its 103-unit, Florida-based Kash n' Karry chain with a new name and look, some executives probably suggested transplanting Delhaize's successful New England Hannaford Bros. chain to Florida.

It would have been a logical thought. Hannaford, after all, has been a star performer for Kash n' Karry's Brussels, Belgium-based parent company, Delhaize Group. Even the person picked to reengineer Kash n' Karry, Shelley Broader, is a Hannaford alumnus.

Yet the Hannaford name was not brought to Florida. Kash n' Karry is being remade as Sweetbay Supermarket.

It's now also evident that the Hannaford concept is not being cloned in Florida.

In a story on Page 32 this week, SN Retail editor Mark Hamstra reports on his interview with Broader and tour of the first Sweetbay unit that opened earlier this month in Seminole, Fla.

The story points out that Sweetbay is a completely new entity that relies on some successful aspects of Hannaford, while pursuing a unique niche geared to the fast-growing Florida market. Getting that niche right is crucial because the formidable competition includes such diverse players as Wal-Mart Stores, Publix Super Markets and Albertsons.

Sweetbay is clearly trying to underscore its knowledge of the Florida customer. The local angle hits shoppers in the face upon entering the store. Consumers find themselves in the produce department facing two large replicas of Sweetbay magnolia trees, which are native to the Southeast and help evoke a tropical feeling. The produce department -- more than 500 items -- embraces locally grown and ethnic merchandise.

Sweetbay is aiming for a service niche. The retailer has expanded the in-store workforce, and is putting much effort into educating associates and instilling them with a passion for food. Employees are encouraged to sample new products. The logic is you can't energize shoppers until you convert the associates into foodies.

Sweetbay may have carved out its own niche, but it's not too proud to borrow from its Delhaize cousins, especially Hannaford. Private label is a prime example. Sweetbay was challenged to create a new store-brand program in a short timeframe, so it struck a compromise. The retailer launched a Sweetbay brand program for fresh foods, while relying on the Hannaford brand for grocery items. Sweetbay is also adopting Hannaford's On The Go Bistro frozen-foods brand. It is leveraging back-room expertise from Hannaford, including a successful purchasing system. Moreover, Sweetbay has pulled ideas from sister chain Food Lion's new Bloom format and from the parent company's European retail businesses.

The chain's debut marks the beginning of Sweetbay's next phase of evolution. Executives will now begin to gauge how the concept performs in the real world rather than on the drawing board. Management is betting that consumers will find a niche not served elsewhere. One of the key questions will be whether the chain succeeds in its goal of serving both upscale, gourmet-oriented customers and price-oriented shoppers seeking a basic market basket.

All of this remains to be seen. A lot of people will be watching how this format fares.

Either way, Sweetbay can't be accused of a failure to develop an imaginative concept based on local dynamics.