Bristol Farms' Upscale Customers Unfazed

The economic malaise is not having any impact on business at Bristol Farms, which is consistent with patterns established in similar periods previously, Kevin Davis, president and chief operating officer, told SN. We closely monitor sales trends up or down in certain categories, and historically, we've never seen a business drop-off or any changes when the economy moves down, he

CARSON, Calif. — The economic malaise is not having any impact on business at Bristol Farms here, which is consistent with patterns established in similar periods previously, Kevin Davis, president and chief operating officer, told SN.

“We closely monitor sales trends up or down in certain categories, and historically, we've never seen a business drop-off or any changes when the economy moves down,” he pointed out.

“We look at specific items in our mix — Rao's spaghetti sauce vs. Prego or Ragu; Fiji and Evian water vs. price brands; King Arthur flour vs. Gold Medal; or Bruegger's milk vs. Altadena — and for each item, on purchases per 1,000 customers, the upscale brands are still outselling the others by the same percentage as usual.”

Bristol Farms, a wholly owned subsidiary of Supervalu, Minneapolis, operates 15 stores, including 14 in Southern California and one in San Francisco.

Asked why some upscale operators were experiencing a negative economic impact while others, like Bristol Farms, are not, Davis noted that high-end supermarkets in major urban centers like Los Angeles or San Francisco are less likely to be impacted than those in smaller marketing areas, “because upscale consumers in those places don't trade down in food. To them, trading down may mean cooking steaks at home rather than going out or not taking a big vacation or not buying a new car.

“But they don't change the way they eat. Food is the least expensive luxury to them.”

He acknowledged that restaurant dining may be down among his customers, “because the cafe business we do at all but two of our stores is strong, and our catering business is very strong and growing very fast.”

Bristol Farms' private-label items are those at the highest end of the price spectrum — “unique, hard-to-find soups, salads, entrees, dips and quiches,” Davis explained — and sales of those items have not been negatively impacted in any way, he added.