Food Emporium Retains Gourmet Cachet

Food Emporium is primarily a Manhattan-based gourmet format, and as such it operates in a world of its own, said Eric Claus, president and chief executive officer of A&P, which owns the chain. That world of late is dominated by news of financial crisis on Wall Street, where analysts said a loss of 35,000 jobs is possible. Claus sees a slightly different shopping dynamic at work in Manhattan,

MONTVALE, N.J. — Food Emporium is primarily a Manhattan-based gourmet format, and as such it operates in a world of its own, said Eric Claus, president and chief executive officer of A&P, which owns the chain.

That world of late is dominated by news of financial crisis on Wall Street, where analysts said a loss of 35,000 jobs is possible.

Claus sees a slightly different shopping dynamic at work in Manhattan, compared with other high-income markets where the company does business. Since New York City is so closely allied with Wall Street, there is a lot of fear and anxiety about the loss of jobs and reductions in bonuses and income, said Claus. “It is not necessarily the people that lost their jobs. It is the people that think they might be losing their jobs.”

He said high-income New Yorkers are cutting back on dining out at restaurants as their first defense against economic crisis.

As for Food Emporium shoppers, Claus said resistance to inflation may be seen in slight shifts in shopping behavior in Center Store.

“When times get tougher, and with inflation like we have now, you will see people shift in Center Store much more so than in fresh. You'll see them shift to a price proposition.”

Food Emporium has 16 stores in Manhattan and 13 in city suburbs and Connecticut. The stores are positioned to appeal to what A&P calls the “savvy” shopper, meaning those who appreciate and can afford an exclusive selection of imported and specialty foods.

A&P is working with tomato suppliers, for example, to develop tomatoes that feel, look and taste better than commodity-produced tomatoes. Offering both types of tomatoes in the high-end market, Claus said the demand is always for the luscious, vine-ripened tomato that is priced much higher.

Food Emporium is well positioned, he said, to take advantage of high-income shoppers who are now eating at home more often.

“We are putting more emphasis on prepared foods, which is really a growth area in high-end markets both in and out of Manhattan,” said Claus.

Food Emporium offers foodies gourmet specialties like Burrata, an Italian mozzarella cheese, Buddha's Hand, a lemon-like fruit, Himalayan Pink, Black Lava and Bamboo Jade, gourmet salts, and Fritz Knipschildt, handmade chocolates.

The stores exclusively carry premium gold Angus beef from PGA Beef, Austin, Texas, a supplier of genetically certified Black Angus. Last year the chain announced a certified organic beef program in partnership with Dakota Beef. Earlier this year A&P, in conjunction with New York's Fulton Fish Market, launched Seafood Joe's Market fresh fish, a selection of fresh fish daily. Special order service also is available at the fish boutique.

“We see our business very strong in Manhattan,” said Claus. “A lot of what we see in our numbers is by design. It is things we have done — changes made to business or capital put into our stores that is helping to improve it. But the effect of the economy is not significant in Manhattan. Our business is good. It is strong.”

One factor that Claus believes has helped the company grow is its focus on and development of different formats rather than banners.

“When times get tough, and you have a lot of economic pressures, if you are specialized I think you've got a much better chance to be resilient to the ups and downs of the economy and to the entrants of the other big guys,” he said.