AUSTIN, Texas -- A walk through H-E-B Grocery Co.'s new Central Market fresh foods concept here leads through a forced traffic pattern that evokes the mazelike, show-and-sell approach of a Harry's Farmers Market in Atlanta or a Stew Leonard's in Connecticut.
Variety is king in produce at Central Market. There were 10 kinds of potatoes the day SN visited, all the way from gold to purple. There was a wide variety of specialty fruit, and bananas sold at different stages of ripeness. Throughout the department there were information pamphlets containing recipes, storage instructions and nutrition information. Next is seafood, and at 75 linear feet, Central Market has the largest retail seafood department in Texas, said Kristy Ozmun, director of public affairs for H-E-B. More than 100 varieties are offered from the ice tables, including whole fish, eight sizes of shrimp and, when available, six types of salmon. Across the way is meat, with butchers who make fresh sausage and smoke meats on site. There are 12 butchers and 10 apprentices who do all the work in the open. A separate case is used for poultry.
Wine and beer come next, with a selection of moderately priced bottles chosen for people who know enough about wine to know that expensive isn't always best, Ozmun said. "We're trying to reach the midrange wine buyer," she explained.
Grocery follows, with its specialty offerings set out on freestanding wire shelves. Around the corner, shoppers are led to the counter with the smoothies and the coffee area, which has its own roaster with a chimney reaching high up to the ceiling. Coffee is sold in bulk and by the cup here. Bulk foods share this area. Across from here is the frozens section. Dairy follows, with a vast array of yogurts and milk products. Then there's the 100% scratch bakery along the right back wall. The department is self-service, but workers face shoppers and respond to customer requests. Offerings include minicroissants, almond croissants, cookies and two kinds of challah -- plain and raisin. Next is deli, with a full selection of premium meats and pates, along with signs that inform shoppers they can buy the meats in bulk. The deli counter feeds shoppers into the last segment of their trip. Here there is the extensive salad bar, a kosher section, a counter where orders can be placed for food to go, and a wall of imported and domestic cheeses set out on wood crates. Opposite the cheeses is the pasta bar, where customers can help themselves to 20 choices of fresh uncooked pasta. There are striped ravioli imported from Italy and countless permutations on tortillini. Prepacked prepared foods are next in the case, with offerings such as lasagna and seven-layer party dip. "I'll never have to cook again," a customer said as she surveyed the case. The traffic pattern leads the shopper to the store's 20 checkstands, where there's one more opportunity to buy. Here is the floral department, with stems set out in buckets, and a table staffed by a clerk who can make bouquets to order. Above her on a trellis are upside-down bouquets of drying flowers. Shoppers can exit here, or start the circle once again.