BOULDER, Colo. — Sunflower Farmers Market, previously limited to using that name on its stores in only five states, has acquired the rights to use it throughout most of the country, as well as on its private label and marketing materials.
The natural and organic retailer acquired the name from Minneapolis-based Supervalu, which had briefly operated a handful of natural and organic stores in the Midwest under the Sunflower banner. Terms of the acquisition were not immediately available.
In an interview with SN last week, Chris Sherrell, president and chief operating officer, Sunflower, said the chain is planning to leverage the new name immediately by converting its three stores in Texas from Newflower Farmers Market to Sunflower Farmers Market and by rolling out new packaging for its private label assortment.
“It's pretty big — there were a lot of restrictions when we were leasing the Sunflower name from Supervalu,” he explained. “There really were a ton of branding things that we could not do because of the lease agreement.”
Those restrictions included the use of the Sunflower name in the chain's website, which has been operating at the URL of www.sfmarkets.com. Sunflower will now be able to use the full sunflowerfarmersmarkets.com name.
“We are going to start using the name in whatever ways possible,” Sherrell said.
Supervalu has retained the use of the Sunflower name in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee to enable its independent customers who we service to continue to operate under the Sunflower name in these states, a Supervalu spokesman told SN.
Sunflower, founded in 2002 by Wild Oats founder Mike Gilliland, who remains chairman and chief executive officer of Sunflower, has acquired the expanded use of the name just as the chain is ramping up growth in California. Sunflower's first store in that state is scheduled to open in March in Roseville.
“California is going to be huge for us,” Sherrell said, noting that the company was primarily focusing on the northern areas of the state. “We hope to open two more stores — three total — in California in 2011, and it will probably be our biggest growth state for the next couple of years, while we continue plugging in additional stores here and there in the other states.”
He said the company, which has 32 stores in six states today, envisions eventually opening five to six stores a year in California, plus three to four more per year in its other operating areas. It currently has locations in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Arizona and Nevada. Sunflower also is planning to open its third Utah location in Salt Lake City this spring, another market Sherrell said could see several more Sunflower locations soon.
The three Newflower stores in Texas — in Austin, Bee Cave and Dallas — are slated to convert to the Sunflower name this week.
“I think early on we didn't think about the big picture quite enough,” Sherrell said, in explaining why the company only agreed to a limited use of the Sunflower name at first. “We thought we'd stay in those five states [Texas was added later], and before you know it we're opening seven or eight stores a year and starting to think outside the original plan.
“So it's definitely a big milestone for us, and we're all pretty excited about getting this name and growing.”
The use of one name throughout the chain will produce some cost savings, he pointed out, as marketing materials, uniforms, shopping bags and other items can all be produced under a single logo.
Sherrell said it would probably take most of 2011 to get the new private label rolled out, with more than 1,000 items slated for the revamp and another 250 or so new items scheduled to be added to the store-brand offerings. Currently the chain uses an image of a sunflower on the label along with its slogan, “Serious food, silly prices.”
“In our existing markets, people know our brand, but when we go into new states and new markets, people might look in the cabinet and see ‘Serious food, silly prices,’ and wonder what [store] that is.”