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Tops’ Orchard Fresh Format Will Target Foodies

“We saw this as a great opportunity to experiment with a concept that is primarily driven around fresh foods — a fresh experience — targeting that consumer that has a passion for food and a taste for excellent quality food." — Jeff Culhane, VP of perishables, Tops

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Tops Friendly Markets is planning a small-format, upscale store here that will focus on fresh foods, specialty products and natural and organic offerings.

“As we looked around western New York, we saw areas like Orchard Park and other affluent areas that were underserved,” Jeff Culhane, vice president of perishables at Tops, told SN. “We saw this as a great opportunity to experiment with a concept that is primarily driven around fresh foods — a fresh experience — targeting that consumer that has a passion for food and a taste for excellent quality food.

“Where better to do it but a concentrated place like Orchard Park, which is close to the office, so we can refine it and make changes as we go, and get feedback from consumers.”

The new store — dubbed Orchard Fresh — will measure 30,000 square feet in total, with 18,000 square feet of selling space, when it opens this spring, if all goes according to plan. It is considerably smaller than the average Tops, although the company’s recent acquisition of the Grand Union fleet in eastern New York and Vermont added several small-format stores to the company’s portfolio. Tops has also opened some other stores recently that are in that size range.

More news: Moody's Rates Tops Markets' Debt Issue

At Orchard Fresh, Culhane said plans call for the store to have a large proportion of the floor dedicated to perishables, with reduced offerings in dry grocery, frozen and dairy.

“Probably 30% of store will be dedicated to what we normally dedicate 60% of the store to,” he explained.

The store will have a strong emphasis on in-store services, including prepared foods. A major piece of the store’s prepared food offerings will be its wood-fired pizza oven, Culhane explained.

It will also feature highly trained employees with deep knowledge about the products the store carries, he pointed out.

Well-Trained Employees

“The employees in the store will be a resource for the customers who truly understand food and want to learn more about food,” Culhane said. “They will be well trained and well versed within those areas of the store. If a customer is trying to understand how to cook a particular type of meat, or learn about gluten-free foods, or about natural and organic, or health and wellness, we will have people there that can help answer those questions.”

The store is expected to employ between 70 and 80 full- and part-time workers.

It will not offer a pharmacy, and many of the products will be supplied via direct store delivery from specialty vendors as opposed to the chain’s major wholesaler, C&S Wholesale Grocers.

The location in the Orchard Park Plaza puts the company in a shopping district in the town, Culhane explained. The site had previously been other independent supermarket banners, including a Jubilee supermarket and a Latina’s supermarket, according to local reports.

“We feel there’s a great opportunity with the customer base there,” Culhane said. “The store is right in the heart of the Orchard Park market, and it is such an active community — there are always people out walking, jogging.

“It’s a great town for this store, with some nice shops nearby. The store just fits with the neighboring businesses.”

Tops has been planning the concept of a store based on fresh and natural offerings for more than a year, Culhane said.

If the first store is successful, it could provide the basis for a rollout, he noted.

“We want to make sure we understand the first one, tweak where we need to tweak, and then if the right opportunity in the right market opens up, I think we would move into it,” he said.

More news: Tops Buys Three Big M Stores

Separately, Tops last week opened another store under a new name — North Side Tops Market in Syracuse, which replaces a store closed by another chain last year.

Tops said it worked in conjunction with the city of Syracuse, Morgan Management and Syracuse Industrial Development Agency to return a full-service grocery store to the area. It is the company’s second store in Syracuse.

“Tops has a strong commitment to the city of Syracuse and the central New York community and we are excited to open a Tops Markets at the North Side location,” said Frank Curci, Tops’ president and CEO..

The 32,000-square-foot store features a Carry Out Café, an eat-in dining area. It also has four self-checkout stations and a pharmacy.

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