BOULDER, Colo. — Sunflower Farmers Market expects to expand its local produce offerings at its newest location, and also ramp up its organic selection, officials said.
Set to open in Roseville, Calif., on May 11, the 30,000-square-foot store is the company's 34th unit, and its first in California.
“We're excited about breaking into the California market, especially the Northern California market,” Mike Krage, the chain's director of produce and floral, told SN.
“Central Valley is the breadbasket of America when it comes to produce,” he added. “From a produce perspective, there are all kinds of opportunities for us to procure and promote local products.”
Krage pointed out that with a farmers' market format, Sunflower is well positioned to offer customers what they want anyway.
“If you look at consumer trends, you see that ‘fresh’ and ‘local’ are at the top of their priority lists.”
Krage said all Sunflower locations source as much local product as possible, but the Northern California location gives the new store an advantage.
“That's one reason I'm here, to expand our locally grown products — to take us from good to outstanding when it comes to sourcing and expanding quality local buying.”
Before joining Sunflower Farmers Market just months ago, Krage had spent the past seven years as Winn-Dixie Stores' vice president of produce. There, he had total oversight of the chain's produce procurement and merchandising. He spoke enthusiastically of his new challenges at Sunflower.
“This week we're having meetings with growers and wholesalers and distributors in the Sacramento area, and then, in the San Francisco Terminal Market,” Krage said. “We want to find the most efficient way to source.”
Keeping the product as fresh as possible to its destination is a top priority so the location of growers is paramount, Krage pointed out. Diverting to direct delivery where possible will be important, too, he said.
“Especially for time-sensitive things like California cherries and some of the stone fruits. And then, the Sacramento Delta and Salinas Valley produce great asparagus and artichokes. The quicker we get them to the store the better.”
Another big initiative is ramping up marketing at the new location, with emphasis on nutritional value and sustainability, Krage said. That's in addition to underscoring “local” and “fresh.”
Sunflower is already known for its quality produce at value prices, but that will be spotlighted even more. Indeed, the company will have access to some of the best quality produce in the United States, and can gain a competitive advantage with it, right in that market area.
“There are some premier orchards here, and microclimates that produce great eating fruit, but not in enough quantity for the large chains. That'll give us an advantage,” Krage said.
The microclimates give a unique taste to summer fruits like apricots, peaches and nectarines, Krage explained.
The pockets of ideal fruit-growing climates are created by a combination of altitude, closeness to the ocean, and heat from California's Central Valley.
One consultant and veteran of the supermarket industry emphasized the advantages Northern California has to offer.
“As far as the sourcing issue goes, the Central Valley and Central Coast are great fresh produce production areas, and will be a gold mine of opportunities for Sunflower to tap into,” said Dick Spezzano, principal in Monrovia, Calif.-based Spezzano Consulting Service.
At 30,000 square feet, the new Roseville store will be one of Sunflower Farmers Market's larger units. They all differ in size, but all devote at least 25% of selling floor to fresh produce. This one, Krage said, will devote 30% of the sales floor to produce. It'll show off 500 produce items, and about a 100 organic produce items.
Across the chain, fresh produce — more and more of it from local growers — is Sunflower's sales driver. In terms of the percentage of total store sales that produce accounts for, that percentage is between two and three times the national average at Sunflower, Krage said.
There will be plenty of competition to deal with in Roseville. A Trader Joe's sits within a block of the store, and then there are Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, Sprouts Farmers Market, Kroger's Foods Co banner and a number of conventional supermarkets.
But Sunflower is well positioned, officials said.
“We have the opportunity to partner with growers and have them grow [fresh produce items] for us. And we're already looking for organic growers who are already certified,” Krage said. “We can help them develop further and offer them new retail outlets.”
Sunflower expects to expand further in Northern California, the next location being Modesto. Then, the expansion will be accelerated next year, officials said.