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San Fernando
Friday, Jun 9, 2023


SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter Karyn Foley can’t wait for the new Ralphs to open in her Calabasas neighborhood. “If you have a family, you have to go to one market for more upscale products and another market to get your staples at reasonable prices,” says the former mayor of Calabasas. “Now you can go and splurge on a meal or a product and still get canned items and frozen things that an upscale market may not offer. It’s a godsend.” That’s just the kind of thinking Ralphs Grocery Co. is banking on as it prepares to bring its new concept of supermarket retailing to the San Fernando Valley. Ralphs, soon to be under new ownership after an agreement by parent Fred Meyer Inc. to be acquired by Kroger Co., has in recent years begun tailoring its individual stores more closely to the neighborhoods they serve, with signature stores that carry a more upscale selection of items. The Calabasas unit, located in the Commons at Calabasas, takes the effort one step further. “We looked at what Bristol Farms has done and Gelson’s and Wild Oats, and taken a little bit from all these retailers and tried to come up with the best of them,” said Chris J. Manders, district manager for Ralphs Northern division. Rather than lose sales to grocery stores like these that cater to affluent customers, Ralphs is expanding its offerings in select markets, hoping to become the one-stop shop of choice for everything from canned peaches to cactus leaves. The 44,000-square-foot store will replace an existing Ralphs market across the street. That store will close the night before the new one opens in mid-December. “It will be about 40 percent larger and we’ll be able to expand the offerings with all the bells and whistles,” said Manders. The Commons store will cater to busy families in which both partners work, and to baby boomers who have become more concerned with nutrition and product ingredients as they age. The idea is to provide fast, healthy meals for those unwilling to sacrifice their taste buds in the struggle to get dinner on the table after a long day of work. Under Ralphs’ so-called “in-home replacement meal business,” the selection of prepared foods such as roast loin of pork, roasted pollo asada and pasta primavera will be expanded. The frozen-food section will be allotted 15 percent to 20 percent more space than in most Ralphs stores. And there will be a full-service desert counter with gourmet cakes and pastries. The store will also have a chef on site to prepare meals and handle catering requests. “Their skills and ability will be a notch up from our typical store,” Manders said. Another emphasis will be on the more nutrition-conscious shopper. The store will carry an expanded selection of organically grown vegetables, meat-free cold cuts such as veggie dogs and pepperoni, soy cheeses, tofu and soybean margarine. There will also be a nutritional area devoted to vitamins and other supplements. “As baby boomers move toward retirement age, we’ve seen this area grow,” said Manders. The store will also carry an expanded selection of gourmet and ethnic foods. There will be a 12-foot fish counter with live lobsters in tanks, and tuna steaks included in the selection; the meat counter will include a variety of sausages, veal, lamb and pork, duck and goose, in addition to the more traditional cuts of beef and chicken. Among the 250 to 300 types of fruits and vegetables, the store will carry portabella, enoki and shitaki mushrooms, prickly pear cactus, yucca root, star fruit and a large selection of chilis from Thai to habanero. There will be more than 100 varieties of imported beers, about 25 percent more than other Ralphs stores, and a larger wine selection featuring more high-end Cabernets and specialty desert wines among the offerings as well as an on-site wine steward. The store will also have a cigar humidor and a floral shop with full-time florist able to make arrangements for all occasions. Plus a full-time nutritionist to help customers prepare menus. “Look where they are,” said Jonathan Ziegler, an analyst with Salomon Smith Barney in San Francisco. “It’s appropriate for the market.” Calabasas, with a median household income of $75,000, is among the wealthiest communities in the greater San Fernando Valley. The decision to upgrade came from focus groups and other studies that showed that customers, particularly in the more affluent areas the markets serve, have become more discriminating. “The customer is more educated, and it’s changed the way we go to market,” Manders said. Although many of the newer items, such as prepared foods, yield higher margins for the store, executives said that the improved profitability of these businesses is secondary. “We’re driven to it because we see our customers want it,” said Ari Swiller, a Ralph’s spokesman. “If the margins are better, great, but that’s not what’s driving it.”

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