tampabay.com

It's all about the food

The Kash n' Karry chain debuts its new formula of broad food and service selections in a grand opening today in Seminole.

By MARK ALBRIGHT
Published November 6, 2004


SEMINOLE - Shelley Broader was like a kid in a candy store roaming the tantalizing aisles of the first Sweetbay Supermarket.

"We feel like we had a baby," said the confirmed foodie and president of Kash n' Karry Food Stores Inc. the day before today's 8 a.m. grand opening. "Kash n' Karry is being retired. Sweetbay will be a whole new company. Now let me show you this gourmet cheese, it's my favorite.'

The opening culminates a year of taste-testing, store design work and innovative marketing that went into a prototype supermarket at 10370 Seminole Blvd. Built from the ground up - others will be converted from existing Kash n' Karrys - the store is supposed to be "all about the food."

To Broader's staff, that meant building a selection of 58,000 items that dwarfs the 41,000 found in a Kash n' Karry.

Twenty types of tomatoes. Seventeen types of Italian sausage, including blueberry. More than 300 gourmet cheeses. Five-foot stalks of sugar cane. An exclusive line of 160 microwavable dishes for the meals-on-the-go crowd.

Every grocer boasts off-the-wall produce like horn melons these days. But Sweetbay got even more obscure: Chinese okra, batata root, cherimoya. Kash n' Karry's parent, the Belgian Delhaize Group, had to do something. Two years ago, the Tampa chain retreated from an ill-fated move into the Orlando market after being there just a few years. Back in Tampa Bay, Wal-Mart had soared past Winn-Dixie into third place among Tampa Bay grocers in 2003. The discount giant is on a building binge, so competing on price is a no-win game for traditional grocers.

Kash n' Karry has a No. 2 market position to defend. But it needs new customers to survive long term, not just cling to what it has.

In Sweetbay, Delhaize's answer is perhaps the broadest food selection under one roof in Central Florida. Store planners wedged in an extra shelf and eliminated thousands of redundant products.

"Did we really need seven sizes of ketchup?" Broader asked.

Broader doesn't consider Sweetbay upscale. The foundation is the same competitively priced staples Kash n' Karry and everybody else stocks. But there are tons of tempting alternatives - $12.99 a pound Stilton cheese, $7.99 a pound Black Angus steak, $8 to have a photo printed on a birthday cake - within easy reach.

Delhaize pulled out the promotional stops for the single store opening in Seminole. The chain bought billboards, distributed 100,000 16-page newspaper circulars and aired TV spots heralding the new approach set to a jingle with a bouncy Calypso beat.

Center stage is a produce department shaded by two fake magnolia trees that filter natural light from a ceiling skylight. But that's just one of many gimmicks:

Kids 6 and younger can register for a Kids Passport. That entitles them to a badge and booklet of nutrition tips at the door. Members get a free banana, apple, orange or juice box. In return for signing up the kids, parents get mailings of coupons for foods kids like.

"We're trying to take the drudgery out of shopping for parents, so kids want to come along just like at McDonald's," said Steve Smith, vice president of marketing.

Each store has a designated Taste Ambassador. Outgoing and food savvy, the ambassadors coordinate food sampling demos, volunteer preparation tips and are expected to train all store workers to do the same thing.

Fresh ground beef and roast pork come with plastic pop-ups that signal when the meat is thoroughly cooked. Steaks come with a plastic probe alerting cookout chefs when the meat is rare, medium or well done. Fresh seafood buyers get their salmon filet packed with a chiller of ice.

Produce clerks will clean and carve up any piece of produce for a free taste upon request.

The deli brims with fresh-packed meals to go, but Sweetbay stocks On The Go Bistro items in the freezer case. It's a premium line of quick meals created for Hannaford Bros., Kash n' Karry's sister company in New England. The fare ranges from appetizers to dessert and includes unusual main courses such as coconut shrimp, black bean quesadilla and spinach walnut ravioli. The crab cakes are made from crab, not fish.

While Kash n' Karry keeps its frequent shopper program right to the end in a few years, Sweetbay will not have one. There will be discount coupons for loyalty groups such as the Kids Passport, a baby club, pet owners and possibly wine fans.

The first market to be converted to Sweetbay was to be Fort Myers. But hurricanes delayed the launch of 11 new or remodeled stores until this winter, so the Seminole store got debut honors. Sarasota/Bradenton will be switched to Sweetbay next year and a single new Sweetbay in Riverview will open east of Tampa.

Work begins in late 2005 on the rest of the Tampa Bay with store openings beginning in 2006. Delhaize executives are deciding how quickly to transform the Tampa Bay Kash n' Karry stores.

"It's in the budget, it's more a matter of do we do 20 a year or 40?" Broader said.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or 727 893-8252.

SWEETBAY SUPERMARKET

WHERE IS IT? 10370 Seminole Blvd.

WHAT IS IT? It's a new store concept that will replace Kash n' Karry over the next several years.

HOW IS IT DIFFERENT? The stores will continue to stock standard grocery store fare, but Sweetbays will emphasize a wide range of specialty products to appeal to food lovers. A typical Kash n' Karry has about 41,000 products; Sweetbay has 58,000.

WHEN WILL MY KASH N' KARRY BECOME A SWEETBAY? It will be a while. The first stores to convert will be in Fort Myers this winter, with the process scheduled to edge north over the next couple of years. Riverview will get a new store, like Seminole's, in 2005.