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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Nugget, Co-op find customers like perishables in prominent spot

Colorful, attractive produce sections are described as "the fashion side of the grocery business." Here, a shopper peruses the produce Tuesday at the Davis Food Co-op. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | August 17, 2012 |

Davis shoppers are particularly interested in fresh produce, meats and other perishables, say representatives of two locally based grocers — Nugget Market and the Davis Food Co-op. This is reflected in the way products are arranged, with an eye toward the route through the store that a typical customer pushing a shopping basket might take.

“We’ve always hung our hats on perishables,” said Eric Stille, CEO and president of Nugget Markets Inc. “Typically, we lead with produce,” it’s usually the first thing you see as you enter one of Nugget’s stores. “And then maybe the guest will continue building the meal in the meat department. That’s how our stores are typically laid out — with perishables around the perimeter. And the perimeter is the most heavily traveled area in the store.”

But Stille added that “the center of the store is still very important. A year ago, the grocery section” — as distinct from produce, meat, etc. — “was leading the chain as far as the percentage of sales increase for our stores that year. Whereas this year, it’s fresh items (that are showing the biggest increase).

“Sometimes it is more a matter of seasonality. But there’s no question that our guests are eating healthier,” he continued. “There is a move toward less processed foods. But at the same time, the center of the store still makes up a major portion of grocery dollars spent.”

Stille said the Nugget store at Covell Boulevard and Pole Line Road, built 11 years ago, is “our preferred layout” in which “we introduce the shopper to the produce department and the meat department quickly.” It was remodeled recently, updating some of the areas near the front of the store.

Nugget’s smaller store in El Macero has the produce section in the middle of the store. It’s basically the first thing customers see when they come in through the main entrance.

“That store opened in 1981, more than 30 years ago,” Stille said. “Our idea was to put the perishables front and center.”

The store continues to do well, and moving the refrigerated units in which produce is displayed to another part of the store would be fairly expensive.

Stille said Nugget is also using shelf tags to indicate which items are local, organic or imported.

“These have been very well received by our guests,” he said.

Unlike some of the larger chain grocers, who sometimes refer to any item from within California as “locally grown,” Nugget defines “local” as within 100 miles of its Woodland headquarters. Besides Davis and Woodland, Nugget has stores in Elk Grove, Vacaville, Roseville and El Dorado Hills.

At the Davis Food Co-op, general manager Eric Stromberg said the layout of the store has changed over years.

“Originally, the building was a Safeway store, built in 1959,” Stromberg said. “After that, it became an independent grocery, Pavey’s Market, that didn’t make it. Then the Davis Food Co-op moved into half the building in 1984; the other half was a community clinic. And then we experienced year after year of growth.”

Eventually, the Co-op, which was founded in 1972, occupied the whole building.

In 1997, the Co-op worked with local architect Maria Ogrydziak on an addition/renovation project.

“We put everything on an angle, so it would face toward downtown,” Stromberg said. That project involved putting plumbing and refrigeration lines into the concrete slab floor, which makes moving the aisles with refrigeration units an expensive option. So those chillers remained pretty much in place during the Co-op’s most recent partial renovation.

“Perishables have been a huge part of our success for years,” Stromberg said. “Between 45 and 50 percent of our sales are in perishables, depending on the time of year.

“And during the past fiscal year, 34 percent of our produce purchases were local,” Stromberg added, “and 23 percent of our produce purchases were farm-direct. A lot of times when we receive a produce delivery, it is the actual farmer who drives the truck to our store.

“We’re currently running around 20 percent of our store in local products, and our goal is to increase that to 30 percent,” Stromberg added. “It supports the local economy. When you shop local, something like 60 percent of the money stays in the community.”

Stromberg said the Co-op uses a 100-mile radius to define “local.”

He also mentioned “our very significant bulk department, which is an alternative to items in our center store. For example, we have customers who want to buy bulk dry beans, rather than beans in a can.”

“One other thing, responding to the New York Times article, is that we have not experienced the slowing of center store sales, as some of the conventional grocers quoted in the story have,” Stromberg said. “We believe this is because we feature a lot of unique and specialty items. We’ll buy things from independent and local vendors.

“It makes our job harder (as a business), because we’re dealing with lots of little vendors, so we’re keeping track of multiple orders and deliveries. But it gets us products that a Safeway would never bring to town.”

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055.

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