What lengths grocery stores are going to bag the competition
Grocery shopping in Pleasanton keeps getting better.
Supermarkets here are planning new stores, major expansions, more product and service offerings and innovative marketing techniques.
Safeway Corp. and South Bay Development Company have submitted a site plan to city planners for a 65,000-square-foot prototype supermarket at Interstate 680 and Bernal Avenue that is being designed to compete with Whole Foods Market.
Raley's on Sunol Boulevard is moving aggressively to expand its customer base with curbside service, self-checkout stands, more organic foods and a larger pharmacy.
Tesco, Europe's supermarket kingpin, is considering a grocery store as part of the Regency Gateway Center at Bernal and Stanley Boulevard, across from McDonald's, where a Home Depot store was once being considered.
Only Kroger, which owns Ralph's Supermarkets and is a dominant grocer in the eastern U.S., has yet to open a Pleasanton store.
It's all part of a recognition that as the economy slows and as families seek more organic and healthy foods for their dinner table, the local supermarket that has the widest selection is the place to go.
For Pleasanton-based Safeway Corp., which has turned its retail business around with its upscale "lifestyle" format, its larger stores in Dublin and Livermore followed similar improvements in Pleasanton, where its only store is at Valley Avenue and Santa Rita Road.
With Whole Foods just announcing its plans to open a 50,000-square-foot store in Dublin, across from Hacienda Crossings, Safeway's planned store across Valley Avenue from Jack-in-the-Box will be larger and more competitive.
The plans, which were submitted to the city's planning department last summer, also include a gas station. The state's new interchange at Bernal and the freeway also will make it more accessible for both commuters and Pleasanton residents and with less traffic congestion than Whole Foods.
City Manager Nelson Fialho has said that the city expects the Safeway plans to be formally considered and processed in public hearings early this year. Both stores could be open by 2010.
Lucky, located on West Las Positas and Hopyard roads, is a relatively new arrival.
That's because the Northern California Albertson's stores were bought out last fall by Save Mart Supermarkets of Modesto. Ironically, Albertsons took over Lucky stores in 1999 and renamed them.
To roll out the change, the Pleasanton Albertson's was restored to the vintage Lucky name and incorporated practices used by Lucky and Save Mart stores.
Raley's, Nob Hill
In the coming weeks, Raley's on Sunol is planned to get an extensive makeover that will put it in closer competition with already remodeled stores such as Safeway. Raley's has been in the Oak Hill Shopping Center in south Pleasanton for nearly two decades.
Among the highlights of the remodel include an "e-cart" shopping service, four self-checkout stands, an expanded and updated pharmacy department, a larger natural foods section, a Peet's Coffee & Tea and expansion of the wine and liquor department. To cater to those with a diverse palette, a "gourmet cheese island" will also be added, an artisan trend that is spreading to all supermarkets.
The store remodel is expected to be completed by late summer, according to Raley's spokeswoman Amy Johnston.
Many of the features, including the e-cart service and the installation of a U.S. Postal Service department inside the store, are aimed toward customers with limited time.
The e-cart program is similar to what Safeway offers online, where the store will deliver groceries that you've selected online to your house. While Raley's customers will shop online, instead of home delivery, they will go to the e-cart section of the parking lot where store clerks will deliver groceries to their car.
The Raley's corporation also owns Bel Air Markets, Food Source and Nob Hill Foods, which has a location on Santa Rita Road. No future plans have been confirmed for the Nob Hill, according to Johnston.
Vintage Hills Center
The only supermarket east of Sunol Boulevard, Raley's serves the expanding Vineyard Corridor as well as the heavily populated Vintage Hills and Kottinger Ranch. The smaller Romley's Supermarket that anchored the Vintage Hills Center closed shortly after Raley's opened in the late 1980s and other smaller stores have decided against moving there. Trader Joe's, often filled to near-capacity at its store on Pimlico Drive near Hopyard, chose instead to open a new store in Livermore at the old Kmart center across from Valley Memorial Hospital.
Mayor Jennifer Hosterman said recently that efforts to find a grocer to move to the Vintage Hills Center have so far failed and that it's likely another use will have to be found for that site.
Fresh & Easy
Tesco has started opening its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets in the Bay Area, part of a $2-billion investment the British company has under way here and in Southern California, Phoenix and Las Vegas. Slightly larger than Trader Joe's stores and with a modern, futuristic look, Fresh & Easy markets are generally under 10,000 square feet and offer a selected range of their own branded products as well as national brands at prices considered quite competitive to the larger supermarkets.
City officials have contacts with Tesco and are working with Regency to include Fresh & Easy as part of its revised plans for the former Home Depot site.
Gene's Fine Foods
While other grocery stores are in the midst of one-upping the competition, one local independent market is doing what it does best by continuing to provide what customers are asking for. Gene's Fine Foods opened in a shopping center at Hopyard Road and Valley Avenue in the 1990s, where an Alpha Beta grocery store was formerly located. Owned and operated by the Giomi family, the market has been served by three generations of Giomis. They also own a location in Saratoga.
Longtime General Manager Don Smedjir said he isn't too concerned with what the big supermarket chains are doing because Gene's has continued to follow a successful model, one that the chains appear to be moving toward.
"We've been doing this all along--natural food, gourmet food, organic food in our store all along," he said. "We were the Trader Joe's before Trader Joe's came."
Customers who shop at Gene's do so because of a wide variety of everything from local wines to organic fruits and vegetables. Smedjir said the store is in the process of expanding the produce section to offer even more choices. Another difference between the chain stores and Gene's is that Gene's only sells U.S.-certified angus beef--the highest grade beef--what Smedjir said is the type of meat you'd expect to be served at Hap's or McNamara's steakhouses.
And despite what Smedjir said is a misnomer that Gene's is more expensive, pricing is competitive with the chain stores.
The 26,000-square-foot store is small compared to some of the newer stores being planned such as the 65,000-square foot Safeway or the 50,000-square-foot Dublin Whole Foods, but it is still twice the size of neighborhood markets such as Trader Joe's. The Saratoga Gene's has been remodeled and Smedjir said they hope to do the same with the Pleasanton store, although a timeframe isn't certain.
Shoppers of Trader Joe's enjoy the quaint "corner market" feel of the grocery store. And similar to Gene's, customers who frequent the store, located at Santa Rita Road and Pimlico Avenue, can satisfy their appetite for imported cheeses, organic produce and other specialty products, but in a downsized setting. Trader Joe's is popular with the younger crowd and busy families because it offers a number of frozen and fresh meals that are already prepared and assembled as well as a number of groceries in its own brand name, similar to Fresh & Easy.
The Pleasanton store is a popular stop for commuters along Interstate 580.
For a nostalgic experience, downtown residents forgo the supermarket experience and instead frequent Cole's Market in the vintage Pleasanton Plaza shopping center on First Street.
It may not be the most well-known or have the highest traffic volume, but the smaller, neighborhood market is a close distance for residents of downtown and those who live in the Vineyard Corridor.
The market, considered the oldest in Pleasanton, got a facelift along with the center in 2006 to restore the retro 1950s look.