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Autenticidad en Acción


When it comes to food, today’s consumers are more sophisticated and knowledgeable than ever before. For a truly rewarding grocery store experience, shoppers want freshness, diversity and authenticity.

In response, grocery retailers have been upping their games in those areas, even some so-called value-price operators.

Case in point: Food City, the 47-unit Mexi-centric banner owned by Chandler, Ariz.-based Bashas’ Family of Stores. Its latest remodel — in South Tucson, where the store shares a bustling shopping center along Interstate 19 with Target, Home Depot and other retailers — reflects Food City’s commitment to freshness, authenticity and, as evidenced by the mariachi band serenading shoppers, a fun community experience.

From food to experience to outreach, Food City lives up to our Spanish headline, which translates as “authenticity in action.

” Food City has a colorful new look that we have been rolling out in our store remodels since 2014,” explains Mike Solis, the banner’s director of operations. Along with the refreshed décor, we have emphasized the areas that differentiate Food City from the rest of the market and best meet the needs of our customers.”

Authenticity and connection to community have been on display from the start. When the remodel was formally unveiled last December, shoppers enjoyed food samples along with performances by Ballet Folklórico Tapatío dancers and music including Tucson’s acclaimed mariachi vocalist Monica Treviño.

The store’s signature offerings include the deli department’s Cocina (literally, “kitchen”), offering authentic Mexican dishes to eat in or take home; a bakery with the traditional pan dulce (sweet bread) and other ethnic selections; a tortillería, with on-site production of corn and four tortillas; and a full-service meat department with authentic cuts, value-added offerings and seafood. The remodel also delivered a reconfigured center store for more shopper-friendly navigation.

“Our strategy is to reinvest in our stores by upgrading and remodeling them to better serve the needs of our customers,” Solis says. “We completed 10 Food City store remodels in 2014 and an additional 12 store remodels in 2015. We have even more store remodels planned for 2016.”

Fresh, Fresh, Fresh

Changes at the Irvington Road store are evident at the front door, with the produce department pulled forward to a more prominent position.

“We moved it right to the entrance,” Solis explains. “It’s a huge draw to drive traffic. Our attention at the entrance is fresh, fresh, fresh.” A wide variety of colorful produce is joined by a wall of spices offering a vast array of authentic selections.

Some shoppers think the store is bigger than it is, Solis notes. “The color package for the remodel is more open and vibrant,” he says. “We’ve gotten comments like ‘Have you made the store larger?’”

That visibility extends to the revamped deli and prepared food area, the aforementioned Cocina. Solis says the Cocina used to be framed by a “hacienda-type fixture” that is being removed in the ongoing remodels. “It’s really opened things up,” he says. “Right from the entrance, you can see these departments and the bright colors.”

Further enhancing visibility in the store was the consolidation of seating in a larger fixed dining area, rather than spread around the deli department; the new configuration allows visitors an unobstructed view through produce to the deli and bakery.

“It’s become a destination to stay and eat a meal,” Solis says of the dining area, noting that “a lot of people do take food home.” The Cocina offers daily breakfast and lunch specials as well as family meal deals. On Sundays mornings, it hosts a three-hour live mariachi performance.

Authenticity is on full display in the Cocina. “We’re known for our authentic Mexican foods, offered daily,” Solis declares.

On the menu on the day of Progressive Grocer’s visit: red and green chilies, carnitas (pork), caldos (Mexican soup), menudo (tripe soup), tamales, burritos and carne asada (considered by certain locals as the best in town).

“Our chicken category is a substantial part of our business,” Solis says. The Cocina offers several varieties — fried, grilled and rotisserie, plus pollo ranchero (peppers and tomatoes) and pollo chipotle (pepper cream sauce). Seafood dishes include ceviche (citrus-cured seafood), shrimp cocktail and camaron aguachiles (shrimp cooked in lime and chiles), the last of which Solis describes as “very unique and very authentic.”

A dedicated case offers fresh salsas, pico de gallo and guacamole, some items made in house. Another huge draw for the deli is aguas frescas — icy house-made fruit beverages in flavors like cantaloupe, lemonade, pineapple and watermelon, plus horchata, a creamy rice-milk beverage.

“We really hang our hat on the authenticity of our aguas frescas,” Solis says. “It really sets us apart from the others.” The beverage lineup also includes champurrado, a popular Hispanic hot chocolate, available ready to drink in the deli; there’s also a do-it-yourself mix sold in center store.

Sweet Showcase

Authenticity continues into the store’s scratch-bakery selections.

“We do doughnuts, but it’s a much smaller scale. Here, it’s all about the pan dulce,” Solis says, referring to traditional Mexican sweet bread. It’s offered in many varieties, including shell-shaped conchas, sweet and savory empanadas, telleras (sandwich rolls) and bollilos (crusty bread rolls).

There are also cortadillos (sliced cakes in dozens of varieties) and mantecadas, which Solis describes as “like a cupcake without any icing, but so moist, a unique flavor. It’s a great item for us.”

Full-size and single-serve cakes come in traditional tres leches, strawberry, chocolate, fan (custard) and chocoflan the last of which delivers a layer of the rich custard over a chocolate-cake base.

The bakery’s signature cakes are round cakes in such flavors as dulce de leche, cappuccino, piña colada, strawberry and cookies and cream all topped with enormous strawberries. Parfait cups and gelatin with fruit round out the sweet selections.

As in the Cocina, the bakery’s kitchen is on full display. “That’s one of the things we’ve been focusing on,” Solis says of that enhanced visibility for shoppers. The redesign flip-flopped the positions of the self-serve and service bakery counters to open up the kitchen, which also put the cake-decorating station at the front counter. Solis notes, “It’s a showcase for people to see the works of art we do on our cakes.”

The in-store tortillería, or tortilla bakery, has been a part of Food City stores for many years.

“We run 19 of these machines throughout the company,” Solis says of the mini production plant. “Our four tortillas are head and shoulders above anything else in the market.”

With a 10-day shelf life, the tortillas come in assorted sizes and thicknesses for tacos, burritos and other applications. The store also makes tortillas with manteca (lard) in the flour for a more traditional flavor profile. Meanwhile, corn tortillas come in different varieties for table use and frying. The store also makes tortilla chips for sale and serving in the Cocina.

Speaking of corn, Food City is into masa (corn flour) in a big way, as it’s used widely in the local Hispanic community in preparing tamales and menudo. These dishes are made more often for the fall and winter holidays, so masa sales double, and even sometimes triple, during these periods, Solis notes.

The store performs regular demonstrations on the sales floor to show uses and applications for different varieties of masa. “We sell a lot of it,” Solis says. “This is one of the top-selling stores for masa out of the 47 we have.”

For shoppers going that extra mile toward authenticity at home, Food City also sells nixtamal, the corn kernels that are ground to make masa, which are also used to make menudo and posole (meat stew with hominy).

Consistency and Variety

There’s more authenticity on display in the meat department, which offers a full-service butcher counter, seafood, a wide selection of Mexican cheeses, the store’s signature chorizo (Mexican sausage), and marinated beef and chicken ready for the grill.

The service counter will cut meat to any thickness, but as Solis observes, “Our customers like thinner-cut meat.” That’s evidenced by the many cased offerings under the Food City label, like beef flaps for carne asada, merchandised alongside shrink-wrapped trays of cut vegetables for fajitas.

Cuts more familiar to folks outside the Hispanic community are joined by local favorites like oxtails, beef shanks and beef short ribs, which Solis says are popular for making soups during colder months, along with neck bones, hearts and cheek meat.

The butcher counter also features a “phenomenal” variety of Mexican cheeses, Solis notes, offering samples of queso fresco, panela, cotija and Oaxaca, the last a popular melting cheese (named for the Mexican province) used to make quesadillas.

Of the value-added chorizo, Solis says, “It’s our in-house recipe, a real signature item.”

Seafood selections — expected to get a boost during Lent, a week away at the time of PG’s visit — include tilapia, catfish, swai, cod, red snapper and shrimp. “Tilapia is by far our best-selling seafood, whole or fillets,” Solis says.

Fresh chicken cuts are joined by pre-cooked breaded chicken wings, nuggets and patties.

“Chicken is a big category for us,” Solis reiterates, noting Food City’s “consistency and variety.”

Solis points out the $19.99 value pack, which offers select cuts of beef, pork and chicken, plus ground beef, valued at up to $25. “Our prices really address the price-conscious consumer throughout the entire store,” he says.

Meanwhile, a coffin freezer offers “menudo packs” — bags of beef tripe or beef and pig feet, ready for use by folks making the traditional Mexican dish at home.

The remodel allowed for a larger meat department, Solis notes. “Based on the volume of sales at this store, we shifted down” farther along the perimeter, he says. “It definitely helped with our pork and chicken sections.”

Improving Shopability

Center store was reconfigured as part of the remodel, which Solis says required a period of adjustment as shoppers and associates got used to the new order of things.

“We really changed the flow of the categories,” he says, explaining that this has helped to enhance “shopability around the perimeter.”

Among the key shifts: The beer and salty snack aisles were moved to the far end of the store for placement with the carbonated soft drinks. Additionally, the store got rid of its warehouse shelving in favor of standard gondolas. End caps are massively merchandised.

“We have a limited variety of SKUs in center store, but we have what our consumers like, and at a great value,” Solis says.

The store’s Hispanic aisle offers “groupings of our Mexican-branded products in several different categories,” Solis explains. This row features everything from canned goods to crackers to religious figurines. There are myriad varieties of pepper — “a strong category for us,” Solis affirms — along with chili pastes and powders. There are also aloe vera drinks and coconut waters, which he notes “have exploded in popularity.”

And for those who don’t want to buy authentic ingredients or pick some up ready to eat from the Cocina, there’s even canned menudo.

Cross-merchandising efforts throughout the store include store-brand bread with peanut butter and jelly on one end, and mayo and mustard on the other, and jarred nopalitos (cactus) displayed near the eggs, a pairing popular among Hispanics for Lent, Solis notes. Prominently displayed atop cases around the perimeter are 40-quart stockpots used for making menudo and tamales.

“The most rewarding part of the grand reopening has to be the excitement of our members [employees] and customers, who are enjoying the new look and feel of the store,” Solis declares.

Associates’ excitement is no doubt increased by their ability to deliver the real deal to those who know the difference.

“We really give the authenticity to the Hispanic consumer,” Solis says. “They can have all their needs met here.”

“We really give the authenticity to the Hispanic consumer. They can have all their needs met here.”
—Mike Solis, Food City director of operations

The color package for the remodel is more open and vibrant. We’ve gotten comments like Have you made the store larger?’”
—Mike Solis, Food City director of operations

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