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Behind the News: Sprouts’ Growth Spurt


The day after Sprouts Farmers Markets revealed that it would open 10 new stores in the second quarter of 2015, including its first-ever locations in Tennessee and Missouri, Progressive Grocer spoke with Janet Little, nutritional director at the Phoenix-based grocer, about what makes the expanding company tick. Sprouts execs were in the New York City area to take part in NASDAQ Fit Week, which features NASDAQ-listed companies that help Americans lead healthier lifestyles, as well as educational events spotlighting wellness.

"Our motto is literally 'healthy living for less,'" noted Little, pointing out that people want to eat right on an affordable budget, and that Sprouts' high-quality organic and natural offerings at competitive prices enable them to do just that.

When it comes to choosing locations for future stores, the grocer particularly seeks out "neighborhoods with populations of families," according to Little, but it doesn't view itself as a concept with only niche appeal to a narrow demographic: "For Sprouts, our competitor is everyone who sells groceries." As a result, the grocer considers as potential shoppers not only those who have already committed to a healthier lifestyle, but also those who are just getting interested in making such a change –- which covers a lot of people.

Sprouts hopes to attract both types of customer with its leader –- high-quality, affordable produce –- as well as such lures as organic grass-fed beef, a wide variety of vitamins and body care products, and more than 300 bulk food offerings. "We consider ourselves a one-stop-shopping venue," observed Little, pointing to the stores' "wide breadth of products," including indulgence items.

Keeping Team Members in the Know

Another way Sprouts stands apart from the competition is through its knowledgeable team members, whose aim is to lead shoppers to healthier products. The company approaches training in various ways, the most novel of which, a blend of morale building and instruction, it calls "huducation." During stores' daily huddle, informational materials compiled by Little on such topics as GMOs and superfoods are shared among team members. At the end of the month, associates take a brief quiz on what they've learned; the stores with the highest quiz scores enter a drawing for a $250 gift certificate, among other prizes. Pizza parties have also proved popular incentives to earn high scores, Little added. "We want team members to be engaged and empower them to help customers," she said.

"Huducation" is just one unique aspect of Sprouts' culture, which Little noted is evident upon entering any of the chain's stores. The open, low-profile layouts, reminiscent of outdoor farmers' markets, with no chance of getting "lost within a labyrinth of aisles," encourage friendliness and inclusiveness, engendering what Little described as "a family feel." She further explained that the company's culture leveraged environment and management to cultivate a fun atmosphere for employees and customers alike.

Plenty to Promote

In the area of promotion, Sprouts rolls out "themed activity displays"; this month, the "Every Meal Is a Choice" campaign aims to help shoppers "power up their New Year's resolutions" to eat more healthfully, as Little put it. In addition to educational materials and recipes, the campaign features shelf talkers throughout the store, each bearing what she referred to as "'Did you know?' factoids" on better-for-you items.

Additionally, the grocer maintains a strong online presence –- its Facebook page alone boasts more than 1 million followers, according to Little, who describes Sprouts as "very active" in social media. Its digital initiatives also include twice-monthly Wellness Webinars moderated by Little, which consumers can take part in from the comfort of their homes. Featuring experts like Dr. Michael Murray and Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, the webinars start off with PowerPoint presentations and close with "really popular" interactive Q&A sessions, she said.

Little noted that Sprouts was excited by its "really aggressive store-opening" schedule for the second quarter of 2015, which she pointed out was not only bringing the brand to "new and exciting" markets, but also creating dozens of jobs in the surrounding communities. Although she couldn't comment on whether Sprouts would continue to grow at the same rate for the rest of 2015 and beyond, she asserted that the company had set itself the "achievable goal" of having 1,200 stores open across the United States. Given the enthusiasm and smarts the company is bringing to its current expansion plans, that ambition would indeed appear to be within reach.

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