Choice Market is redefining convenient food retailing near downtown Denver with a first-of-its-kind technology fueled format that CEO Mike Fogarty believes could expand to 50 locations in five years.
The company’s growth aspirations stem from what Fogarty sees as a void in the market for the unique brand of food retailing Choice Market offers and the company’s purpose-driven mission to make good food accessible and convenient for all. This approach is evident inside the company’s recently opened, 5,000-square-foot store at 939 Bannock Street, which combines elements of convenience reminiscent of retailers known for their foodservice operations such as Wawa or Sheetz, with the limited assortment of a Trader Joe’s, and the better-for-you assortment of a Whole Foods Market and the technological capabilities of a cashierless Amazon Go.
“We are a convergence of business models,” CEO Mike Fogarty told Progressive Grocer. “We are a scratch kitchen surrounded by grocery in the size of a convenience store. We think we’ve built a new type of business model focused on quick, convenient and healthy food.”
What makes the experience quick and convenient at the Bannock Street location is the introduction of the Choice Now mobile check-in and cashierless checkout technology. Shoppers walk in, scan a QR code at a check-in zone near the entrances and network of 200 ceiling mounted cameras capture shoppers’ selection so they can be sent a receipt after leaving the store.
“The addition of the Choice Now platform makes this very much a frictionless store,” Fogarty said. “It wasn’t until recently that the technology was truly commercially viable. The cameras are getting less expensive and the processing power required is getting less expensive. We are on the leading edge of it, but it is coming in terms of large scale deployments and the transition of more retailers to this type of checkout experience.”
A New Way of Shopping
Founded in 2017, the newest Choice Market store gives the company four locations clustered in and around downtown Denver, but Fogarty see the concept working well in other markets as the proof of concept is further refined in Denver.
“We think Choice Market is reinventing convenience,” Fogarty said. “It is a new model, but it is in alignment with how people are shopping. Our customers are shopping multiple times a week, they are shopping for prepared foods and grocery items, and they are digitally enabled so they are ordering ahead for pickup or for delivery. Our percentage of sales from prepared foods is roughly 50%, so we are very much a restaurant.”
The emphasis on foodservice, along with local assortments of better-for-you foods and fueling choices at locations where appropriate, gives Fogarty and recent additions to his senior leadership team confidence that the Choice Market concept can travel well to other markets.
“Over time, we think having 40 to 50 Choice Markets in five years is certainly within the realm of possibility across five or six markets. We don’t want to scale too quickly, but we also see a pretty big opportunity in between a c-store and large format grocery,” Fogarty said. “In general, we are looking to grow in the western half of the U.S. We think there is a pretty large opportunity in markets like Denver in states like California, Texas and Washington.”
To help make that growth a reality, Choice Market recently hired Darcy Rae Johnson as chief brand officer to oversee growth of the brand, marketing, visual identity and Choice Matters, the company’s philanthropic arm. In January, Ben Kipfer joined the company as COO after spending the prior 11 years with Accenture, working with some of the world’s largest retail brands on large scale transformation programs covering technology and store operations.
“I really believe in the brand and the vision that Mike has laid out for growth,” Kipfer said.
A key element of that vision is flexibility and adapting operations to specific locations and the communities served. For example, Fogarty described 5,000-square-feet as the company’s sweet spot for an urban format, but noted that in certain communities a larger format may make sense.
“Some communities may need a larger store because the nearest grocer is five or six miles away. We are going to design the stores and the experience based on the need of the community we serve. We want to make good food accessible and convenient for all,” Fogarty said.
The community served by the company’s newest store is unique in that the store is located on the bottom floor of an upscale apartment complex called Parq on Speer. The 16-floor residential project is described as being at the intersection of everything, boasts views of the city and the mountains and the convenience of an indoor/outdoor dog park on the third floor.
The addition of a Choice Market on street level helps round out the value proposition to tenants and will give Fogarty’s team new insight into the type of locations that are suitable for future growth.