The Fresh Market Is Reinventing the Center Store

Gina Acosta
a woman smiling for the camera
The Fresh Market has an 80% fresh assortment, but says it's focused on reinventing the center store.

The Fresh Market plans to ring in 2020 by doing what everyone else is not doing. That is, by focusing on the growth opportunity in the center store.

At a time when many other food retailers are paring down assortments, cutting SKUs and adding private brands at the expense of national brands, The Fresh Market says it is focused on elevating the center store into a place where shoppers can find a curated branded and private branded experience that cannot be replicated in other stores or online.  

“The Fresh Market has always been an innovator. While everyone else was focused on the center store, we were focused on fresh,” said Director of Center Store Merchandising Dwight Richmond in an exclusive interview with Progressive Grocer. “We have already mastered fresh and high quality on the perimeter. But there’s still a lot of discoveries to be made in the center store.”

Richmond says a lot of retailers “are focused now on [fresh], trying to compete with everyone else and trying to look the same, thinking that that's the answer.”

“We believe the answer is that the center store is really about differentiation, disruption and discovery for our guests,” he said.

The retailer talked to Progressive Grocer about its 2020 center store strategy, private label program and the products trending for next year and even beyond to 2021. Specifically, the grocer says it plans to "reinvigorate and reimagine what the center store vision for 2020 and beyond will look like.”

That new strategy includes more imported brands, national brands and private brands, including a new private label peanut butter.

“We’re looking to find ways to create an elevated experience for our guests in our private label,” Richmond said. The grocer just launched a new private brand peanut butter that masterfully meets today's consumer expectations for local and clean label foods.

"We worked with a family-run business out of Seattle that still packs in glass, like a good, old-fashioned peanut butter,” Richmond said. “And that's just an example of the curation experience that we're trying to generate with our private label. And we're doing that throughout our private label experiences, just finding those unique products that are high quality and a good value for our guests.”

But the company says it won’t be expanding private label at the expense of having a good, curated national brand assortment, because shoppers shop at The Fresh Market for a curated assortment of the best global and private brands.

“We take a very tactical, very well-thought out approach to how we curate," Richmond said. “We're working on some projects for 2020 to find unique ways to introduce private label in other elements of the store where you might not think about private label.”

The grocer says it also plans to introduce more non-food items to its private label assortment next year.

“We’ve reintroduced one of the most requested items we've had over the last year: hand soaps and lotions,” Richmond said. Additional priorities for 2020 include staying ahead of the curve of what shoppers are looking for in all categories. Some of those trends include restaurant flavors, health and wellness movements, sustainable products and clean label.

“We just did a major overhaul of the beverage category, brought in over 300 new items,” Richmond said. “Our kombucha, our fermented beverages and plant-based protein juices are doing really well for us.”

The grocer says it also just completed a major overhaul of its frozen and dairy departments. Interestingly, the grocer says sales of organic products have been leveling off.

“Organics are not growing how they were five or 10 years ago,” Richmond said. “They’ve leveled off a little bit. What we're seeing now is a trend toward minimal processing. Back to basics products. And a lot of times those are by default organic. But consumers are looking for alternatives within the space that don't necessarily have to be organic, but that are minimally processed.”

The Fresh Market says some of its hottest selling categories in both branded and private label include sparkling water, pasta, pasta sauce, frozen pizza and ice cream.

2020 predictions

Which new products will have guests flocking to The Fresh Market in the new year? Here are some early predictions from the grocer:

  • Low sugar: Consumers are becoming more aware of how much sugar is added to foods, thanks to new food labeling requirements becoming mandatory in 2020 that include a callout for “added sugars” under the carbohydrates section. Even “natural sweeteners” such as maple syrup and agave are included, despite the perception that they are “healthier.” 
  • Keto/Whole30/Paleo: These diets have pushed consumers’ desire for products that taste great but that also contain low or no added sugar, without the use of artificial sweeteners.
  • Seeds: Expect a rise in seed-based products (think quinoa, hemp, sesame, pumpkin, flax, sunflower and chia). Also nut milks and dressings.
  • Plant-based 2.0: Food manufacturers are taking it to the next level with plant-based alternatives that pump up the protein using legumes and vegetables. One example of this “grainovation” is RightRice, which blends lentils, peas, chickpeas and rice to more than double the protein, quadruple the fiber, and reduce nearly 60% of the net carbs found in a bowl of white rice.
  • Sober drinks: The rise in functional beverages has also extended to happy hour, with consumers choosing to celebrate sans alcohol.
  • Transparency and traceability: “We are entering a phase where consumers want to understand the full lifecycle of a food product, from where and how it was grown, why it is better nutritionally and better for the environment,” Richmond said.

The Fresh Market says it is already starting to look for trends in 2021. To help identify and showcase innovative food and beverage products, it has tapped New York City-based venture studio 25madison to keep “The Fresh Market on the pulse of early-stage consumer companies that are poised to disrupt or create market trends.”

“The center store is not dead, it just needs to be reimagined,” Richmond said. “We're just ahead of the curve like we've always been as a retailer.”

Based in Greensboro, N.C., The Fresh Market operates 161 stores in 22 states across the United States. The company is No. 41 on Progressive Grocer’s 2018 Super 50 list of the top grocers in the United States.

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