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I was fascinated by the broad spectrum of fresh offerings and merchandising techniques among the four New Orleans-area grocery stores on the retail tour that preceded the official opening of this weekend's PMA Fresh Summit.

The first stop was the Robert Fresh Market on Robert E. Lee Boulevard, a location that has flourished in an amazing comeback after the store and its surrounding neighborhood were decimated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This store reports doing the bulk of its business in perimeter categories, including produce and prepared foods. Store operators envision continued growth in those areas, as well as in natural and organic. But the thing that stood out to me about this store was its emphasis on health and wellness. NuVal signage is used extensively throughout, in particular the produce section, making it difficult for shoppers to come away without a clear picture of the nutritional value of their basket contents.








Next on the tour was Hong Kong Food Market, located in the heart of the area's Asian population and claiming to be the largest Asian supermarket in Louisiana. Standing in stark contrast to the decidedly upscale feel of the first stop on the tour, Hong Kong is clearly more concerned with variety, selection, freshness and authenticity than it is with merchandising. Fresh selections -- from produce (multiple varieties of greens, roots, melons and plenty of exotics) to seafood -- is simply yet clearly organized. This store is definitely geared toward folks who know exactly what they want: authentic ethnic items in great quantities.








The third tour stop was Breux Mart along touristy Magazine Street in New Orleans' refined Garden District, where its patrons include tourists and operators of local gourmet restaurants. This location of the five-store chain features an expanded selection of local, organic and gourmet items. The emphasis here is clearly on local, from produce to beer. The store also offers some clever cross-merchandising, like oranges with Veuve Cliquot for champagne cocktails.








Our final stop was Rouses in New Orleans' central business district, the first supermarket in downtown NOLA in about a half century. This store was a PG Store of the Month last year, following its showing during the 2012 IDDBA show. Rouses really just gets everything right, and in many ways, this store is a culmination of the other stops on the tour, bringing together the best of fresh, local (including herbs grown in the store's hydroponic rooftop garden) and gourmet. It's authentic and down-home, welcoming locals and tourists, commuters and shoppers. From chef-led sampling in the produce section to meat guru Allison Dean holding court with a cooking demonstration, Rouses does it all and keeps it all fresh.