Raising The Standard

Fresh-focused Chicago-area market delivers a ‘celebration of food.’

PHOTOGRAPHY BY VITO PALMISANO

A “chef-driven” concept store that blends “a little bit of theater” with an open-air European-style market under one roof is setting a new standard for food shopping in suburban Chicago. That’s how Brett Verkaik explains the vision for five-month-old, hyper-fresh-focused Standard Market in Westmont, Ill., where an intriguing food stage is showcased by glass walls throughout to enable shoppers to behold the labors of love being created in the back of the house by a team of passionate, talented food experts.

"We still are butchers, we still are bakers," says Verkaik who, along with his three partners, left the produce business to launch Standard Market with no previous retailing experience. "We love the interaction with the consumer," he continues, explaining Standard Market's prevailing goal to "blur the line between foodservice and retail." Indeed, while many retailers have striven to do the same in varying degrees for years, Verkaik says all too often, "they usually rely on someone's commissary to prepare it for them."

Standard Market

333 E. Ogden Ave.

Westmont, IL 60559

Grand opening date: Nov. 4,2011

Total square footage: 33,000

Selling area: 25,000 square feet

Number of SKUs: N/A

Employees: 200

Checkouts: 12 Store hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Store designer: WD Partners,

Dublin, Ohio

To the contrary, Standard Market — which sources heavily from local farmers and producers, in addition to select suppliers from exotic locations around the globe — is all about authenticity, quality and a "celebration of food," as evidenced by the array of fresh choices ranging from handpicked produce to expertly butchered meats to top-quality seafood. Aiming to appeal to consumers who want to explore and discover a carefully curated selection of foods made in its own kitchens, the market offers a complete scratch bakery, an in-house delicatessen and an extensive wine and cheese collection, alongside choice dairy and pantry offerings.

At the heart of the market is Standard Grill, a sophisticated fast-casual restaurant that showcases seasonal ingredients and the culinary talents of the pedigreed chef team.

Fresh New Standard

High beamed ceilings soar above the sweeping produce department, which greets shoppers upon entering the store. "We were influenced by several prominent restaurants and retailers from all over North America and Europe," Verkaik says. "We wanted to create a unique design, both aesthetically and from a customer flow experience, to give our customers an easy path to navigate through the store, while giving them several reasons to shop the entire space to discover unique in-house-made items."

Joining the temperature-controlled islands piled high with fresh produce are fruit and vegetables pre-cut in-house for ease and convenience, as well as a collection of house-made salsas, hummus and other dips. A fresh-squeezed juice station offers a rotating variety ranging from Clementine orange to carrot. The floral section displays special offerings such as orchids and roses.

The market's wine, beer and cheese shop stocks more than 500 wines, including at least 150 selections priced below $15. The department showcases more than 150 cheeses and 150 beers from around the world, with a strong focus on American artisanal offerings. The shop includes a bar where customers can sample or purchase drinks by the glass, or enjoy wine, cheese and antipasti flights. The department hosts weekly events such as "Fondue Fridays" and features an innovative Cellar Club, allowing members to attend monthly tasting events before taking home two to three bottles, complete with tasting notes and pairing suggestions selected by the shop's wine experts.

The deli serves a range of prepared foods all made fresh on-site, running the gamut from classics like tuna salad and macaroni and cheese to chef-inspired fare such as beet and root vegetable salad and Thai coconut chicken tenders. Hot fare like baby back ribs and chicken vesuvio are also available, along with grab-and-go salads and sandwiches. Additionally, the deli offers quality meats and cheeses from domestic and international purveyors, an extensive world olive set and house-roasted meats.

The bakery's 35-plus varieties of artisan breads are baked from scratch daily, along with sweet baked goods like peanut-butter-and-jelly cookies, citrus cheesecake, and coconut cake drizzled with passion fruit sauce.

Standard's fully staffed butcher shop features a large selection of cuts of regionally sourced USDA Prime and Choice beef (wet- and dry-aged in-house), antibiotic-free chicken and Duroc pork. The department also prepares an ever-changing selection of house-made sausages and house-smoked slab bacons. Customers can choose from a wide offering of prepackaged house-cut meats, along with gourmet items like bacon-wrapped brie-and-asparagus-stuffed chicken breasts and apple-and-cherry-stuffed pork chops, available at the counter or in ready-to-bake containers. (Read more about Standard Market's butcher shop in PG's December 2011 issue, at http://www.progressivegrocer.com/ inprint/article/id2414/putting-the-labor-back-in-the-meat-department/.)

Fresh whole fish and seafood are flown in daily from around the world. In addition to fresh domestic shrimp and sushi-grade salmon, the department also features more exotic fare such as parrot fish, mako shark and sea urchins. House-made items include smoked fish, seafood soups and recipes ranging from ceviche to frutti di mare to a seafood tapas set, all made in Standard Market's kitchens. A sushi station, hosted by restaurant-quality chefs, offers maki rolls, sashimi and nigiri made to order using the same sushi-grade fish sold in the store.

In Standard's Chef's Case, shoppers will find fresh pastas made on a pasta machine imported from Italy, accompanied by a variety of sauces, along with soups and stocks such as vegetarian black bean, creamy tomato basil and chicken spaetzle, all created using original recipes. Another popular feature is take-and-bake pizza, made with dough hand-formed in the store's bakery. Further, the market offers its "What's for Dinner Tonight?" fully cooked meal for two, which comes with an entrée and several sides and is priced at $15.99 to $16.99.

While fresh offerings dominate, Standard Market offers a limited selection of dairy, pantry and other center store items, many provided by regional producers and specialty purveyors. An in-store coffee bar, scheduled to open this month, will feature specialty coffees alongside in-house pastries.

Interestingly, while the food aspects of Standard Market harken back to the Old World, the venture makes a significant nod to a new age: The store accepts no cash, only electronic (credit and debit card) payments.

King of the

Grill The grocery store revolves around the Standard Grill, which delivers a taste of just about everything the store has to offer. Popular items include burgers, all made with a blend of brisket, chuck and sirloin ground fresh daily in the store's butcher shop and served on house-baked buns, and a tuna Cobb salad featuring seared tuna from the store's fish market. Standard Grill features a fruit-infused water bar, nonalcoholic beverages, and a curated selection of wine, beers and cocktails. All 500 wines from the store's wine department can be ordered in the restaurant, with no corkage fee.

"The chefs in our restaurant have access to amazing and unique food offerings in each department," Verkaik says. "Every department depends on transfers from other departments to create top-quality prepared foods and value-added products."

Though Standard Market has been open to shoppers since last November, its formal grand-opening open house was scheduled for mid-March. At presstime, the all-day event was to include a chili cookoff, wine tastings, "Meet the Farmer" sessions, vendor samplings and other activities.

Meanwhile, plans are already in the works for a second location, a few miles west in Naperville, which Verkaik expects will open sometime in 2013. "It's our home," he says in reference to his partners in the Chicago-area venture, "and it's where we intend to play."

We're trying to blur the line between foodservice and retail."

— Brett Verkaik, Standard

"Every department depends on transfers from other departments to create top-quality prepared foods and value-added products."

— Brett Verkaik, Standard

CONSUMER PERCEPTIONS OF HFCS HAVE CHANGED. HAS YOURS?

Ongoing Studies Have Supported the FDA’s Designation of HFCS as Safe.

The Business Case.

The Mintel research shows that the vast majority of consumers have shown no interest in HFCS-free products. Reformulating from HFCS to other sugars is costly and can put upward pressure on food and beverage prices, all while delivering no net nutritional benefit.

That's why we're inviting you to join us for a no-cost presentation developed by The New England Consulting Group. It's a comprehensive business case that covers the latest consumer and scientific research on HFCS. So you can learn more about the new realities facing food and beverage marketers including:

  • The latest consumer research on how consumers think about added sugars, including HFCS (Mintel)
  • Current retail purchase data on products with and without HFCS (Nielsen)
  • The scientific consensus that HFCS is nutritionally the same as sugar

A More Focused Approach.

With the food pyramid changed to a food plate that favors a more comprehensive view of nutrition and eating habits, manufacturing and trade groups are working hard to do their part. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the American Beverage Association have implemented new, voluntary, front-of-package labeling guidelines to simplify ingredient information. Now, the focus is on helping consumers understand the food nutrient groups and total calories represented in a product. As such, "total sugars" are listed as a nutrient group, rather than different types of sugars being called out.

Ingredients/Foods Avoided

Consumer Perception.

There's still a perception among some food and beverage companies that many consumers are avoiding HFCS. Rigorous consumer research by Mintel and analysis of social media "buzz," however, shows that HFCS is old news.

When consumers were asked by Mintel the open-ended question "What ingredients do you look for on food and beverage packages?", only 3 percent responded with HFCS. Similarly, when asked "What foods, beverages or ingredients are you trying to reduce or avoid?", only 4 percent said HFCS. By comparison, 20 percent and 16 percent of those surveyed identified "fats and oils" and "salt" as a concern, respectively.

SCHEDULE A PRESENTATION OF THE CHANGING INGREDIENT GAME.

To schedule an on-site lunch and learn or webinar presentation of The Changing Ingredient Game for your company, go to CornNaturally.com/HFCS. Or call 1-877-825-6635.

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