The Colorado grocery wars heat up

Colorado will gain a new player in the grocery market – and 500 jobs — when SmartCo Foods opens five stores in June and July, hoping to attract consumers with its triple-threat concept: part conventional grocer, part warehouse club, part farmer’s market.

“We saw an opportunity in Colorado. It is the only place where this concept exists today,” company spokesman Randall Oliver said. The company plans to open 20 to 25 stores in Colorado over the next few years, he said.

Hundreds of people attended a recent SmartCo job fair in Denver. By 1 p.m. on the first day of interviews, store staff had processed more than 300 applications, hired around 80 people and had a line that wrapped around the outside of the building, said Oliver, who noted the company will organize more job fairs as the various stores prepare for their openings.

SmartCo is new branch of California-based Smart & Final, a 140-year-old grocer that operates about 280 stores. It arrives in Colorado as rival upstarts like Sunflower Farmers Market and Sprouts Farmers Market open new stores in Colorado. Both SmartCo and Sunflower have been taking over former Alberston’s locations as that national chain pulls back on its Colorado presence due to tough competition and declining sales.

David J. Livingston, a sales analyst for supermarkets based in Wisconsin, says consumers are looking for good deals: “The consumer is getting smarter, and they know they can get the exact same products for less money. Consumers are more value conscious.”

Oliver touts SmartCo’s competitive prices and says its commitment to value will help it succeed in Colorado. “The stores will have high-quality products at a very low price – as much as 70 percent less than the average grocery store,” he said.

Livingston trusts in Smart & Final’s ability to open up a successful new chain. “Smart & Final is slow and methodical with their new concepts,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, they will fix the problems before their build more.”

The Colorado SmartCo locations stores are designed specifically for Colorado, with a Colorado color scheme, historic photos on the walls, and checkout lanes that are named after famous fourteener mountains in Colorado.

Unlike Costco or Sam’s Club, SmartCo does not charge a membership fee for its warehouse-style offerings, designed to attract both households and businesses. Oliver promises a selection of quality produce, meats, bulk bin items, supplements and beauty, party supplies, items for businesses, and more. The stores plan to have as much locally-sourced product as possible, he said.

Oliver named Kroger-owned King Soopers as the biggest competition for SmartCo Foods, and he is confident the stores will fair well against it. “We have lots of expertise in many different areas,” he said.

King Soopers spokeswoman Kelly McGannon says the company does not comment on competing stores.

The largest SmartCo store, at 1442 Parker Road, will open June 23, with the rest of the stores following mid to late July. The other locations are Chambers Road in Denver, Bowles Avenue in Littleton, Smoky Hill Road in Centennial, and N. Main Street in Longmont.

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Categories: Sales & Marketing