Smarter Supermarkets

If you want to know how supermarkets are trending, just talk to the companies that acquire, build and operate the shopping centers that grocers anchor. Grocery-anchored centers are a specialty of certain real estate companies that have accumulated enough skill and category understanding to pick the right grocery retailer for the community or trade area, and to ensure that the grocer and the center remain relevant during changing market conditions.


Chain Store Age talked with six shopping center companies that specialize in grocery-anchored properties — and found that their supermarket partners and centers have adapted to the economic conditions and the evolving consumer in a myriad of ways.


Dually anchored: Donahue Schriber has created an interesting strategy for success in more than one of its grocery-anchored centers. The Costa Mesa, Calif., owner/operator of 79 centers, of which 80% are grocery-anchored, has a dual-grocer concept that works not only for the consumers but for the anchors and other tenants, also.


“The two grocers complement each other well,” said Larry Casey, president and COO, Donahue Schriber. In the case of its Del Mar Highlands Town Center project near San Diego, Donahue Schriber added a 14,000-sq.-ft. Jimbo’s Naturally store to the second phase of its $20 million, near-complete re-imagination of the town center in Carmel Valley. Already anchored by a 45,000-sq.-ft. Ralph’s Fresh Fare, the addition of Jimbo’s created a full-service, two-stop shopping experience for area residents.


Donahue Schriber employed the dual-grocer concept at its Town & Country shopping center in Sacramento as well. The 230,000-sq.-ft. center is co-anchored by Save Mart, allowing shoppers to buy traditional grocery fare, and Trader Joe’s, where they can purchase organic specialty items.


“Most grocers would see Trader Joe’s as a complement, rather than a competitor,” Casey said. “This dual-grocer concept is working well for both Del Mar Highlands and Town & Country, and we would do it again if the opportunity arose.”


Growing by acquisition: Cincinnati-based Phillips Edison has found opportunity through strategic acquisition, growing its portfolio by joining forces with American Realty Capital to form a non-traded REIT — Phillips Edison - ARC Shopping Center REIT Inc. 


The venture has allowed Phillips Edison to leverage the development slowdown by focusing its full attention on raising funds to buy properties. Today, the company has 225 shopping centers comprising more than 25 million sq. ft. in 38 states and plans to acquire another 150 grocery-anchored centers over the next three years. 


“Some of the primary grocers we partner with are Kroger, Publix, Safeway, BiLo, Food Lion, Trader Joe’s, Giant Eagle, Winn-Dixie, Wegmans, March, Tops and Save-a-Lot,” said Bob Myers, COO of Phillips Edison. “Our acquisition strategy is to acquire grocery-anchored centers generally located at Main and Main, in strong markets, and anchored by the No. 1 or No. 2 grocer in that market.”


Lakeside Plaza, in Salem, Va., is anchored by market powerhouse Kroger, which operates a 52,337-sq.-ft. store in the 82,333-sq.-ft. shopping center. “This is a solid, classic grocery-anchored center, which we acquired about two months ago,” Myers said. “Kroger offers a fuel program, which is something we like to have in our centers.”


Fueling margins: Savvy grocers are aggressively adding fuel to their list of offerings. That, and strategically shrinking footprints, is allowing supermarkets to maintain purchase in a slippery economy. According to Adam Ifshin, president and CEO of DLC Management Corp., based in Tarrytown, N.Y., which operates 119 centers in 33 states, of which 64 are grocery-anchored, shifting strategies have been key to grocery success. 


“In the Northeast in particular, we’ve seen smart grocers stop trying to put 65,000-sq.-ft. to 70,000-sq.-ft. stores in dense, upscale markets where land is scarce and NIMBY fights are particularly fierce,” Ifshin said. “Savvy grocers are learning to operate in a 35,000-sq.-ft. to 40,000-sq.-ft. box, and are developing the strategies to succeed in that smaller footprint.”


Eliminating SKUs in the middle of the store, where the margins are the lowest, and maintaining SKUs on the higher-margin items are allowing grocers to shrink footprints, “which means lower upfront capital expenditures and opportunities to put stores in locations they couldn’t get into before,” he said.


Ocean East Mall, in Stuart, Fla., is an 113,328-sq.-ft. center anchored by a soon-to-open 17,000-sq.-ft. Fresh Market. “Fresh Market is ceding the center of the store, where the lower-margin SKUs are located, and focusing on produce, meat, even upscale canned goods,” Ifshin said. “Fresh Market operates under a different model than more traditional grocers, such as Safeway or Kroger or Publix, and it has found success in this model.”


Driving traffic: The grocery-operating model also impacts the overall shopping center and its remaining tenants. “The average of 7.3 monthly trips to the grocery store, which is a higher percentage than any other tenant sector, spurs increased activity with the smaller tenants as well,” said Nancy Mozzachio, VP leasing, Cedar Shopping Centers, Port Washington, N.Y. 


Cedar, which owns and operates 131 shopping centers across nine states, of which about 100 centers are grocery-anchored, has found that the traffic driven by the supermarket anchor has largely insulated the center and its tenants from recessionary climes and the Internet boom. “Having that grocery anchor creates a strong community center, one that brings in traffic and supplies a solid tax base for the region,” Mozzachio said. “Another bonus is the partnerships our centers establish with the community that provide a strong bridge between the shopping center and its tenants and the community in which they reside.”


Cedar’s Upland Square shopping center, in Pottstown, Pa., near Philadelphia, will be just over 600,000 sq. ft. when complete; to date, 500,000 sq. ft. has been constructed, featuring a 76,000-sq.-ft. Giant as the grocery anchor, along with a Carmike Cinemas theater, Target, Staples, Best Buy, T.J. Maxx and more. 


Creating community: Edens & Avant, based in Columbia, S.C., knows a lot about creating community with the grocery-anchored shopping centers it owns and operates. Ninety percent of its portfolio of 125 retail centers in 15 states is grocery-anchored, and the company has existing relationships with such industry-leading retailers as Whole Foods, Publix, The Fresh Market, Market Basket, Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace, Stop & Shop, and others. Each grocer plays a major community-building role within an Edens & Avant center.


“We put community at the forefront of all of our business decisions and are very mindful of the role we play in the quality of food that our communities eat,” said Jodie McLean, president, Edens & Avant. As well, “We create unique retail centers that are connective to the community in both design and merchandising mix,” McLean added. 


“Because shoppers are busier than ever, a grocer-anchored center can be a place where friends and neighbors can reconnect and relax … our grocer-anchored centers have become central gathering places for entire communities.”


An example is the redevelopment of Merchant’s Walk in East Cobb County (Atlanta), Ga., featuring a just-opened, 45,000-sq.-ft. Whole Foods Market, whose presence was perhaps the most anticipated aspect of the center’s dramatic makeover. Together with the new Whole Foods, Merchant’s Walk features major aesthetic and parking improvements, a theater expansion and renovation, and additional regional and national restaurants and retailers, making the center a central gathering place for East Cobb residents.


One state, multiple transformations: Paster Enterprises, based in St. Paul, Minn., owns and operates eight grocery-anchored centers — and all are located in the company’s home state.


“We operate where we live,” said Howard Paster, president. “We know quite well what the grocery-anchored shopping center delivers to area residents.” Paster partners with a wide variety of grocery retailers, including local players Cooper’s Foods, Festival Foods, Jim’s Market and Knowlan’s Food Markets, along with Cub Foods, Aldi and Whole Foods.


“Remember that the grocer tops the list of amenities that new residents look for when they move into a community,” Paster said, “so you can’t underestimate the importance of the grocery-anchored center.”


Paster was responsible for bringing Whole Foods to the community of Minnetonka — the company purchased a 33,000-sq.-ft. vacant Circuit City building in late 2010, and Whole Foods is in construction on a new store that is slated to open in early October. 


And at Crystal Town Center, in Crystal, Minn., Paster backfilled a vacant Office Depot space with an 18,000-sq.-ft. Aldi grocery store, transforming the 15-year-old shopping center into a vibrant destination that also features Papa Murphy, Chipotle, Half Price Books and Liquor Barrel. “There was a real need for a grocery store in the area,” Paster said, “so adding the Aldi has proved very successful. Reports are that the Aldi is meeting, if not exceeding, expectations.”