Northgate Gonzalez Market to promote produce to SNAP participants

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Northgate Gonzalez Market said Thursday it will offer programs through its produce departments to promote long-term health among low-income shoppers as part of a program with the Center for Community Health at the University of California, San Diego.

The Anaheim, Calif.-based retailer said it will offer financial-incentive rebates on fruit and vegetable purchases using the chain’s customer loyalty card, as well as special produce promotions, in-store cooking classes, store tours and education on food labeling, to encourage additional purchases for healthy food options.

The retailer also said it will share data with researchers at UC San Diego, including per capita spending and changes among SNAP participants, as they gain more knowledge about healthier food options.

The program evolved from a $3.4-million grant the university received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase affordable food access to low-income shoppers who receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“We are honored to work with UC San Diego to support the USDA in the development, implementation and evaluation of a nutrition incentive program,” said Victor Gonzalez, co-owner and VP of Northgate. “It is our goal to develop an effective, efficient and replicable financial-incentive rebate system that can serve as a national model for retailers and contribute to the enhanced health and well-being of low-income community members.”

The chain operates 40 Hispanic-focused stores throughout Southern California.

Similar incentives for SNAP participants have been piloted at Kroger, Balls Food Stores and SpartanNash.

Target picks Los Angeles (L.A.) stores to pilot innovations

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The future of Target Corp. may be taking shape at 25 stores in the Los Angeles area which this spring will host some 50 new initiatives under way for the retailer.

“It’s a pilot we’re calling ‘LA25’ to see how we can improve the guest experience and grow sales when all of those elements are working together,” CEO Brian Cornell explained during an investor presentation in New York, Wednesday. “LA25 will be our first chance to understand how guests react when we bring different tests together in one centralized location that on their own have been very well-received.”

Cornell said Target will use what it learns from LA25 “and apply the designs for our next-generation prototype store. But we won’t wait until we ramp up LA25 before we take the proven winners and roll them out to the rest of the chain,” he added.

In a wide-ranging discussion of the retailer’s strategies, Cornell noted the Minneapolis-based company has no short-term plans to get into fresh food categories, focusing instead on getting the “basics” right.

“We want to make sure we are focused on getting the fundamentals right in food — to differentiate the assortment to be clear about who we are and who we are not,” Cornell said. “We recognize we have to improve freshness, but we’re going to be really careful about moving into new spaces that add greater complexity to the business model.”

According to John Mulligan, COO, “We’ve done a lot of work and have brought in some experts to help us think about fresh food and the supply chain, but we’re not ready to tell you what our plans are.

“The first thing for us to do is to get what we’re already doing right. If we learn more down the road, we will adjust, but what we’re really looking for today is just to do well what we already do.”

In other comments during the investor conference:

• Cornell said Target intends to continue to focus on four signature categories— style, baby, kids and wellness — to drive traffic, using food as an added convenience.

“While guests are there, we want to offer them a convenient, trusted, reliable assortment of food products. We think that’s the winning formula for Target going forward over the next few years.

During 2015 the signature categories grew three times faster than the rest of Target’s assortment, he noted, “and we’re expecting aggressive growth as we go forward.”

• Target reduced out-of-stocks by 40% in 2015 by assigning a dedicated team to dig into the root causes of persistent out-of-stocks category-by-category, which resulted in “process changes that are simple, repeatable and sustainable,” Mulligan said.

For example, Target redesigned shelf presentations to put more product on the sales floor as part of an effort to reduce backroom inventory; reduced the number of SKU’s in particular categories; and worked with vendors to optimize case-pack sizes to match each product’s rate of sale to cut down the number of touches and reduce out-of-stocks, he said.

• The chain is testing more flexible formats — down to 10,000 square feet — to bring Target stores into more urban areas and nearer college campuses, Cornell said.

“We’re very excited about the reaction to these formats. We’re opening a handful of additional locations in 2016, but we’re building a very strong pipeline in 2017, 2018 and beyond.”

• The company plans to use the assets it already has to serve customers in new, more reliable ways, Catherine R. Smith, EVP and CFO, said.

“Not that long ago growth in retail meant adding a lot of stores. Today our growth plans are focused on using the assets we have differently,” she explained.

• Noting there is no substitute for human interaction, Cornell said Target will add more “specialized team members to pilot more personalized services.” According to Mulligan, “It’s the in-person interaction that can make the in-store experience so valuable — ‘here, let me show you’ or ‘yes, I can help you’ are powerful words and go a long way in making it easy for guests to get what they need.

“As we work to move product more efficiently, we also have to remove some operational tasks so teams can spend more time helping guests with their questions,” he added.

California report; Mi Pueblo Food Center, flexing its muscles (and Part 2)

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Quality food

Mi Pueblo has always had very high standards in its Mexican-focused foodservice offerings, Ramirez pointed out, “though when we lost so much of our skill set, all that knowledge disappeared, and there was no one to prepare the recipes we’d been known for.

“It’s something most chains will never be able to figure out,” he said. “It looks simple, but it’s extraordinarily complicated, especially when it comes to the fresh side of the business.

Employees receive extensive training on fresh breads and other foodservice items.“Anyone can put together a recipe for something like mole or salsa, but it’s very complex to prepare those dishes properly, and there’s no general formula that will make the fresh food taste great. That requires years of training and experience and knowing exactly the right combination of ingredients.

“The same is true of making Mexican pan dulce [sweet bread] and other baked goods — it’s all very complicated. A chain can hire the expertise, but most still have a hard time getting the tastes specific to the areas of Mexico that people grew up with.

“Now that Mi Pueblo is headed in the right direction, we’re committed to making the best pan dulce in Northern California by establishing extensive training programs to teach new bakers how to make fresh bread and be sure it’s consistent across all stores.”

The stores, which average 35,000 square feet, are designed to have the feel of a small village in Mexico, with exterior facades that resemble a traditional hacienda, with large arches and a bell tower and painted festive colors such as bright pink, blue and ochre; while interior wall décor depicts homes and shops at the center of a rural town.

Mi Pueblo's stores have the feel of a small village in Mexico.Most locations serve first-, second- and third-generation Mexicans, with bilingual signage and bilingual employees, Ramirez noted.

The chain’s print ads and mailers use 80% Spanish, with some English translations, he said. However, as Mi Pueblo tries to broaden its sales base to accommodate more non-Hispanic customers, some ads feature a 60/40 Spanish-to-English mix, he pointed out.

“At the end of the day, our core target is still Hispanic,” Ramirez explained. “But the dining rooms in most of our stores are like melting pots, and I think we’ll see a day, probably sooner than later, where you’ll have Hispanic, Anglo, Asian and African cultures all mixed together in what are now Hispanic-focused chains.”

One industry observer told SN he believes Mi Pueblo, like other Hispanic-based chains, may need to broaden its appeal more rapidly. “Many Hispanic chains are operating with a 20th century mindset, but as more and more younger consumers turn their attention to companies like Amazon and Blue Apron, these ethnic chains need to alter the way they think about their base,” he said.

Cultural change

Mi Pueblo is already experiencing some cultural change at a couple of locations, Ramirez said, citing a store in downtown San Jose that attracts a lot of African American and Asian customers and a store in East Palo Alto that attracts an upscale mix of customers from Stanford University, Facebook, Google and Tesla.

“You have to honor everyone who comes into the store and treat them equally, and that’s no different for an ethnic operator than for a conventional operator,” Ramirez said.

“Most Hispanics come to the stores for the products and the pricing, but for non-Hispanics, coming to Mi Pueblo is fun — like stepping into Mexico simply by entering the store. The aromas, plus the high quality and attractive pricing, are part of Mi Pueblo’s DNA.”

Mi Pueblo offers fresh, natural products like nopales — tender cactus.Though the stores cater primarily to Mexicans and Salvadorans, the Spanish language — though it differs somewhat from country to country — is a strong bond, Alberto Gonzalez, marketing vice president, told SN.

“We are bicultural and bilingual, and we understand what our customers want,” he said. “When you step into a store, it feels like home, with the music, aromas, colors and authentic merchandise — and we offer products that people from different countries can’t buy elsewhere,” Gonzalez explained.

The stores don’t feature natural and organic products as such, he added, “but we offer good-for-you sections featuring fresh, natural products that connect with the earth,” he noted.

Ramirez said he believes the kinds of fresh, natural products Mexicans have consumed for years will help attract a broader mix of customers, citing several examples, including prickly pears, “which people are discovering are very healthy”; habanero peppers, “which have incredible properties, including helping with weight loss,” he said; and nopales (tender cactus), “which has terrific properties that can help control diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Ramirez said he is a big fan of nopales salad, pulling a container out of his personal “stash” to show SN. “This stuff will blow your mind,” he declared. “Once people discover nopales salad, they’ll have no need for Metamucil.”

The nopales salad is made on the store floor, with tastings available, he said.

In terms of pricing, Ramirez said Mi Pueblo has a system in place to check chain pricing on approximately 100 items “and then always price below them. We’re not discounters, but we offer prices no one can match day-in and day-out. We’re even lower than Costco.”

Some of its pricing edge comes from being a member of Unified Grocers, Los Angeles, Ramirez noted, but he said he also credits the chain’s buying team.

Ramirez has spent his career in the food business — first on the supplier side with Frito-Lay and Mission Foods, then on the retail side with Cardenas Markets in Southern California before being hired by Mi Pueblo in June 2014.

He said Mi Pueblo is letting people know it’s back and moving forward “by doing a lot of work at the grassroots level,” including the following:

• Awarding college scholarships to more than 70 high-school students— a number he said the company expects to double next year.

• Hosting immigration clinics at which professionals talk to Hispanics about how new laws might impact them, how to achieve permanent legal status and how to bring relatives to the U.S. from Mexico.

• Sponsoring a “jaripeo,” a Mexican rodeo featuring bull-riding demonstrations and performances by popular bands — an event at which the company’s logo is prominently displayed.

• Setting up information booths at stores in a partnership with Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange, to inform customers about affordable health insurance options.

• Hosting representatives from Pacific Gas & Electric to promote energy saving programs and raise awareness of financial assistance programs available.

• Offering store tours to local schools.

• Partnering with local food banks in a canned food drive to help the homeless during Thanksgiving.

• Conducting a contest in which consumers submitted videos of their local ballet folklorico troupes.

• Having a “mero mero” [a masked hero] make appearances at stores to add excitement — paying for some customers’ groceries, helping to carry groceries to cars and posing for pictures with kids.

• Hosting Mother’s Day drawings in which customers had a chance to win a mariachi serenade for their mother.

California report; Mi Pueblo Food Center, flexing its muscles (Part 1)

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Mi Pueblo Food Centers is striving to regain its muscle a year after emerging from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy — and it’s succeeding, company officials told SN.

It’s been a tough, albeit rewarding, year-plus for Mi Pueblo, said Javier Ramirez, president and CEO of the 19-store Hispanic chain.

“When a company goes through what we went through, it’s not business as usual, and we still have our hands full right now. But we’re making so much progress, and we’re working hard to get up to speed.

“In fact, we’ve been able to reach an important metric — positive EBITDA — only a year after coming out of bankruptcy, which was faster than anticipated.

Mi Pueblo operates 19 stores in Northern California.“When your EBITDA is positive, everything improves.”

According to Ramirez, achieving positive EBITDA was just one of 60 initiatives he set in motion when he joined the company in June 2014. Other initiatives undertaken and checked off, he said, include “renegotiating everything, including leases and vendor contracts, because we wanted Mi Pueblo to survive. And everyone came through for us,” he noted.

“Now we’re pursuing our next metric — approaching the industry standard for net income — and we’re getting close,” he said.

The company’s plan going forward includes installing new accounting and IT systems, Ramirez noted.

Employee training has also been a high priority, given the fact the company was forced to replace 80% of its workforce following a 2012 federal audit of undocumented workers. As a result, one of its primary initiatives has been to continue to train the 1,000 employees who were hired to replace the undocumented workers, Ramirez noted.

“We’re back to offering great customer service, consistent quality and better product rotation,” says Mi Pueblo president and CEO Javier Ramirez.“There were only about 200 people left with on-the-job knowledge — the new people we hired had almost no experience,” he explained.

“The real challenge was to immerse the new staffers in our service-oriented culture, and it’s taken us a year to develop expertise among them through training programs we’ve developed in-house. As a result, the employees are getting better every day, and we’re creating leaders.”

As part of its training, the company is encouraging employees to offer shoppers a more interactive experience by engaging with them as soon as they enter the stores, Ramirez said — similar to the customer experience in Mexican plazas, where vendors try to lure customers to their merchandise by announcing specials, he explained.

Employee incentives

To incentivize workers, Mi Pueblo has instituted a series of employee-focused programs, Ramirez indicated — soliciting employee input on how to make Mi Pueblo a better place to shop, with cash prizes for winning suggestions; offering scholarships to encourage employees to continue their education; and recognizing employees of the month.

The company, based in San Jose in Northern California, was founded by Juvenal Chavez in 1994. Stores extend from the San Francisco Bay Area 130 miles south to the Monterey Peninsula and 100 miles inland to Modesto. Sales for the chain’s 19 stores are close to $400 million, according to industry estimates.

Mi Pueblo has had to hire and train and army of new workers since emerging from bankruptcy.Mi Pueblo filed for bankruptcy in July 2013 — a year after it lost 80% of its work force and several months after it was hit with a demand by its primary lender to renegotiate its financial agreements. The company emerged from Chapter 11 in June 2014 when Victory Park Capital, a Chicago-based investment firm, provided $56 million in exit financing in exchange for a 50% stake in the business.

In the process of restructuring, Chavez retained the other 50% stake and became one of five directors on a board controlled by VPC, and Ramirez was hired to run the business.

The relationship between VPC and Mi Pueblo is working well, Ramirez said. “They’ve been extraordinarily supportive,” he noted. “We tell them what we need and so far, they’ve given us what we’ve asked for.”

Industry sources told SN that VPC may be interested in selling a portion of its 50% stake in the company to help provide additional financial input — by bringing in another investment group or possibly allying itself with a conventional chain that could benefit from Mi Pueblo’s expertise in marketing to Hispanics.

VPC officials could not be reached for comment.

According to one source, additional financing would help Mi Pueblo overcome its biggest challenge — cash flow, encompassing restructuring, accounting, auditing and legal costs resulting from the bankruptcy. “If it can just turn that corner and resolve its cash-flow issues, Mi Pueblo has huge potential,” he noted.

“It’s doing a good job at store level and making a lot of progress there, and employee attitudes and morale have risen considerably over the past 15 months. But Mi Pueblo still has to work its way past those post-bankruptcy costs.”

Ramirez said the company’s long-term goal is to grow Mi Pueblo organically, “and, if the opportunity becomes available, to look at possible acquisitions that fit our criteria.”

Room for growth

There is still a lot of room for Mi Pueblo to expand in Northern California, he noted, though the company is more focused on remodeling than building at this time, he said. “Fortunately, Mi Pueblo has always kept its stores up, and because half of them opened in the last five years, they’re in great shape,” Ramirez pointed out.

The company has done some remodeling since the bankruptcy ended —including painting, repairing parking lots and upgrading floors and refrigeration equipment — “and now we’re pretty much caught up,” he said.

Customer service is a major component of Mi Pueblo's culture.Asked if Mi Pueblo might consider a merger with another Hispanic chain, Ramirez replied, “It’s not likely.”

Mi Pueblo opted to close two of the 21 stores it was operating before the Chapter 11 — locations in Atwater, near Modesto, and Seaside, near Salinas, neither of which fit its demographic criteria, Ramirez said.

“Though we welcome all customers, our primary target is Hispanics, and the percentage of Hispanics in those areas has grown very small, so our offer wasn’t as relevant for them, and traffic was not where it needed to be to ensure profitability,” he explained.

Unlike Southern California, which has several Hispanic chain operators, Mi Pueblo is the only large Hispanic retailer in Northern California. “But Northern California is a tough environment because leases are higher than in Southern California,” Ramirez said, “and also because we’re competing with Safeway, along with several other chains and a number of smaller Hispanic independents.”

Mi Pueblo operates what Ramirez described as upscale stores — comparable to a Whole Foods in terms of quality of product and service, he noted — and it’s working hard to attain the service levels it had before the employee audit and the bankruptcy, he said.

“We’re back to offering great customer service, consistent quality and better product rotation,” Ramirez pointed out.

“We use mystery shoppers, who give us scores that are as good as what Safeway gets, though that’s not good enough for us. Even during the bankruptcy, as we hired new people, they all had to learn how to treat customers and to carry our vision forward.

“Now we’re looking for even better customer service, and we believe we will get there within a few months.”

Continue…

Save-A-Lot IPO will fuel Western expansion

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Supervalu’s potential spinoff of its Save-A-Lot division will prime the discount banner for aggressive unit growth and separate a business that has little in common with the distributor’s retail and independent businesses.

“It’s a totally different animal,” said Sam Duncan, Supervalu’s CEO, speaking at an investor conference last week in Minneapolis.

Supervalu announced earlier this month it was exploring a potential public spinoff of Save-A-Lot, but cautioned a deal may not materialize. However, CFO Bruce Besanko, speaking at the same event last week, acknowledged a change was all but inevitable given the company has already spent more than $2 million exploring the move.

“There’s no guarantee it’s going to happen. But you can certainly bet that we spent money last quarter, [and] we’re going to spend money in the second quarter here to continue to march down the path, and we wouldn’t obviously spend that kind of money unless we were certainly serious about something like this,” Besanko said. “So that’s very exciting for Save-A-Lot, very exciting for Supervalu, to be able to unleash the power of that brand as a standalone entity.”

Another possibility, Besanko acknowledged, was an outright sale of Save-A-Lot. “We’ve had some inbound calls now that have expressed some interest and so that’s a possibility — there could be a combination hybrid of [a sale and IPO],” he said.

The spinoff will help fuel Save-A-Lot’s growth — particularly into the Western states like Nevada and California — where Save-A-Lot has little to no presence, Duncan said. However, Duncan pointed out that both he and Save-A-Lot CEO Richie Casteel have extensive experience in Southern California, where they previously worked with Albertsons. Duncan is also a former Ralphs president.

“The company tried hard years ago to go into the West, but really didn’t have expertise,” Duncan said. “But we know this area very incredibly well. My background is Southern California, Nevada. I ran stores in Nevada, and we’re going into Nevada. We’ll have Save-A-Lots in lots of new markets, including Los Angeles. … We’re looking for $30,000 to $45,000 in household income, that is our wheelhouse. And there is plenty of opportunities for that in the California and Nevada area.”

Save Mart introduces new Lucky California concept.

E4M9CK Lucky grocery store, California, USA. Image shot 2014. Exact date unknown.

Save Mart Supermarkets said Wednesday it has unveiled a new concept — called Lucky California — at one of it Lucky-banner stores, designed to serve the specific needs of customers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The company plans to test and tweak the concept at the initial location — in Daly City, Calif., about 10 miles south of San Francisco — before rolling it out to other Lucky units, with the intention of converting all 72 Bay Area Luckys to new Lucky California banner, Nicole Pesco, co-president and chief strategy and branding officer, told SN.

She said the company also plans to introduce a separate new merchandising concept at the 99 Save Mart-banner stores it operates in California’s Central Valley — a concept that will be unveiled sometime in 2016 at a ground-up location, Pesco noted.

She said the Lucky California concept is “an opportunity within the traditional grocery world to raise expectations a little bit, so we’re testing ideas at the Daly City store to see what works before rolling it out chainwide.”

However, she told SN she was reluctant to discuss too many details about the concept “until we see what works.”

She said the store “definitely has a different look and feel [than a conventional supermarket]. It still has all the traditional offerings, but on top of that, we’ve added more items above and beyond what you see in a traditional store.

“There are the usual departments around the perimeter — produce, meat, deli and bakery — and then stores-within-a-store in each section based on what consumers might experience in a restaurant or other supermarkets that are not traditionally found in a grocery setting.

“For example, we might have Thai chicken curry in the hot foods section of the service deli, plus the ingredients for customers to make it at home and recipes to make the item more accessible.

“Featured items and recipes will be available on a rotating basis, but there are no hard and fast rules on how often items will rotate in and out. The goal is to create a discovery every time the customer comes in.”

Lucky California stores will also feature local products — not just from area farms, but also from Bay Area producers, manufacturers, chefs and purveyors “[to] truly deliver the flavors of California,” Pesco said.

Lucky California also features a new logo —a kaleidoscopic design that a spokeswoman said shows the top view of an artichoke, “which not only represents California agriculture but also is a good illustration of cultures coming tougher,” she told SN.

Pesco said customers will determine the timing of the rollout of the Lucky California banner. “What we intend to do is test, learn, tweak and do more testing, and then begin introducing those elements that work at other Lucky locations. It’s all about having a stronger food philosophy in line with the way consumers in the Bay Area eat.”

The Daly City Lucky is a 61,000-square-foot store that was selected for the new approach, Pesco said, “because its diverse demographics made it feel like the right store to test this concept. It fit the mold of what we want to do, and because it’s such a large store, it offers the space to test a lot of different things.”

In a press release the company said the store’s offerings “will reflect the diverse cultures, delicious cuisine and locally grown foods that have been inspired in this region. The store’s new display concept will feature constantly changing snack and meal hubs where shoppers will be encouraged to try new flavors.”

California; Mi Pueblo offering $200,000 in scholarships.

Mi Pueblo's flagship location at the corner of Story and King Roads serves customers in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. Members of the community held a a news conference to protest the store's use of the federal E-Verify program. The Bay Area's largest Latino grocery recently began using the voluntary internet-based program to check the immigration status of all its new hires on a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (Anda Chu/Staff)

Mi Pueblo Food Centers said it is offering 100 scholarships totaling more than $200,000 to community members and employees already enrolled in college or who wish to continue their education.

The San Jose, Calif.-based chain said it has awarded more than $550,000 in funding to more than 350 individuals in Northern California, where it operates, since it initially launched the scholarship program in 2011.

To qualify, applicants must demonstrate community involvement as well as financial need, the company said.

According to Javier Ramirez, president and CEO of the 15-store Hispanic-focused chain, “Many of Mi Pueblo’s customers and employees came to the U.S. in search of a better life for themselves and their families. We recognize that education is the first step toward achieving this goal, and we are thrilled to once again offer the community and our valued employees an opportunity to better prepare themselves for the future and to fulfill their dreams.”

Northgate Market aims for ‘platform of respect’

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Helping underserved communities have access to fresh foods is about more than just the food, said Oscar Gonzalez, Northgate Gonzalez Market co-president, at a panel at the Expo West show in Anaheim, Calif.

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“It’s more than just having the food there, having the fresh produce, fresh meat, fresh breads. It’s really about creating an environment where people feel safe, where families feel safe and where there’s a platform of respect,” Gonzalez said.

Two examples Gonzalez gave were keeping bathrooms as clean as expected in high-income communities and making sure the parking lot is lit properly at night so customers feel safe shopping in the store.

“A lot of our success and our growth has really been about success at making sure those things we all take for granted become important,” he said. The Anaheim-based chain has also focused on educating customers about the pillars of healthful meals. Last year the retailer hired its first dietitian. The store is also known for its “Viva la Salud” wellness program.

Gonzalez described his chain’s approach to opening new stores in a new community as “holistic.”

“We really feel that by opening a store in an underserved area, that we can make that community better,” noting that Northgate reaches out to faith groups and programs for children to become integrated into the community.

One challenge, Gonzalez argued, is that natural and organic foods are still out of reach for his shoppers.

Whole Food Market co-CEO Walter Robb, the moderator of the food access panel, noted that a newly opened Detroit Whole Foods worked hard to make the pricing and assortment affordable to the Detroit community. The Austin, Texas, chain is also opening a new store in the Englewood community in Chicago’s South Side.

Other panelists on the food access panel included Will Allen, CEO of Growing Power; James Dukes, bishop of the Liberation Christian Center; Robin Emmons, executive director of Sow Much Food; and Clint Smith, an educator and poet.

Fresh Market to exit California by March 31.

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The Fresh Market said Thursday it plans to discontinue operations in California by March 31 “to focus on higher growth opportunities.”

The Greensboro, N.C.-based specialty grocery retailer operates stores in Palo Alto in Northern California, Santa Barbara in Southern California and Laguna Hills south of Los Angeles in Orange County. The chain closed three locations in the Sacramento market in March 2014.

The company said the decision to exit California is consistent with its previously announced strategy to concentrate its growth resources over the next three years in the Eastern half of the U.S.

According to Sean Crane, the company’s EVP and COO and interim president and CEO, “Despite improving results in California, the company concluded the pace of organic store growth was going to be slower than anticipated and believes it can achieve more consistent financial results and a better return on its investments by continuing to grow in markets within or closer to its existing markets at this time.”

The company said operating losses and other expenses from its California stores totaled approximately $4.8 million, excluding impairment charges. As a result of the store closures, it said it anticipates additional charges in fiscal 2015 of approximately $20 million to $26 million related to recognition of lease liabilities, asset disposals, severance and other costs.

For the 13-week fourth quarter ended Jan. 25, The Fresh Market said net income rose more than 900% to $20.2 million off a year-ago comparison that included charges for asset impairment, a leadership change and store closures. Sales for the quarter rose 12.8% to $480.5 million, and comparable store sales rose 3%.

For the year net income increased 24.1% to $63 million, while sales were up 16% to $1.8 billion and comps rose 2.9%.

Crane said The Fresh Market expects to generate increased sales during fiscal 2015 and to expand operating margin as it executes its real-estate strategy “and work[s] to drive greater promotional and operational efficiencies while making strategic investments for the long-term growth of the company.”

He said the chain expects to open approximately 19 new stores this year — two in the first quarter, five or six in the second and 11 or 12 in the second half, all within or near existing markets in the Eastern U.S. — and to complete 10 remodels, most in the first half.

The chain expects total sales growth between 9% and 11%, with comps growing between 2% and 4% and earnings increasing to $1.77 to $1.85 per share (compared with $1.30 in the fiscal year just ended), with capital spending of $100 million to $110 million, Crane said.

Safeway to sell first Fair Trade seafood.

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Safeway plans to offer Fair Trade Certified seafood, starting with wild-caught tuna.

The tuna will initially be available in stores in the retailer’s Northern California, Portland and Seattle divisions in March. Safeway will expand the program to other areas once more supply becomes available.

“Safeway recognizes its responsibility to help protect our oceans in an effort to maintain the availability of seafood for future generations and the health of our planet,” Buster Houston, group director of seafood at Albertsons Safeway, said in a press release, “and this unique offering, beginning with frozen tuna steaks and burgers has the added benefit of being a Fair Trade Certified product.”

 By the end of 2015, Safeway hopes to achieve its goal for all its fresh and frozen seafood to be caught or farmed sustainably.

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