“When we build new stores what we’re hoping to do is enable a healthier America,” Curt Avallone, the new CMO for the Mrs. Green’s Natural Market chain, said in an interview with SN. “It’s easy for us to be sincere about that. We’re looking at a nation with problems like childhood obesity become so gigantic that the First Lady is taking up the cause. And we like to consider ourselves a part of that mission.”
Mrs. Green’s, which has plans to more than double its size with 20 new store openings in 2014, recently opened new stores in Burlington, Ontario, and in West Windsor, N.J. Another store is scheduled to open soon in New Canaan, Conn.
These units feature a new format built to accommodate expanded food service and natural-living departments, complementing an all-organic produce department.
“The strategic difference for us is our produce, which is 100% organic. Other players like Whole Foods have a lot of conventional items,” said Avallone. “So we focus on making sure our customer knows that, so she can shop the department like she shops any produce department, without having to look around for which products are organic.”
Avallone joined Mrs. Green’s parent, Irvington, N.Y.-based Natural Markets Food Group, earlier this year from Sears Holdings, where he worked previously with NMFG’s CEO, Robin Michel. Avallone is also a former marketing VP with Ahold’s Stop & Shop chain.
Among Avallone’s challenges is creating awareness of the fast-growing brand. Trial is encouraged through what he described as “generous” offers available through a newly launched loyalty card. Shoppers using the Market Rewards Card are eligible for four free items each week with a $50 purchase — items with a retail value of $14-$16, Avallone noted — and earn 1% discount on all purchases made with their card.
“We do the free items in partnership with our suppliers and CPG partners, and we’re finding that shoppers are excited by that kind of value proposition,” Avallone said. “It’s something you can’t find anywhere else. It’s a great deal.”
Avallone said the chain intends to use the card primarily as a means to communicate with shoppers. “In the natural and organics space the consumer is generally very interested in the quality of the product, more so than the people who shop in a conventional supermarket,” he contended. “They want to know where the product came from. We find people are interested in that not only in fresh but in shelf-stable products that are produced locally. That info is extremely important to get out.”
Foodservice offerings at the new stores feature made-to-order sandwiches and a beverage bar, while the natural living department features a large selection of vitamins and supplements and healthy-living offerings including offerings like yoga mats. The HBC selection features natural and locally made soaps and cosmetics.
Stores average about 17,000 square feet, which Avallone said fosters an intimate shopping experience and customer service, but also is an advantage as Mrs. Green’s competes for close-in neighborhood locations. The West Windsor store is at the site of a former Acme that closed five years ago and is within walking distance of the busy Princeton Junction commuter train station. Area competitors — which include Whole Foods, Wegmans and McCaffrey’s — are located along busier roads, a spokeswoman noted.