Publix is a chain beloved by millions in a tight geographical area – and virtually unknown to shoppers outside that area. And though Publix has closely guarded its turf – particularly in its home state of Florida – in 2015, Safeway took over three Albertsons stores and poured $30 million in bringing the West Coast brand to Publix country. It didn’t work out so well, noted Jeff Green, a partner at retail real estate firm Hoffman Strategy Group.
“Safeway tried to compete on a traditional supermarket level, and it couldn’t,” he said. “The experiment crashed and burned.”
These days, however, competitors are looking at different ways to take on Publix at home in Florida, without having to come at them head-on.
Kroger, for example, has none of its eponymous locations in Florida, as it has been hesitant to take on Publix. Instead, it is floating a different type of test balloon in the market by opening one of its Lucky’s Markets in Delray Beach. It has notably advertised itself as not only a grocery destination, but also as a possible date night destination, complete with a bar area, patio furniture and indoor cafe. The brand also focuses on organic, healthy and lifestyle products that are meant to appeal to Florida’s foodies “who want to live a healthy lifestyle at a reasonable price.”
Publix’s responses, GreenWise Market, has officially opened for business this week. The goal of GreenWise is to expand the definition of a grocery experience. Some of that is about selection, as consumers can choose from a range of organic, all-natural and locally sourced options. But much of that is about building a “hang-out” zone where customers can grab prepared food offerings, such as burrito bowls, Mediterranean pizza, sushi and smoked wings.
There will also be touchpoints for food- and beverage-themed events, such as wine and cheese tastings, that will give consumers a reason to come into the store and encourage them to put new types of products into their shopping carts.
And then there is the bar.
Or, to use the store’s lingo, the “Pours” section, where customers can sip a cold beer, wine, iced coffee, espresso or kombucha on tap.
“There are a lot of stars in the store, but this is absolutely the star of the location,” said Dwaine Stevens, a spokesman for Publix. “This is just a place where you can come and relax with your friends. If you’re a student at one of the universities, you can come in and just hang out.”
This is not Publix’s first GreenWise store in Florida, but it is what Stevens called the “new and improved version,” based on learnings taken from other prototype stores that share its name.
The store is additionally divided into sections: Care, Finds, Eats, Cuts and Pours. Care is dedicated to natural and organic wellness products, Finds is where one pushes their cart on the hunt for one of the 230 kinds of cheese (and counting) on offer, while “Cuts” caters to the customer seeking cut and sliced meats. Smokers and fans of high-fructose corn syrup (think soda pop and snack cakes) will have to shop elsewhere, as neither cigarettes nor products containing HFCS will be stocked.
Local leadership has also praised the location of the state-of-the-art store, noting that it is sandwiched between a busy commercial area around Florida A&M and Florida State and a series of neighborhoods challenged by food deserts.
“It’s so important because those are the communities that have the adverse health outcomes. And we know in public health that health is so connected to what you eat,” Qasimah Boston, co-founder of the Tallahassee Food Network, told the Tallahassee Democrat. “If you don’t have access to good and quality food, that tends to have an impact on the foods you choose.”
Whether the residents of those deserts will be able to afford GreenWise’s pricing scale is perhaps a separate question. Cold kombucha on tap and 230 types of exotic cheese are generally expensive offerings, though community leaders did note that some pricing was below expected levels.
The bigger question is how fully Publix will build out and expand on this new model, and whether it will continue to dissuade competitors from setting up shop in Florida.