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Publix Super Markets experiments with Greenwise stores

Publix Super Markets Inc. is fiddling with Greenwise Markets, its three-store version of a Whole Foods Market that puts under one roof natural and health foods and pricey gourmet items.

Responding to customer demand, the lone Tampa Greenwise now will honor regular Publix ads and coupons, get a self-serve soda fountain in the deli-food court and offer the same birthday cake choices as other Publix stores. Apparently even better-for-you food fans want sugary sodas and butter cream icing with their organic flour.

While Greenwise offers a reduced-fat, baked chicken to go in the deli, it will be augmented by Publix's diet-busting fried chicken.

Publix remains committed to Greenwise stores as a test that initially stocked about a quarter of the basics found in all Publix stores. But some observers think the experiment was really launched to blunt the march of Whole Foods — which has been stalled by the economy and self-inflicted missteps — while serving as a learning lab to blend features of a natural foods market into standard Publix stores.

In fact, the selection in the next test location slated to open in Naples in 2010 will be half Greenwise products and half what's found in a regular Publix.

It will be branded Publix, not Greenwise.

So if you're still hoping those rumors about Publix remodeling one of those Albertsons acquired last year into a full-fledged Greenwise near you, don't get your hopes up.

• • •

Plenty of ink and blog pixels have been spilled over the wisdom of putting infomercial king Billy Mays' spots back on the air after his recent death, so here's my 2 cents.

If the family is willing, there's plenty of precedent — even if some of it's creepy.

A digital, black-and-white version of Orville Redenbacher appeared in microwave popcorn ads years after his death. Col. Harland Sanders remains part of KFC long after he's gone. The suicide of Heath Ledger didn't stop the release of The Dark Knight. As for heirs continuing to live from commercial ventures (Mays had an equity stake in many of the products he pitched), don't forget Elvis Presley, the Beatles and soon Michael Jackson.

As an informercial star, the length of Mays' on-air legacy hinges more directly on making the cash register ring in a business that's driven by new products.

Buying all that TV time makes infomercials one of the more expensive ways to sell products, so distributors are disciplined to stop buying ads the moment the phones stop ringing.

• • •

To survive in a shrinking market, the makers of Iron City Beer this year started offering their brews in places like Tampa Bay, where many Pittsburgh residents migrated long ago.

Back in Western Pennsylvania, however, dark clouds circle the 148-year-old brewery lifted out of bankruptcy in 2007.

At 170,000 barrels a year, production is 80,000 barrels a year short of break-even. So starting this month, Iron City and IC Light will be made under contract 40 miles away in a Latrobe, Pa., brewery best known for Rolling Rock, another icon of Western Pennsylvania culture.

Since Anheuser-Busch took over the brand, however, Rolling Rock has been made in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh city officials are trying to get back some of the financial incentives they handed Iron City to stay in Pittsburgh. So the company will keep its headquarters and a warehouse there.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Publix Super Markets experiments with Greenwise stores 07/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 5:40pm]
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