Publix takes fresh approach with GreenWise Market

TAMPA

For $6.99, there's a Peruvian quinoa salad or a vegan black bean burger on organic bread. The stuffed pepper laced with tofu and barley goes for $7.49. A pound of edamame caviar salad fetches $7.49.

But Publix deli fried chicken was banished in favor of a baked alternative that seems healthier — until you learn the crispy coating is soaked in buttermilk.

Publix GreenWise Market is nothing like the 1,000 traditional stores run by the nation's fourth-largest supermarket chain.

The Lakeland company's first bay area take on a natural/organic supermarket opens Thursday in Hyde Park at Armenia Avenue and W Azeele Street. It's the third of the chain's experimental GreenWise chain after Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens and the first built from the ground up. Two more will take over former Albertsons locations in Tallahassee and Winter Park. A hybrid will be branded as a Publix in Naples.

The curious should bring an appetite. And extra cash. That's unless they can withstand the temptations of over-the-top displays, flashy exhibition cooking and tantalizing scents of an array of freshly prepared foods made to be eaten at a 45-seat patio or more likely taken home and microwaved for five minutes.

"This store is all about the shopping experience and the food," said Shannon Patten, Publix spokeswoman.

Publix pulled out all the stops. There's an open-flame broiler and wood-fired pizza oven. The men's room has waterless urinals and an LED message board on the mirror flashing the date and time. Stainless-steel elevators and escalators ferry carts and shoppers to the roof-top garage.

All that restaurant-quality food requires seven trained chefs and a staff of 190 — 50 more than a traditional Publix a third larger.

Each employee has a pager so there aren't any PA interruptions for "cleanup on Aisle 6." Lottery tickets and Western Union services, Publix decided, don't fit the theme, either.

While GreenWise stocks top-selling basics like Cheese-Its and Colgate, the brown shelf tags for natural/organic foods dominate.

If this seems a bad time to unveil a supermarket stuffed with premium-priced organics, natural foods and top-of-the-line gourmet fare, welcome to the club. After all, studies show that most Americans hold the line on food spending as a percentage of their income even in this time of soaring prices. Whether those committed to foods made without artificial color, preservatives, pesticides or antibiotics stick to their guns as the economy and their discretionary income goes south remains to be seen. Already, sales and profit at chains like Whole Foods Natural Markets have softened dramatically.

GreenWise Market, however, is Publix's competitive answer to Whole Foods and others like Fresh Market that moved into its home state to skim the cream in top-income neighborhoods.

That's why the GreenWise food court and bakery is twice the size of what's found in Whole Foods. The prices are a tad lower. And the high-end selection goes higher. For instance, free-range chicken is only the starting point in a meat department that leaps above Whole Foods to 20 styles of fresh sausage, USDA prime beef and $64-a-pound Kobe steaks.

Initially, Publix toed the purist line, offering only natural and organics. But it found at the first store that organic fans have indulgences, too. So Coke and Pepsi appeared.

Appealing to all tastes sticks out in a wine section stocked with both $800 Bordeaux and Franzia in a box. The top-selling wine at the Palm Beach Gardens store: $21 Evolution.

Publix runs GreenWise stores separately with their own advertising, coupons and products that cannot be special-ordered from other Publix stores.

And for dieters wondering just what's in those tasty restaurant-quality meals, Publix is working up nutritional labels.

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

GreenWise Markets

Where they are: Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens

Where they will be: Tampa (opens Thursday),
Tallahassee, Winter Park

Publix takes fresh approach with GreenWise Market 11/03/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 7, 2008 12:28pm]

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