TAMPA — The first thing I noticed when I walked into the Sprouts Farmers Market in the Carrollwood Commons shopping plaza in Tampa Tuesday was the produce section.
Avocados. Dozens of colorful kinds of peppers. Limes, oranges and lemons. I've toured many grocery stores during my tenure as a retail reporter: Earth Fare when it opened in Seminole, Lucky's Market in Naples, Whole Foods 365 in Seattle, just to name a recent few. But the produce department in Sprouts is hard to miss. Located right in the middle of the store, it's one of the biggest I've seen.
Sprouts Farmers Market, an organic niche grocery store chain based in Phoenix, will open its long anticipated first store in the Tampa Bay area Wednesday at 7 a.m. The 27,000-square-foot store, located at 15110 N. Dale Mabry Highway, will also be the first Sprouts store to open in Florida, and likely with the same kind of fanfare we saw for other new brands — think Trader Joe's and Wawa, with similar cult-like followings.
Unlike Trader Joe's, parking shouldn't be a problem.
Tampa Bay customers have been begging the chain to open a store here for a long time, said Diego Romero, a spokesman with the company. So if you go tomorrow, or over the weekend to check it out yourself, expect to stand in line, Romero said.
"Produce makes up about a quarter of our business," said Romero during a sneak peek tour of the new store on Tuesday. He noted the store carries around 200 different organic varieties. "Our prices are typically 20 to 25 percent less than conventional stores because of the relationships we have with our farmers."
Sprouts Farmers Market is a speciality grocery known for its affordable assortment of natural and organic foods. Its stores are about half the size of a typical Publix. Like Trader Joe's, the prices seem to be lower than other organic grocery competitors. A carton of Red Blossom strawberries is for sale for $1 each. Same with the pineapples. Customers can grab a pound of ground beef for $1.99 this week. The beef assortment range from choice cuts to grass-fed.
Rumors about Sprouts looking to expand in Florida have been floating around for years. The company is among the fastest growing in the organic grocer segment. Florida is the company's 14th state and North Carolina is poised to be the 15th. So far, Sprouts has 250 stores from coast to coast in the U.S.
In 2011, Sprouts acquired and merged with two other grocery chains, Henry's Farmers Market and Sun Harvest, and continued to expand aggressively from there. In 2014, the grocer moved into Atlanta, launching four stores right away and eventually a distribution hub, which opened up the chain to the Southeast.
"We picked Tampa because there are so many diverse neighborhoods here," Romero said. "We believe that Sprouts has something for everyone, whether you're active person, have a young family, or are retired. You can do your entire shopping trip here at Sprouts."
Sprouts plans to open stores in South Tampa and Palm Harbor later this year. The company also announced 11 new stores that will open across the country during the second quarter this year. Other sites include Sarasota, Colorado, California, Texas and Georgia. Each store will hire around 100 employees.
Back inside the new store, I could smell the artisan bread rising from the ovens in the bakery. A refrigerated bakery section offers an expansive supply of sprout- and seed-based loaves and other gluten-free options. The Sprouts store doesn't have a traditional pharmacy, but customers can find natural and organic vitamins and supplements in the front corner of the store. Chilled kimchi live shots and fermented kombucha beverages also line the shelves.
Grab-and-go fresh sandwiches start at $3.99. Or get a freshly prepared meal, just heat and eat, for $4-$7. Fresh ingredients from the salad bar cost $7.99 a pound. There's a bulk goods section, which includes a wide range of spices, and a specialty butcher shop.
Abigail Dougherty, a registered dietitian in Tampa Bay, was impressed with the wide range of healthy products she saw when she walked into the store, which she thinks customers in Florida probably haven't seen much of before.
"It's easy to talk about healthy eating in a backdrop like this," said Dougherty, who will give a cooking demonstration to celebrate the store opening. "All of it is well priced and the actual ingredients in the products are better than what you see normally."
Sprouts enters the Florida market at a time when several other organic grocery chains are looking to expand here, too. Lucky's Market, a Colorado-based organic chain, will open a store at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg next year. Earth Fare, another chain known for its healthy foods, opened its first store in Tampa Bay at the Seminole City Center in September and has plans to open many more stores in the area. While there's bound to be some consolidation as these stores begin to open up, shoppers in Tampa Bay should enjoy the new variety while they can.
Contact Justine Griffin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.