Grocer games: Will it be Sprouts or Lucky's that comes out on top in Florida?

Sprouts just opened its Clearwater store and has 15 stores planned for Florida. Meanwhile, Lucky's continues its Kroger-backed Sunshine State expansion.
Published January 22

Two of the grocery wars' rising stars may be from out west, but Sprouts Farmers Market and Lucky's Market are duking it out here in Florida.

Tampa Bay is just their latest battleground, as both chains steadily announce spurts of new Florida locations. Sprouts has announced plans to bring its Sunshine State total to 15. Its latest just opened Wednesday in Clearwater. Lucky's Market has 15 Florida locations already with plans to grow.

Both stores are a haven for foodies, beloved by shoppers and offer a more curated experience at around 30,000 square feet than a standard supermarket with bigger footprints. By the looks of their slew of recent location announcements, both are also vying to be Florida's leading affordable specialty store.

Sprouts' latest announcements mean new stores in Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Meanwhile, Lucky's is already building its own Clearwater and Brandon locations, with two more Orlando-area stores opening in the next few weeks.

"Both of those retailers are leading with fresh," said Julie Quick, the head of insights and strategy of marketing agency Shoptology. "They're really employing a good range of strategies for the best food and the best price."

That's what a lot of shoppers are demanding right now: fresh, simple and affordable. It's sort of like an anti-Whole Foods mentality. The organic-exclusive store is still trying to curb its "Whole paycheck" image under new owner, Amazon.

"Sprouts has become extremely accessible for a lot of audiences," Quick said. "Walk inside and you'll see everything from a 20-something fitness buff to a senior trying to make better food choices."

Store review: Sprouts Farmers Market

If you looked up a map with pin-points for all the existing and announced locations of Sprouts and Lucky's across the country, you wouldn't see much overlap until you hit Florida. Lucky's roots are in Colorado and Sprouts was born a state over in Arizona. Lucky's has stores stretching from Missouri up to Michigan, while Sprouts has a concentration on the west coast in California and others sprinkled along the east coast.

But in Florida? The Clearwater Sprouts, at 23656 U.S. Highway 19 N, will soon have a Lucky's about a 10-minute drive away where an old Albertson's used to be. A Sprouts and a Lucky's are just a few miles away from each other in Winter Park. Sprouts is part of a $2.5 million rehab of an old Best Buy store in Jacksonville, where Lucky's has a store nearby on Neptune Beach and another in the works in southwest part of the city.

On the eve of its grand opening, Sprouts Clearwater let a stream of employees' friends and family through its sliding glass doors in celebration of the chain's newest location. They were welcomed by mounds of fresh produce and samples of fancy Florida-made nut butters.

Although Sprouts has a South Tampa store, most of its new offerings are serving Tamp Bay's suburban communities.

"In the Florida market, we're always looking for ready-to-build or ready-to-fit sites around 30,000 square feet," said Diego Romero, a Sprouts spokesman. "We might go into an existing shopping center and break big space up and ... anchor, or combine smaller boxes for a perfect fit in an existing center."

Two of its local announcements are tied to big mix-used development projects: the Village at Mitchell Ranch in Trinity on State Road 54 and Little Road and the other at the Villages at Hunter’s Lake in New Tampa, near Hunter's Green Drive and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. The Riverview store is slated for the intersection of Summerfield Crossing and U.S. 301 and the Seminole location at Seminole and Park boulevards.

Sprouts hasn't released any further details on when the stores will open, but the latest announcements make its concentration in Tampa Bay greater than anywhere else in the state. But in a saturated grocery market, is there really enough room for more stores? Plenty of Florida neighborhoods already have Publix locations across the street from each other.

Store review: Lucky's Market

"Publix is always going to be the 800-pound gorilla in the room," said Stephanie Addis, the director of retail services with Colliers International's Tampa office.

Its brand loyalty is nearly unmatched.

Although developers may have been hesitant at first to anchor a shopping center with store such as Sprouts — whether it be instead of, or nearby, a Publix — specialty stores have proven their worth, Addis said. Some shoppers will only shop the aisles of specialty stores, while others will use them to supplement shopping trips at a standard supermarket.

"Everything has a tipping point, a critical mass," Addis said, "but I don't see that happening anytime soon."

The only grocers that may not fare well are the ones unwilling to adapt to customers evolving demands. Quick said, for example, millennials don't have the same brand loyalty to food corporations as their parents.

Grocers like Florida's diverse demographics, stream of seasonal visitors and growing population. With a behemoth like Publix ruling much of the state's supermarket scene, experts say specialty stores are the most prepared to offer competition because they offer a different shopping experience.

Kroger Co., the largest supermarket chain in the country, hasn't directly set foot in Florida, but financially backs Lucky's through a private partnership. The supermarket company has handled Florida real estate deals on behalf of the Colorado specialty store.

Krista Torvik, a Lucky's spokeswoman, said the chain hopes to have at least 15 more stores in Florida by the end of 2019.

Where does that leave Sprouts?

"I think Sprouts is less trying to chase Lucky's and more just win the Sun Belt and some of those populations," Quick said.

Although they may be in competition for a similar group of shoppers, Quick said, right now, there seems to be enough room for both.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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