New GreenWise Market is Publix's clapback to the rise of the specialty chain

GreenWise Market employee Russell Gordon serves samples of kombucha, cold brew and pressed juice at a sneak peek of the store's opening in Tallahassee. (SARA DINATALE | TIMES)
GreenWise Market employee Russell Gordon serves samples of kombucha, cold brew and pressed juice at a sneak peek of the store's opening in Tallahassee. (SARA DINATALE | TIMES)
Published Oct. 5, 2018

TALLAHASSEE — Publix's latest store isn't actually a Publix.

Meet the new GreenWise Market: the Florida grocery chain's clapback to the growing number of niche specialty stores that have been crowding its turf.

Think Lucky's Market, Earth Fare, Sprouts Farmers Market and a touch of Trader Joe's. Publix's new creation exists sans the Publix name — you won't find it anywhere inside the market that just opened on Gaines Street this Thursday near the half-way point between Florida State and Florida A&M.

It's the first of five new GreenWise stores, including one planned in Lakeland and two outside of Florida in South Carolina and Georgia.

Publix wants shoppers to know it can be cool, easy and hip to what they fancy: the rise of the "grocerant" — grocer meets restaurant in the land of eater-tainment.

There are no Pub subs, no fried chicken. Instead: artisan pizzas, noodle bowls, chicken wings for game weekends, slow-roast turkey sandwiches, draft beers and cold brews. Curated items are mainly natural and organic brands.

"Food is the focal point of this store," said Maria Brous, a Publix spokeswoman. "This is created as a secondary shop for our customers."

The chain's ideal customer may still get their paper towels, bags of Doritos and cleaning supplies in bulk at one of their traditional supermarkets. But at GreenWise, they can grind their own peanut butter and then grab a beer to sip in the upstairs loft equipped with televisions and USB ports.

Shoppers are increasingly buying more staple items online and having them delivered — they don't need the a sprawling 60,000-square-foot stores with 12 kinds toilet paper.

"It allows for these stores to get smaller and focus on fresh and prepared foods," said Phil Lempert, grocery expert with Supermarket Guru. "This concepts is the concept of the future."

One he expects Publix not to keep at just a handful of locations — but eventually, hundreds.

Read more: Publix gets even bigger: Lakeland HQ will expand, add 700 jobs

While Publix's latest iteration of GreenWise is new, the brand itself has been around for a decade and is also the name of the company's organic private label.

Tampa has a Publix GreenWise Market in Hyde Park, which is more like a traditional grocery store than not, but features organic foods, pricier brands and a small eating area.\

There are two other such Publix-branded GreenWise stores. All three stores were built in 2008 and will stay as is, according to Brous.

"We started with a very different concept and it evolved," she said during a tour of the new GreenWise. "But here, we're truly making this about specialty, natural, organic and exploration."

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Publix has been known to experiment, said another grocery expert, David Livingston. He also said it's no secret the old GreenWise concept struggled and mostly flopped.

"They're refining the format," he said. "They know there's a market for this."

The new GreenWise's footprint (it's half the size of many Publix stores) makes it easy to weave from the "Pours" section — a bar with 10 craft beers on tap, kombucha, Kahwa coffee and cold brew — to the "Care" section that has natural soaps and supplements to the "Finds" section that has fine wine and cheese pairings.

If that sounds familiar, it's because Lucky's Market has a similar formula to woo shoppers looking for more than just a typical shopping trip. Kroger Co. has a huge stake in the Colorado speciality grocer, which has been rapidly expanding in Florida.

The strategy, experts say, is likely an attempt to win some of the market share from Publix, which dominates its home state. A Tallahassee Lucky's opened in 2016, just a few miles from the new GreenWise.

Read more: What would it take to overthrow King Publix?

Jake Thurmond, a recent FSU grad and a brewer with Grasslands, concocted one of the "Pours" section's eight local beers.

After a tour of the store before opening day, Thurmond said GreenWise had "totally one-upped" its competition.

"This place has everything a student needs," he said, while eating a turkey and Brie sandwich in the seating loft. "They're never going to want to leave."

GreenWise is the latest example of just how grueling the grocery games are getting.

But Lempert said there's room for competition — that Lucky's, GreenWise and other speciality stores are likely to coexist, rather than stomp each other out.

But it does mean chains will continue to try to outdo one another.

"It's great news for consumers," he said, "because it will mean better stores, and, hopefully, better prices."

Contact Sara DiNatale at Follow @sara_dinatale.