A Feast of Options

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Delivering on a promise, the Kroger Co. is stealing the spotlight in what was already destined to be a big growth year for grocers in Florida. The Cincinnati-based supermarket chain—the nation’s largest—fi nally arrived in Florida … virtually, at least. Outside of its lone Harris Teeter-branded store near Jacksonville, Kroger does not have a physical store presence in the Sunshine State, and doesn’t intend to for now.

In a surprisingly bold move, the supermarket giant skipped bricks and mortar to take the state by storm with a delivery playbook seemingly appropriated from tech giant Amazon. Kroger built a 375,000-square-foot, high-tech, multimillion-dollar delivery warehouse—what it calls a customer fulfi llment center—in Central Florida to feed “spokes,” basically last-mile delivery stations, in Jacksonville and Tampa for delivering orders via temperature-controlled vehicles to customers within a 90-minute radius. Plans call for quickly expanding the operation to South and Southwest Florida with spokes in Miami and Fort Myers.

Groceries from Kroger Co. could be available for delivery to Southwest Florida by the end of 2022. “I’m not going to make any promises, but it defi – nitely is on the radar,” says Andrea Colby, Kroger’s e-commerce corporate a airs and communications manager. “I don’t have a specifi c timeline, but I do expect it will happen within the next year.”

The boom in grocery store growth in Southwest Florida continues despite the pandemic, not because of it. Although food prices are noticeably higher, with climbing consumer costs in general—up 5% from 2020 with the worst infl ation since the Great Recession—and essential food and sanitizing products remain popular, most supermarket chains are expanding to meet the needs of the region’s growing population even as eects from the pandemic continue to leave bare spots on some shelves. This expansion began years before the pandemic, as grocers rapidly filled niches in the market. Arizona-based Sprouts Farmers Market, for instance, entered the Florida market just four years ago and planned to add 10 new stores in the Sunshine State this year.

Aldi, a discount supermarket chain based in Germany, entered the local market just five years ago and already has 15 locations in Southwest Florida as part of an aggressive nationwide expansion plan. It launched a location in Bonita Springs in August, is building its fourth in Cape Coral and plans to open its fourth store in Collier County before the end of the year.

Publix is keeping pace, expanding on its already strong foothold here and throughout the state. The Lakeland-based company launched a new store at the end of August in South Naples, relaunched a completely rebuilt and enlarged store on Marco Island in mid-September, finished a recently built store in east Fort Myers and plans another new Lee County store soon on Corkscrew Road 6 miles east of Interstate 75.

East Naples residents are anticipating something different: a Publix prototype being built in the space Lucky’s Market vacated last year on Tamiami Trail East. Plans for the new store include Pours, a craft beer bar with cafe seating. “That is a unique location,” says Brian West, community relations manager at Publix Super Markets Inc.

“It is slated for the fi rst quarter of 2022.” A di erent kind of grocery store, more of a throwback really, is taking shape in Cape Coral. Farmer Joe’s Fresh Market, a multimillion-dollar farmers market, is targeted to launch the fi rst week in December, if construction is completed on time. The focus of the store will be a little different, said Naples resident Sammy Kayara, who co-owns the 50,000-square-foot store on Pine Island Road with Lee Snyder of Cape Coral. They already plan to site a second store next year somewhere in Collier County.

“The focus is on the food, the vegetables and the fruits, and the center aisle is less important,” Kayara says, dismissing comparisons to Oakes Farms’ Seed to Table store in North Naples. “Our focus will be for the working-class people. Fresh fruits and vegetables. We buy from farmers directly and bring it into the store as quickly as possible.” Of course, timing is everything. When asked what took Kroger so long to make its move into Florida, the company’s spokeswoman has a simple reply: “I think it was looking for the right opportunity.

 

Photo Credit: Getty

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