Coming to a produce aisle new you: Store Wars.
Point Fosdick Drive in Gig Harbor wasn’t quite the demilitarized zone Tuesday — but it might as well have been, as two rival grocery chains put the finishing touches on their new stores.
Wednesday (Feb. 3) Kroger opens its new Main & Vine supermarket concept at the site of its former QFC outlet, while nearby Safeway is set to open the same day in a reincarnation of its former self.
Gig Harbor’s Main & Vine is the first in the nation for Kroger, while the Safeway is a return to its former identity after a brief interlude as a Haggen store.
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Both sites held open houses for invited guests Tuesday.
At Main & Vine, a tower of Parmigiano/Reggiano emitted a distinctly cheesy aroma. Nearby, flames from a pizza oven were baking eight different kinds of pies.
More than half of the store is devoted to free-form deli, produce, bulk, meats and dairy displays. Standard grocery shelves seem almost like an afterthought.
“I told my husband as we were walking in, ‘I’ll never have to cook again,’ ” said Gig Harbor mayor Jill Guernsey, one of the many invited guests.
Reflecting changes in consumer preferences, the sections of prepared and packaged foods are in abundance throughout the new store. The seafood area features trays of bulk dishes that can be bought by the pound and reheated to make bibimbap, tikka masala, smoked salmon chowder and 13 other dishes.
“This gives you the flexibility of having it in your freezer. It’s ready to go when you are ready to eat,” said Kimberly Shelton of Cadence Gourmet.
The produce section featured 11 different citrus fruits and enough tropical options to resemble a Hawaiian fruit stand. Blood oranges were selling for $1.89 a pound.
Standard red delicious apples were selling for $1.29 a pound, but Stephanie Herron of Rainier Fruit was bullish on Sweet Lady Alice apples, going for $1.99 a pound.
“It has no characteristics of a red delicious,” Herron said of the often maligned school lunch staple. “It’s crisp, crunchy and sweet, with a hint of tartness.”
A section of mushrooms offered everything from shiitake ($9.99 a pound) to maiitake ($15.99 a pound).
Chef Joe Chi was busy making dumplings on Tuesday — something he’ll be making daily, along with sushi, at Main & Vine.
When Main & Vine opens at 7 a.m. Wednesday, it will have an atmosphere somewhere between a Whole Foods and a standard store.
“You’ll be able to get natural or organic, but you’ll still be able to get your six-pack of Coke,” said Dann Kohl, store manager.
Kohl said he’s been too busy to give the changes at Safeway a closer look. “We don’t pay a lot of attention to our competitors,” he said.
“I’ll probably eventually be in there,” Kohl said.
THE RETURN OF SAFEWAY
Across Point Fosdick Drive, two workers in a cherry picker were attaching a new Safeway logo to the front of the store. Inside, workers were hanging a 12th Man flag above a section of Seahawks fan gear and a large display of Coors Light beer.
The store is a homecoming of sorts for manager Bob Silcott and 75 of his employees hired back by Safeway.
Shoppers shouldn’t notice any profound differences, Silcott said.
Silcott was running on little sleep as he prepared for the store’s opening at 8 a.m., Wednesday (Feb. 3). He was the store manager when it was a Safeway, then a Haggen.
“I live in the community. I know the community. This has allowed us to come back and make the store stronger and better than it was before,” Silcott said.
The new store reflects a greater emphasis on what consumers are interested in, he said: more gluten-free products, and more natural and organic food selections.
“We’re really working on getting more local items in the store,” Silcott said.
Unlike Main & Vine, the footprint of the Safeway remains traditional, but shoppers will note several changes. A hot wings bar is now front and center in the deli. The cheese selection offers 350 different varieties. A display of fresh produce gives shoppers ideas for juicing.
More changes are coming. A pizza oven will soon be installed to make fresh pizza, Silcott said.
The new store across the street keeps Silcott mindful of what’s new and hot in the marketplace.
“We welcome competition in to the area. We’re watching them, as I’m sure they are watching us,” Silcott said.