Publix Adds Organic-Focused GreenWise Store

The Publix supermarket chain thinks shoppers should have their organic vegan cookie and their Chips Ahoy too.

That's why one of the largest conventional grocery retailers in the Southeast is opening its first GreenWise store, which will carry a majority of organic and healthier foods Thursday. It's one of several stores they plan to open under the name of their private label.

But the GreenWise branded store will face tough competition against mainstream grocers that have increased their health food sections and organic mainstays such as Whole Foods Market Inc. (WFMI).

For Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets Inc. (PUSH), it's the next step in trying to capture more of the fast-growing organic food segment after it started selling organic and natural products under its GreenWise brand eight years ago.

Because those private labels are typically more affordable, GreenWise is poised to take on competitors, said Marcia Mogelonsky, a senior analyst with Chicago-based market research firm Mintel International Group.

"Prices really draw in consumers. Most consumers can't go out and spend their whole paycheck on natural products," she said.

The 39,000 square-foot Palm Beach Gardens store carries meats with no added hormones and a produce section that has 50% organic products compared with roughly 10% in conventional stores. It will also have hundreds of other products not available in conventional Publix locations.

Publix also hopes to appeal to health food buffs and gourmands with prepared foods like Italian stuffed shrimp, low carb mashed cauliflower and Japanese- style tempeh. The prepared fare also includes an Asian fusion hot bar with vegetarian options, cold salad bar, a gelato and organic coffee bar, a Mediterranean pizza oven and a grill and carving station.

"This is 10 restaurants in one roof," said Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous, noting that grocery stores are losing more market share to restaurants.

GreenWise is similar to other big name health food chains like Whole Foods, though Brous said Publix offers customers more because GreenWise still carries select conventional items. Consumers can still purchase Oreos or Lays potato chips, she said, noting that many of their customers were shopping at Publix for those items and then going somewhere else for healthier options.

In recent years, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), Safeway Inc. (SWY), Albertson's and other big supermarket chains have also expanded their organic offerings and other smaller supermarket chains including Kroger Co. (KR), Lund Food Holdings Inc. and Hannaford have become certified organic retailers.

"I can't wait," said Kim Jones, 40, of Jupiter, who only buys organic and often shops at both Publix and Whole Foods. "It will be nice to have one-stop shopping at GreenWise and hopefully their prices will be more competitive than Whole Foods."

Publix, which has 912 stores in the Southeast, plans to open three additional Florida GreenWise stores in 2008 and possibly one in 2009, Brous said.

"This is the future," she said. "It's what we're turning to, to remain competitive."


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