Friday, September 26, 2008

Fresh & Easy Buzz Gets A Peek -- And it Was Only A Peek -- Inside One of the Four New Wal-Mart Marketside Stores Opening in Arizona On October 4

Fresh & Easy Buzz was able to get a peek inside one of the four new small-format combination grocery and fresh foods Marketside stores Wal-Mart will open in the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan region cities of Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert and Tempe on October 4, just nine days from today.

And it was just a peek. The store windows were mostly covered, which meant we had a limited viewing opportunity. People were working in the store. And there was lots of stuff all over inside making it difficult to get a full perspective. Despite these challenges, we did get a look inside. We're hoping to get a better look prior to October 4.

What we were able to see of the Marketside store's interior confirms much of what we've been writing since December, 2007 about the format's interior design and look.

Here's what we were able see from our tiny viewing point:

>The Marketside store interiors use muted colors, like those you can see on the outside of the store pictured above, which is the Mesa Marketside unit, along with those type colors used in its Marketside logo. The design statement trying to be made inside the store is: FRESH foods and ingredients in a warm and comforatble (but not lavish) retail environment, in our analysis.

>The floor is of polished concrete. No tiles. It looks utilitarian yet attractive. It looks similar to what Whole Foods Market, Inc. does (polished and sometimes colored concrete floors) in most of its natural foods supermarkets. It's also similar to the floors in Fresh & Easy stores.

>Stylistic fresh foods and meal solution-oriented graphics are depicted in a couple places inside the store.

This is part of Wal-Mart's visual attempt to reinforce its "What's For Dinner" meal solutions positioning of the Marketside stores in our analysis. Wal-Mart's answer to that question is the Marketside stores' offering of in-store fresh-prepared foods, along with a limited assortment of basic, natural and specialty food and grocery items, fresh meats and produce (including value-added offerings), other perishables, and items in a couple of other categories featured in the 15,000 -to- 20,000 square foot stores.

>We were able to see a tiny portion of what looked like the store's "eat-in" seating area but couldn't view it completely. This is the small area in the Marketplace stores we've written about previously in which about 9 -to -10 customers can sit and eat prepared foods at in-store. The stores also have in-store kitchens. Further, from what we could see, there's a counter-like eating area. It looks attractive but not something one would describe as "gourmet" or "lavish."

>Some of the trimming and fixtures inside the Marketside are of polished blond wood, lending a slightly upscale look to the store interior.

>The store shelving isn't "warehouse style" like it is in Tesco's Fresh & Easy stores or like in Trader Joe's markets. Rather, it's more conventional food store shelving, more similar from a small-format perspective to what Safeway is using in its first and currently only "The Market" format store, "the market by Vons," in Long Beach, California.

Unfortunately, the shelving was blocked by various items and boxes. So between that fact and our tiny window of viewing opportunity we can't report much more on the look of the shelving than what we were able to see based on those conditions.

Overall, we would describe the interior of the Marketside store as attractive; a slightly upscale but still utilitarian look. It's not the super high-end look of a Bristol Farms in Southern California or newer Whole Foods Market upscale store, for example.

But it is more upscale in design and look than a Fresh & Easy store and slightly more so than a newer Trader Joe's small-format market. However, from what were able to view, it looks to us to be a bit less upscale in design than Safeway's "the market by Vons" in Long Beach, California and SuperValu-owned Jewel-Osco's new "Urban Fresh by Jewel," small-format grocery store which just opened in Chicago.

Reader Request

If any Fresh & Easy Buzz readers have gotten a closer view of one of the four Marketside stores in Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert and Tempe, Arizona set to open on October 4, please feel free to share what you saw by using the comments box below. Of course, any and all other comments regarding Wal-Mart's Marketside (as well as Fresh & Easy) also are welcomed. Just click the comments link below -- and write.

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