New grocers add to already crowded retail scene - The Packer

New grocers add to already crowded retail scene

08/07/2014 10:34:00 AM
Andy Nelson

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis retail scene is already crowded, and it’s about to get downright crammed.

Despite the rapidly evolving St. Louis scene, retailer William A. Straub continues to enjoy strong performances from its produce and other departments, said Greg Lehr, produce manager.

“Sales overall have been good,” Lehr said. “There’s a lot of competition coming to town, but we’re not really scared. We just keep doing what we do.”

Among the expected arrivals in St. Louis: two Lucky’s stores, a Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, a Fresh Market and an additional Whole Foods.

That’s a lot of specialty markets for Straub — itself a smaller niche grocer that relies on a loyal clientele — to compete with. To say nothing of upscale niche stores opened in recent years by local retail giants Dierbergs and Schnucks.

But Lehr is confident the chain will continue to thrive.

“There are always options, but it’s not worrisome. We have our niche, the things that make us what we are.”

Still, it’s something of a mystery why so many retailers are trying to make a go of it in St. Louis, Lehr said.

He pointed to other Midwestern cities that were essentially dominated by one anchor chain. In Dierbergs and Schnucks, St. Louis already has two anchors, and the number of smaller players continues to grow.

“St. Louis was once kind of known as the foodservice capital, and now it’s like they’re trying to do the same with retail.”

To compete, some chains with stores in St. Louis wind up selling fresh produce at below cost, Lehr said.

Stores like Straub are benefiting from a trend back toward more personalized stores, Lehr said.

Lehr attended a show sponsored by Caito Foods, a wholesaler partner of Straub, where he heard a keynote speaker, a demographer, touch on themes that resonated with him.

“He said that the age of Wal-Mart is fizzling out. That was baby boomers. Generation Y is switching back to small stores.”

Lehr said he sees that every day, as more young people start shopping at Straub. The appeal is fairly straightforward.

“You don’t have to park a quarter of a mile away from the store and take a half hour to get in and out. People today come in, get their five items, get out. They’re day-to-day shoppers.”

Sales have been steady for St. Louis retail mainstay Dierbergs Markets Inc., said Steve Duello, produce category manager.

“They’re not dramatically up or down,” Duello said. “There’s a lot of competition, a lot of pressure on pricing. The new stores coming in will make it even more competitive.”


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