ST. LOUIS — National chains, including Wal-Mart, continue to make inroads in the St. Louis market, but the city and its suburbs are still heavy with independent, regional chains.
Schnuck Markets operates more than 70 stores in St. Louis, the majority share of its 106 stores in seven states. The chain opened two concept stores last year, one of which is a specialty store in the heart of downtown called Culinaria.
“Just like most downtowns, there’s been a resurgence,” said Mike O’Brien, vice president of produce.
“There are a lot of lofts, a lot of retirees. We saw it as a void.”
The store’s target customers are loft residents and downtown workers. It prepares more food in-store than the typical Schnuck’s, and is doing very well, O’Brien said.
“We call it Culinaria, but everyone calls it Schnuck’s downtown,” O’Brien said.
The second concept store for Schnuck’s is a larger footprint store, at about 75,000 square feet, compared with no more than 65,000 for a typical store. That location has the chain’s first cooking school, with a goal of educating consumers directly.
O’Brien said Trader Joe’s entered the market a few years ago, but Schnuck’s has not seen a downturn in business. Aldi, Shop ‘n Save and Dierberg’s are also strong players in the market.
After closing its Ellisville store in October, Straub’s Markets is operating with the four stores it’s had for years.
“It was a beautiful store, it’s just the timing was off,” said Greg Lehr, produce buyer for the chain. “It was the economy.”
The chain focuses on local and specialty produce — anything it can do to be different, Lehr said. Customers are willing to pay a little more for higher-quality product, he said.
“Of course we try to be competitive on the price standpoint, but we try to have that (quality) advantage,” Lehr said.
One of the ways Straub’s tries to set itself apart is by processing fresh-cut items in-house. Lehr said everything except its salad mixes is done at the stores, including carrot and celery sticks, fruit salads, stir-fry and shish kebab packs and fresh squeezed juices.
Lehr said he is considering putting in a cut fruit bar.
The chain also brings in peaches from Goldbud Farms, Placerville, Calif., that sell for $9.99 a pound, and are a staple item for the stores. Straub’s is the exclusive retailer of the peaches in St. Louis.
Schnuck’s does a similar thing with Colorado corn.