(Oct. 14, 1:18 p.m.) SEATTLE — Conventional retailers continue to enhance their organic produce selection, and as their offerings escalate, many wonder whether the large chains will sway customers from the natural food stores and co-ops that already have a devoted following among the organic-favoring Northwest.
Cincinnati-based Kroger Co.’s Fred Meyer and QFC (Quality Food Centers) banners, Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway Inc. and Boise, Idaho-based Albertson’s LLC — four dominant chains in the Pacific Northwest — have recently increased their green presence in produce departments, providing stores like PCC Natural Markets, Portland-based New Seasons Markets and Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Markets Inc. competition.
“We’ve heard a lot of different things from people,” said David Lively, marketing director for Eugene, Ore.-based Organically Grown Co. “Some are in the opinion that conventionals are a gateway. They might start shopping at a Safeway and Kroger, and if they like it, they might walk off to a natural food store to find a broader line, and with some, 10 items is all they’re going to care about.
“I think, ultimately, both markets are going to continue to exist.”
Safeway now offers its O private-label organic brand and is in the process of converting all stores to its new Lifestyle format, which can carry up to or more than 100 organic produce Stock-Keeping Units.
Fred Meyer and QFC also are strengthening their organic selection, and Albertson’s is hoping to become an organic destination for its customers, with between 75 and 100 organic produce items in stock at any given store, said Donna Eggers, public affairs manager for Albertson’s Intermountain West Division.
“In regard to our natural/organic offerings, we strive to become a single solution for our consumers and make shopping for natural/organics easier and less time consuming,” Eggers said.
Maureen Royal, director of sales and marketing for CF Fresh, a Sedro-Woolley, Wash.-based organic distributor, said the conventionals’ entrance into the organic segment provides healthy competition for all Northwest retailers.
“I think it’s good competition — it has just made everyone more aware of what’s going on in the organic marketplace,” Royal said. “It has encouraged everyone to be more insightful about what they’re bringing in and running organic ads. If anything, it’s just encouraged the organic independents to be on their toes, and they’re doing a good job, from what I can see.”
PCC Natural Markets, an independent co-op with eight certified organic stores in and around Seattle, is not overly concerned with its newfound competition and will continue to use its service as leverage against larger stores, said Diana Crane, PCC’s communications manager.