NEW ORELANS — When Rouses Enterprises LLC designed its new downtown store, the Thibodaux, La.-based company highlighted its relationship with local growers.
Photos of the growers the company regularly sources from are displayed prominently in the produce department.
The company’s commitment to sourcing locally is a long-standing tradition, said Joe Watson, director of produce. The company’s founder, Anthony Rouse, descended from local shippers who supplied major markets like St. Louis and Chicago.
“I have been with Rouses for 29 years and I vividly remember our founder Mr. Anthony Rouse telling me as a young produce manager to buy everything I could find that was local,” Watson said. “Mr. Rouse was always identifying with our local farmers and it was his passion to help build their business, as well as his, and to differentiate from the competition. Rouses is local and we buy local. Our competition cannot duplicate those two facts at the same time.”
Rouses has expanded its local produce programs significantly over the past few years, including working with local hydroponic growers to source unique crops not normally cultivated in Louisiana.
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Rouses considers anything grown in Louisiana or Mississippi local to its stores.
“This is a very exciting time in local farming for our company and our farming sources,” Watson said.
The store, which opened in November a few blocks from the Superdome, is the first full service grocer to open in downtown New Orleans in 50 years, Watson said, and so far it is exceeding expectations.
“We are experiencing even higher sales now than when we opened,” Watson said. “Generally for a grand opening, sales are extremely high, then level off before building again. This store bucked that trend and has continued to build since opening.”
The store’s location was a Cadillac dealership, abandoned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, said store manager Billy Bishop. It draws traffic from local businesspeople, restaurants and tourists alike. The area is prime for new residences, as well.
“Since Hurricane Katrina, there has been a renaissance in the downtown area,” Watson said. “More than 10,000 permanent residents live in the central business district now with more high rise condominiums planned and restored warehouses into lofts and apartments.
Shoppers tend to be area professionals for the lunch hour, Watson said.
“Weekends are for the locals and visitors,” Watson said. “The convention traffic has continued to increase over the past two years and is now exceeding pre-Katrina numbers. Include the cruise ship terminal along the Mississippi River just down the street from our location and we get a lot of the passengers for their overnight stay or after the cruise.”
The store also has a strong fresh-cut and smoothie program. Watson said the in-store fresh-cut program was the No. 1 sales category in all of produce in 2011.
“When we are at full capacity, we have over 100 SKUs that we produce in our fresh-cut program,” he said. “This is a huge point of differentiation for our business from our competitors.”
The downtown New Orleans store is the first to have a dedicated in-store prepared juice and smoothie program. The company is moving into other locations with demographics that should support more of these programs, Watson said.
Note: this is an expanded version from the May issue of Produce Retailer magazine, which publishes May 1.