The Fresh Market Showcases Experiential Grocery in Florida

CEO Jason Potter, COO Brian Johnson detail growth strategy
Gina Acosta
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The Port St. Lucie store in Florida is The Fresh Market's 47th in that fast-growing state.

For much of this year, the grocery industry has experienced slower growth as shoppers battered by inflation trim their spending on food and other items. But Greensboro, N.C.-based retailer The Fresh Market is bucking all of these trends, and that was on full display on Sept. 13 when the grocer opened its latest store: an epicurean showstopper in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (See photo gallery below.)

The 23,424-square-foot store at 10272 SW Meeting Street —The Fresh Market's most innovative and experiential format to date — is the retailer's 47th location in Florida, a fast-growing state that is part of previously announced plans to open as many as 22 stores over the next two years.

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"Florida is a key part of our existing business, and we will continue to invest in our network and people to give Floridians the very best experience," said The Fresh Market CEO Jason Potter in an exclusive interview with Progressive Grocer, his first business interview since taking over the top job in 2020. "We've spent some time in Florida focused on things like the decor and how to enhance the consumer experience and we will be making those changes next year.”

Cencosud Update

In August, The Fresh Market parent company Cencosud shared details about its future growth plans for the grocery chain, as well as how the grocer has contributed to its recent success. (Cencosud acquired The Fresh Market in May 2022.)

During the second quarter, Cencosud reported $4.5 billion in sales, marking the ninth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth. Net income increased 163% year over year to $179 million, while adjusted EBITDA grew 17.2% compared to the second quarter of 2022.

According to Cencosud, the sales increase and adjusted EBITDA growth are mainly due to the successful consolidation of The Fresh Market in the United States and GIGA Atacado in Brazil. The company also experienced an increase in market share of its supermarkets in Chile and Brazil.

During the time that The Fresh Market has been under Cencosud’s ownership, the grocer has contributed an adjusted EBITDA of $210 million and an adjusted EBITDA margin of 10.4% to its parent company's consolidated earnings, exceeding estimates.

Potter said the integration with Cencosud has been very positive.

"They are extremely savvy retailers and have a culture of growth. We are excited about our future fueled by the capabilities of our new organization," Potter said.

the fresh market florida
Guests at the grand opening of The Fresh Market's newest location were offered a made-to-order station with fully customizable brown rice bowls, salads, sandwiches and chicken tortilla soup with lime crema.

Experience Trumps All 

When asked about challenges and opportunities in the industry, Potter is bullish on grocers such as The Fresh Market that prioritize customer experience first.

"The challenge I see for a lot of grocers is that people are ordering online for a lot of that center store stuff now," Potter said. "So how do you navigate that? That's a difficult thing to navigate. Our stores are not so much focused on center store items. We are focused on specialty products, hard to find things."

He added that in addition to "executing on growth," the retailer's key priorities for the next year include putting "the very finest ordering and production control systems and scheduling systems" in place to improve the store experience for both team members and customers. Shoppers go to The Fresh Market to have a special experience, Potter said. 

At the grand opening of the new Florida location on Wednesday, Sept. 13, hundreds of shoppers could be heard saying that they have been patiently waiting for a "The Fresh Market to open in Port St. Lucie for years." The new store offers a wide selection of fresh produce, premium meats, seafood, bakery items, and a variety of specialty products, including wine and cheese. The store also offers dry aging for preferred cuts, and sustainably sourced seafood, including a selection of whole or fresh-cut fish, shellfish and live lobster.

[Read more: "The Fresh Market Rolls Out All Things Pumpkin in August"]

In the middle of the store, The Fresh Market has created a special sensory experience for its guests: a center store culinary kitchen called The Square. On opening day in Port St. Lucie, shoppers stared at the freshly smoked beef brisket and glistening mac and cheese.

The store features a made-to-order station with fully customizable brown rice bowls, salads, sandwiches and chicken tortilla soup with lime crema. Guests can also choose from an assortment of fresh hot foods such as smoked salmon, rotating hot sides based on the season, and barbecue sold by the pound or as a platter. The Fresh Market slowly smokes its brisket overnight for a minimum of 12 hours over locally sourced wood. The new store offers in-house smoked pulled pork, turkey, St. Louis ribs and smoked pit beans.

These delectable prepared foods are created with distinct flavors, fresh ingredients, and recipes uniquely developed by The Fresh Market — all of which is labor intensive, according to The Fresh Market COO Brian Johnson. 

"We do have a lot of labor cost, but it's not as high as you would think. Yes, it's higher than most in the industry, but we've gone through and  tried to make everything as efficient as we possibly can," Johnson said, adding that The Fresh Market customer expects a higher level of quality and taste, which requires more labor.

But Johnson said the labor market is loosening up a bit

"It's been difficult, but it's gotten better recently. The labor market is loosening up a little bit," he said. "When you walk into The Fresh Market, you think, 'I wouldn't mind working here..' It's a different experience, not only for our guests, but for our team members. We talk about three things here all the time: an impeccable guest experience, operational excellence or impeccable execution and  impeccable team member engagement. And those other two things don't happen without an engaged team."

Impeccable Execution

At the opening, leaders from the company participated in a moving “bread breaking” ceremony, and shoppers were treated to vendor sampling, specialty presentations, giveaways, and live music performed by members of the Atlantic Classical Orchestra. Employees walked around with samples of blueberry cake and freshly shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano, which was carved fresh in front of shoppers.

Both Potter and Johnson said the retailer's goal is to be America's most loved brand. Last year USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards recognized The Fresh Market as the “Best Supermarket in America" for the second time.

"Our goal is to be America's most loved brand," Johnson said. "And to get there from an operation standpoint, we have to deliver on those three things The new store format also has an expanded selection of meal solutions, which are increasingly important to U.S. consumers now, according to The Fresh Market COO Brian Johnson.

"We know that people in America today are so busy that they don't have a lot of time to cook, so we make it easy," Johnson said, pointing at a refrigerated case full of the retailer's Market Meal Kits [containers filled with fresh, prepped ingredients made in-store; a meal for two ready in 20 minutes or less]. You're going to see a lot of those meal solutions as you walk through the store."
Johnson said the retailer has recently introduced two new Market Meal Kit flavors: gorgonzola steak and madeira steak. 

In addition, the new store will offer several features for coffee lovers, with upgrades in offering and technology. The Fresh Market’s Coffee by the Cup that guests have come to know the retailer for, which offers a wide array of unique and curated flavors, including seasonal blends. Guests can choose from six of The Fresh Market’s coffees as a free sample while they shop or to purchase by the cup, with every cup ground and brewed fresh to order from The Fresh Market’s new bean to cup machines. The coffees are also available to purchase as whole bean to brew at home.

The Fresh Market’s new self-service, fully automated coffee station expands its offering to include espresso, lattes, cappuccino, mochas and hot chocolate.

Port St. Lucie shoppers will be able to sign up and start saving with The Fresh Market’s The Ultimate Loyalty Experience that’s free to join. Last year, the company celebrated a loyalty milestone: In less than a year, the food retailer’s loyalty program reached more than 1 million members.

On average, members of the Ultimate Loyalty Experience can save up to $50 each week by purchasing specially priced premium products that are “member only prices.” As example, Ultimate Loyalty Experience members have received an additional $1-2 savings on premium meats and seafoods, along with special pricing on other fresh food and pantry items.

Members of the program can take advantage of automatically loaded and curated member-only loyalty offers, digital coupons and “The Club Hub” purchase frequency programs, which allow guests to earn free items or dollars off favorite items, and a free Slice of Ultimate Birthday Cake during the Member’s birthday month.

Greensboro, N.C.-based The Fresh Market operates 161 stores in 22 states. The Fresh Market is No. 76 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.

The Fresh Market Port St. Lucie, Fla., Photo Gallery