Your Local Market opens doors in Bellevue
The sluggish economy has not stemmed enthusiasm for organic foods.
Special to The Seattle Times
Downtown Bellevue's old Safeway building is bustling once again as a grocery store.
Vacant since 2007, the 24,500-square-foot building reopened last week as Your Local Market, a grocery store dedicated to providing a mix of organic items and popular nonorganic brands such as Coca-Cola and Kellogg cereals.
The market aims to provide one-stop shopping for organics-conscious consumers who want both worlds, said Your Local Market CEO Jason Brown.
"We have all the things we believe the mainstream consumer will want," said Brown, a 34-year veteran of specialty retail whose past ventures include Organic to Go, a cafe and catering service. "We have organic products from meats and seafoods to vegetables, but if you like Charmin for your toilet paper, we'll have it for you, too."
Eighty percent of the store's merchandise will be organic, 20 percent nonorganic, with all prices comparable to QFC, he said. The store is offering home delivery within a three-mile radius and a curbside pickup option for customers who place their orders online. A cafe with Wi-Fi and a free shoeshine service also will be available inside the store.
The sluggish economy has not stemmed enthusiasm for organic foods. Consumers spent $10 billion on organic fruits and vegetables — 12 percent of total produce sales — last year alone, according to statistics from the Organic Trade Association. Organic food sales have grown from being 1.2 percent of all food sales in 2000 to 4 percent in 2010.
"Local is much more than a fad," said Andrew Stout, CEO of Carnation-based Full Circle Farm, whose boxed vegetable home-delivery service offers consumers farm-fresh produce at their door in weekly or biweekly installments. "The co-op used to be the only place you could get it. Now you go down the aisle and there's chocolate ice cream and organic chocolate ice cream. They're slightly different price points, but both are there."
Production costs are higher for organic goods, but customer loyalty also runs deep, said Stout, who co-founded Full Circle with his wife, Wendy Munroe, in 1996. Full Circle, which has about 16,000 active customers, grew by 33 percent in 2009 and is on track to do half a million deliveries this year.
Evermore health-conscious consumers are sacrificing a bit of savings to do what they believe is the most healthful. Kenmore resident Nicole Huber, who frequents Top Foods, Safeway and Costco for her organic produce, said that she's willing to pay up to 1.5 times the price of a product such as carrots to get the organic variety.
"I'll buy organic as long as it doesn't cost an excessive amount more," she said. "I don't think there is a huge difference in price most of the time. It really does depend on the brands that are available. Safeway seems to carry a lot of organic store brand products that are sometimes lower priced than the name brand conventional equivalent."
But not all organic food businesses have survived the harsher economy. Organic to Go, founded in 2004 with the same team that created Your Local Market, floundered when the economy sank in 2008. The business had expanded rapidly but relied too heavily on its catering service, Brown said.
Your Local Market will also have plenty of competition in the Bellevue area.
In 2007, Safeway vacated its old building in favor of a 55,000-square-foot Northwest Flagship store in a building just across the street. Whole Foods and QFC are in Bellevue, and PCC is in Kirkland. And the Haggen chain debuted its refurbished Top Food store in the Crossroads area of Bellevue this week with a new name — Haggen.
Traditional grocers also have responded to the demand for more natural foods with organic-based product lines like Safeway's O Organics, introduced in 2006.
Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area are the U.S.' top local markets for organics, according to market research firm Scarborough.
But the main appeal is the blend of organic and nonorganic, which sets the market apart from a business such as Whole Foods, which stocks nonorganic products but makes a point of not carrying products with artificial colors or sweeteners.
Brown said customers offered feedback during the first weekend of business.
"We got hundreds of suggestion cards. It was a full gamut from 'I don't love your market, I love Whole Foods or Safeway' to 'I love your idea. Now I can go one place instead of three.' " Stout, of Full Circle Farm, agrees not everyone wants all organic, all the time. "I use PCCs and Whole Foods as my primary choices and don't necessarily consume all of the major brands, but I do know that everyone's food choices are different," he said. "You ask my kids — they would do just about anything for a can of soda."
Times reporter Melissa Allison contributed to this report.
Information in this article, originally published Nov. 17, 2011, was corrected the same day. A previous version of this story said PCC had a Bellevue store.
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