Fresh grocers a sign of recovery in Wichita

06/07/2012 12:00 AM

07/25/2012 9:43 PM

Wichita has suffered some tough economic blows in the last couple years, such as the pending departure of Boeing, but there are some signs of recovery, too.

Count Fresh Market and its confidence in Wichita as one of them.

“We’re very optimistic about the town and its vibrancy,” said Craig Carlock, president and CEO of the North Carolina-based chain.

The company is opening its 117th store – Kansas is its 22nd state – in Bradley Fair on June 20.

“We feel good about the stability and breadth of the economic development there,” Carlock said.

Despite setbacks, he said the manufacturing base is part of what makes Wichita attractive.

“We still see that there’s great strength there.”

Fresh Market’s opening follows Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage’s entry into the market in November.

Carlock said while he has “great esteem” for competitors, he also has “great confidence” in Fresh Market.

“We emphasize quality of the food and quality of the food-shopping experience. The food’s going to look good, taste good and be presented well.”

Cathy Erickson, vice president at Laham Development, which is the Bradley Fair developer, said, “One of the most frequent requests that we’ve had for the last few years has been for a full-service specialty market.”

She said she expects Fresh Market will change the dynamics of the center in the same way Barnes & Noble did.

“Barnes & Noble brought a component to the center that we didn’t have previously.”

She added that the grocery “will be a store unlike any other in Wichita.”

Wichita State University marketing professor Cindy Claycomb, who started a Facebook campaign in 2010 to bring Trader Joe’s to downtown Wichita, still would like to see a new grocery downtown, but she visited an Illinois Fresh Market and liked what she saw.

“I was impressed with it,” she said. “Part of their deal is they’re supposed to be like a European market. So I think it will be something different that we in Wichita aren’t used to in our supermarkets. … It gives us more variety and something that we don’t have really.”

Trader Joe’s specializes more in nonperishable items and Whole Foods, another grocery chain Wichitans say they want, focuses on organic food. Carlock said Fresh Market focuses on perishable food.

For instance, he said the store pays a lot of attention to the size, texture, color and quality of an apple or the freshness of salmon or beef.

One of his favorite items in the store is jumbo lump crab cakes. He says unlike the 2 or 3 ounces other stores offer with only partial crab meat, Fresh Market’s are 4 ounces with 85 to 90 percent crab meat.

Carlock said staples such as milk and flour are priced competitively, and on other items “we strive to provide a great value.”

“We emphasize a smaller, more convenient shopping experience with an emphasis on great-tasting food,” he said.

“People who enjoy food enjoy our store.”

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