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A Cut Above the Rest: 2011 Outstanding Specialty Food Retailers Awards

BY CSA STAFF

New York City — From a local cheese shop founded by a career changer, to a specialty supermarket that has expanded to more than 100 locations without sacrificing its commitment to quality and customer service, the winners of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade’s (NASFT) Outstanding Specialty Food Retailers of 2011 awards are a diverse group.

“Each honoree exemplifies the hallmarks of specialty food retailing in a unique way,” said Ann Daw, president of the NASFT, which will present the awards on July 11, at its Summer Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C.

Here’s a brief look at this year’s winners, who were selected by a panel of specialty food experts convened by the NASFT:

  • Central Market: Since opening in 1994, this Dallas-based merchant has expanded to eight stores offering more than 50,000 items, including produce, specialty foods, bakery and deli. The company prides itself on providing customers with unique items in unexpected ways, such as allowing samples of anything in the store and offering year-round cooking classes.
  • Fromagination: Based in Madison, Wis., founded by a former footwear buyer whose international travels exposed him to the great food markets of Europe, Fromagination presents a carefully-edited selection of 400 items. The cheeses include dozens from local food artisans. The store, on Capitol Square in Madison, Wis., is across from one of the nation’s largest farmers markets.
  • Olives Gourmet Grocer: Two veterans of Whole Foods Markets started their own specialty store in 2004 to fill a niche in Long Beach, Calif., with high-quality foods from lesser-known producers. Their specialty food savvy has helped them expand to a second, larger, location, and soon a third. Customer loyalty is a key to success, but Olives also is a popular tourist draw.
  • The Cheese Iron: A European-style specialty shop, housed in an antique farmhouse in Portland, Maine, The Cheese Iron offers more than 200 domestic and international cheeses. Opened in 2006, the store sells cheese making supplies and classes, an olive bar, wine, pâté and freshly baked bread. There’s also an on-site cheese cave.
  • The Fresh Market: Based in Greensboro, N.C., The Fresh Market blends the variety and vastness of a large chain with the expertise and quality of a smaller-scale specialty food store. The key is continual innovation, close ties to food producers, and a commitment to community involvement. The family-owned business has 100 locations in 21 states.
  • ZZest Market & Café: Founded in 2009 by two food professionals, this Rochester, Minn., specialty retailer is a market by day and restaurant by night. ZZest offers a welcome addition to an area that was lacking in options for food lovers. The shelves are stocked with products from small-scale, local producers and vendors from other states with items like charcuterie from Iowa and chutneys from California. The café fare features ingredients from the store’s shelves.

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Rue21 Q1 profit climbs 65%

BY CSA STAFF

Warrendale, Pa. — Teen clothing retailer Rue21 posted net income of $9.6 million for the first quarter, compared with $5.8 million. The company boosted its full-year guidance based on its better-than-expected results.

Net sales increased 25.5% to $172.9 million. Same-store sales rose 5.2%.

During the quarter ended April 30, the company opened 39 new stores expanding its total to 677.

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A familiar story on the pricing front

BY CSA STAFF

Target and Walmart remain in what is essentially a dead heat as far as prices on food and consumables are concerned, according to the most recent study of prices in Dallas and Chicago conducted by Credit Suisse. The firm looked at a basket of 60 items across the two markets, as it does every month, and in keeping with prior comparisons, the data for April showed Target lagged Walmart by 3.4% in Chicago and 4.6% in Dallas. Neither figure takes into account Target’s REDcard Rewards program, which shaves 5% off the price paid at Target and enables REDcard holders to pay less at Target than they would at Walmart.

It is a familiar pattern that has emerged since the introduction last fall of the 5% program, but what’s changed is Walmart’s more rational approach to pricing as it too is looking to pass through product cost inflation. In the past, Walmart was notorious for using pricing actions during periods of inflation to gain market share, reasoning that the increased sales volume generated would be enough to offset the margin impact. However, Walmart took its prices up in April, and the average gap with competitors in the survey narrowed to 16.8% from 17.8% the prior month. Credit Suisse also found that Walmart has been among the most aggressive in terms of passing through inflation to customers. During the past three months, Walmart’s prices on the 60 food, health and beauty and household items the firm tracks each month increased 2% during the past three months and over the past year prices have risen by 3.6%.

The firm noted that food inflation at all retailers was up 4.9% in April and was particularly pronounced at Walmart where it was up 6.6%.

As for food prices, that was the area where Target was most competitive. Its prices on food were within 2.8% of Walmart in Chicago, and its food prices in Dallas were 1.7% lower before factoring the REDcard 5% discount.

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