Fresh Market opens today in Mt. Lebanon

At the market, opening today in Mt. Lebanon, the smells of baking and brewing are part of the shopping experience

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The bakers have to get to work first at the Fresh Market stores, and not just because it takes awhile to make several varieties of bread and dozens of different pies. Basically, they need to get the food aromatherapy started.

As the Greensboro, N.C., company's CEO explained in a recent presentation to analysts, "The store environment is designed to delight the senses." That freshly baked bread, plus the coffee that customers can sample, is all part of setting the stage for the foodie experience that Fresh Market is selling.

And it's hoping to sell to a lot more customers beyond its base in the southeast. The 130-plus store chain, which was founded in 1982, is expanding rapidly with 19 to 22 locations projected to open this fiscal year alone.

The Pittsburgh area will see its first location open today in Mt. Lebanon, and more seem likely at some point down the road. The store employs about 90 workers.

The 19,000-square-foot store on Washington Road works hard to create a version of a European market, the kind of place that customers might stop in to choose the fixings for dinner or buy lunch from the extensive prepared foods area. "We find a lot of people shop our stores several times a week," said Drewry Sackett, public relations and community relations manager.

About 40 percent of the store's offerings are organic, but it doesn't hold firm to the natural and organic line.

"We try to be organic wherever we can," said Ms. Sackett, as she showed off the produce selection stacked with tomatoes, peaches, oranges and more. "Sometimes the conventional product tastes better."

Meats are all prepared at the store. In addition to a more traditional salad bar, there is one just offering salads made with seafood such as Thai lobster salad and tuna seaweed salad.

One end cap is packed with bagged spices, another long wall is covered with bulk snack items, while still another area offers bulk candy. The offerings are meant to change with the seasons, continuing the international market theme.

Don't go in expecting to get all the shopping done. There's a small selection of paper products, but this isn't the place to find wide aisles packed with Tide, Gain and packages of Pampers.

"We cannot meet all of your shopping needs," Craig Carlock, president and CEO, explained to the analysts at the William Blair Growth Stock conference in June. "So you might want to get your paper goods or health and beauty -- traditional health and beauty -- items somewhere else."

The Fresh Market does have a small health and beauty area, generally featuring specialty products. Mr. Carlock said perishable foods account for about two-thirds of the company's business, and he estimated first-year sales at the stores range between $8 million and $10 million.

The new Mt. Lebanon store joins a part of the South Hills that is already home to a Trader Joe's store and a Giant Eagle Market District, with a Whole Foods Market planned within the next year or so.

Mr. Carlock identified one way that his stores should be different from the competition. "If we're operating on our game, we carry your groceries [from] the store if you've got several bags. We've tried not to let folks take the carts out."

food - mobilehome - businessnews - neigh_south

Teresa F. Lindeman: or at 412-263-2018. First Published July 3, 2013 4:15 AM


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