Sprouts Farmers Market, the fast-growing, Phoenix-based natural food chain, will open its first Fort Worth location in January with 75 to 80 full- and part-time employees, the companys chief operating officer said.It will be the second Sprouts in Tarrant County the first opened in Southlake in 2007 and the 10th in North Texas since 2005, expanding in what is generally considered among the most competitive retail grocery markets in the country. The chain currently has 54 stores in four states Arizona, California, Texas and Colorado.The 30,000-square-foot store at South Hulen Street and Interstate 20 will occupy part of what had been an Albertsons. A job fair will be held 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to find managers, clerks, cashiers and baggers. Applicants can apply online at www.sprouts.com.The store will have an on-site bakery, large selections of wine and beer, national and house brands of organic items, and 300 bulk-bin items sold by weight, ranging from spices, nuts, candies and trail mixes to Moroccan-style couscous pasta and Indian basmati rice. Fresh seafood will be trucked in six days a week. There will also be choice cuts of beef grown without hormones or antibiotics, 14 varieties of sausage made in-store, 1,500 gluten-free items, 8,000 different vitamins and supplements, and a produce section with 300 to 400 items, more than at many traditional supermarkets.The new Sprouts will not be selling Coca-Cola, Pepsi or Sprite and no Marlboro cigarettes or Copenhagen snuff. There will be indulgences like chocolate. Although smaller than typical supermarkets, we carry a full line of groceries for a healthier diet but dont carry all the traditional grocery items, said Doug Sanders, 41, the Nacogdoches-born chief operating officer. Unlike Aldi, the German-owned limited-assortment discount chain that entered the market in the spring, Sprouts can provide most everything a natural food shopper needs with the exception of a pharmacy, he said.Most specialty food stores are considered second-stop shopping, Sanders said in a call from Phoenix. For some, we can provide everything. Others may go to Costco or another retailer for things we dont sell. Sanders said Sprouts organic and conventionally grown produce items are priced 20 to 25 percent less than at competitors, and other items are typically 20 percent cheaper. The chains motto is Healthy living for less.But dont expect it to join a marketwide price war like the one that broke out recently over gallon jugs of milk. We havent gotten into that game, Sanders said when asked whether the North Texas Sprouts stores dropped their milk price. The chain is privately owned and does not release financial figures, although Sanders was quoted by Supermarket News recently as saying sales were up this year. The concept was created in 2002 by the Boney family, whose previous food chains were sold off over the years, including Henrys Marketplace natural food specialty stores, which in 1999 were acquired by Wild Oats, a company that in turn was taken over by Whole Foods.I think Sprouts will be a hit in Fort Worth, said Vic Gallese, an independent retail consultant, formerly with Deloitte Touche and Arthur Andersen. I am a fan. Gallese described the chain as a scaled-down Whole Foods at Trader Joes prices. Trader Joes, a discount purveyor of specialty and natural foods, is owned by Germanys Albrecht family that operates Aldi, but is managed separately and has no stores in Texas. At Sprouts, the consultant said, the in-season fruits and vegetables, as well as their bulk section, carry low prices and great quality, which equates to value.I think they will take some of the higher- and middle-income market from Whole Foods, Central Market, Kroger and Tom Thumb but probably not enough to rock any of their worlds, but noticeable, Gallese said.Sprouts is entering a retail food scene strongly contested by Kroger, the nations biggest traditional grocer, which competes with Safeway-owned Tom Thumb and Cerberus-owned Albertsons. After years of contraction, Albertsons recently re-established its presence in Watauga. The competition is heightened by the heavy presence of Walmart and Target superstores, numerous Hispanic-themed supermarkets, including Fiesta, Monterrey and Terrys, and strong regional chains like Tyler-based Brookshires and San Antonio-based H.E.B., which owns Central Market and is edging into North Texas with its mainstay H.E.B. stores. On the limited-selection side, the battleground includes Aldi, Sav-A-Lot and Walmart Neighborhood Market. Even in a market approaching saturation, there may be ample choices for traditional groceries, but it can still be underserved for natural foods, said Sanders. He added that Sprouts will open its 11th North Texas store in Carrollton in mid-2011, then about five more stores over the next five years. The chain is seeking sites in northern Tarrant County, McKinney and elsewhere in the region, which now is served by a distribution center in Grand Prairie, he said.
Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718