As all of you know, I work for Veeam Software based in Columbus, Ohio. I was *SO* stoked when I noticed that Earth Fare is opening a store right across the street! The Columbus Earth Fare is located at 1440 Gemini Place in North Columbus in Delaware County, near the intersection of I-71 and Polaris Parkway.
On the morning of April 28, 2012, I toured the store. Here is a video showing just how close it is for me!
Better food is a big priority to me. I’ve simply not been the best eater my life. I love junk food, I historically haven’t given much thought to the how it’s made aspect of the food I eat, and worst of all I used to shop by price only. I had a chance to interview Kristi Kanzig from Earth Fare marketing, she gave me the tour of the store. Listen to my mini audio interview of Kristi here (let it play as you read the rest):
Excuse the crappy audio mashed into a sloppy JPG then uploaded to YouTube. I’m no web programmer, I’m a virtualization guy.
Well, a number of things have made me change my ways. Since mid-2011, we have gone with a “best-effort organic” approach to most household foods here. What is odd is that I’ve been able to shop to that standard without breaking the bank. Sure, there are some things I love and can’t separate from (like Hellman’s mayonnaise) but for the most part; the Rickatron kitchen is a great place in terms of quality of food.
Now, with this Earth Fare store coming this was a really great opportunity for me. Given that it is right across the street from work, it’s quite accessible. I travel to a number of non-traditional food retailers in the area, but none as close as this for my day-to-day.
With this opportunity, I started to be obnoxious on Twitter. Luckily, Carmen, Kristi and the team at Earth Fare heard me out. I got a chance to review the store soon after it opened!
Disclosure note: I was given a $50 dollar gift card as part of the review process (I spent $41 more – couldn’t stop! ). Further, I was given another $50 dollar gift card that I offered on Twitter to Columbus people in a “who’s first to respond” contest to get a chance to check out the store as well. Megan Mescher (@MMesch) won the card, congratulations Megan!
I toured the store very early (by my choice) so don’t freak out that there are no people in the store in my pictures below. The place was packed towards the end of my visit (I went and did some shopping for my family immediately after). I took a number of pictures through the store, here are some of them and my notes for each.
Earth Fare Food Philosophy
Shout it from the rooftops! Literally. The Earth Fare Food Philosophy is very apparent on the main entrance.
Felt a “BIT” small for the size of the store in terms of proportion, but it seemed to have everything I would want. What I mean by that, during the tour and later on I walked through and looked at each item in the produce section, I didn’t count them up but there were plenty. I did like that in many situations, there was a USDA Organic option and not a conventional option. Some stores do that, but in this case I appreciate the difference.
Here is a position where the private label is right next to a brand name:
The Earth Fare brand is available in effectively every section of the store. Here is a value section right off the exit of produce. I picked up a few things, including Earth Fare brand pickles (they were good!) from this area:
Later on in the store, the private label wine section was on display. It had quite a large selection, and I believe none of them are over $15/bottle. Higher priced wines were available on the display behind where this picture was taken:
Meat and Seafood
This is an area I spent a lot of time, and did a return shop after the tour to gauge the quality of the meat. For a number of reasons, I don’t purchase meat at the conventional stores any more. Everything here looked really good and each item I tried was as excellent.
In the meat and seafood area, I purchased some of the Carolina Shrimp, lobster tails and ground chuck. In each situation, the meats were perfect and to the standard I’d have at this price point. I’ve had to go to the Whole Food Market in Columbus for a large selection of this caliber of meat. One difference compared to Whole Foods in this situation is that there isn’t a source labeling strategy. I’m personally not too concerned about the local movement for foods, but appreciate Whole Foods effort in this space however it is not a priority for me.
One interesting observation, the meat department doesn’t appear to have (at least I couldn’t find) ground beef in any position other than at the counter. That’s awesome! I love fresh scooped ground beef, though I should really start to make my own.
Also, on my return visit on Friday May 4 late in the day; I still got good service from the meat department. I did this on purpose, asking for select pieces of seafood (including ones that were already prepared in a special endcap spot). I was looking for the meat department to tell me to use those out there, they didn’t. Plus!
I also liked that the charcuterie was in a dedicated case, near the wine section. Quite an extensive selection also, shown below:
Dry Goods, Gluten Free and Shelf Slotting Strategy
A number of strategies are in play here, look in the image below where there is a wood veneer on the shelving. This indicates that the selection is gluten free. I also did my best to dissect the positioning strategy: expensive stuff in the middle, value stuff on the bottom and most premium stuff on the top; but it actually wasn’t arranged that way. There was good blending of price points in vertical positioning. Plus!
I did tour the wellness section; but I’m not that type of shopper. This is an area of education opportunity for me. Looks like good stuff, smells nice, but not really my thing:
Nook of Cookware
They won brownie points with me with a small, but tastefully stocked with my favorite cast iron and ceramic wares: Le Creuset! The items they had, while not exhaustive, are reasonably priced and convenient for when you need additional pieces – such as during entertaining.
Deli, Fresh Foods, Olive Bar, Salad Bar, Bakery Sushi and Pasta Chest
Towards the end of our tour, you start to end up in the spaces where you can grab quick foods that are ready to go. One thing that caught my eye is the pasta chest. Here, many ravioli and other pastas are available to easy self scoop.
They are per-pound, and can easily answer the question of “What’s for dinner?”.
I like this type of product, while I didn’t scoop up some ravioli; I’ll give it a try at a later date.
I did pick up a few salads in the fresh deli area. Among them a snow pea (or sugar snap, can’t remember) salad with garlic and sun dried tomatoes. The other was a dill and vinegar based cole slaw. I liked them both, but my wife Amie didn’t care for the first salad.
I purchased some fresh sushi also after my tour. My wife thought it was good, though there was a bit of shell in the crab piece.
The deli and fresh foods area also has some pizza, very competitively priced (I think only $2/slice) and it was very, very good.
The bakery also was a hit. I picked up a few products here and they all were good. In particular, the hot dog and burger buns were great. They also are durable, a personal irritant of mine when they fall apart at the crease, these buns did well. Below is the salad case:
There also is a full service juice bar. They have both fruit and vegetable juicing options, including custom made items from what you shop from. They also have fermented teas there, called Kombucha – ON DRAFT. I tried that, and it was interesting. Not sure if I’ll try that again, but it was crisp and tart; maybe later in the day. It was 9:30 AM.
One of the highlights of the store is indeed in the juice bar, where orange juice is made and WOW! Was this an amazing orange juice. Myself, I seem to remember the “best” orange juice to be when I was a child ending up at some sort of fancy hotel with my parents, and they seemed to have really good juice. This was better than that. Watch the video below of me giving it a try!
There are both indoor and outdoor eating areas, very convenient and spacious (the outdoor is smaller, but adequate). This is a great area for the café, salad bar, juice bar and other in-store products. THURSDAY NIGHTS: Kid’s eat free! How cool is that! Here is a picture of the eating area:
In Columbus, I shop at Kroger and Costco for some general purpose products and then Whole Foods, The Fresh Market and The Raisin Rack for meat, selected organics and brand preferences.
I think that Earth Fare competes well in all areas: private label quality, price, location, size of store, variety of selection.
I do expect the bulk of my natural foods shopping to go to Earth Fare now, due to proximity and meeting my expectations (gift card or no gift card, that’s how I feel).
Verdict on Earth Fare – Cons
-There is a weird separation in the parking lot going East to West to accommodate a lowered grade. Not a tragedy, but can be inconvenient when you exit the other side to later determine you need to do a lateral move.
-Size: It is a good size (listed below), but people may ‘expect’ it to be as big as the competing product in the market. So, some people may walk through and sense it small.
Verdict on Earth Fare – Pros
-Comparative value in the segment in this market: Looks really good for the quality of the food there, even for the items that are not on sale. It felt like there were quite a bit of items on sale, I’ll check back later and see if there still are as many sales. It is easy to see the in-store sales items with the shelf strategy.
-Size of store: Just right. The other brand here in town has quite a large store, almost too big. The aisles allow two carts to pass comfortably, but when people are stopping looking and touching; it becomes crowded quickly.
-Energy of staff: Excellent, but I expect excellent for this segment.
-Selection: Just right. This place has it all, yet you won’t get wallowed in indecision.
-Private label products: So far so good. I bought a number of private label products with the gift card, and they all have been great. Value is good, options are wide. Private label products are important to me, especially with value in mind.
-Recommendation for Columbus people: Check out Earth Fare Columbus.
Summary on Earth Fare Columbus
While this post is among the longest blogs I’ve ever done; I hope you realize that this is an area of passion for me. I want to thank both Kristi Kanzig and Carmen from Earth Fare to coordinate my visit and sponsor the review.