CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Katherine Peralta | The Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte's newest grocery store is what you'd imagine the offspring of Fresh Market and Trader Joe's would be — low prices, a focus on fresh produce and a relatively small but easy-to-navigate store format.
Phoenix-based Sprouts opens its first Charlotte store at 7 a.m. Wednesday in Ballantyne. On a tour of the newly constructed store Tuesday, workers were busy stocking shelves, carefully arranging fresh fruit in neat rows and slicing loaves of bread and slabs of cheese in the supermarket's deli.
The store is different than what you'd see at a Harris Teeter or Publix.
For one thing, it's about 30,000 square feet, roughly half the size of a typical new Charlotte supermarket. Sprouts also has "flipped the grocery model," spokeswoman Kalia Pang said, by placing its bulk items — such as couscous, flour, quinoa, nuts and more — in large clear bins in the center of the store to draw shoppers in.
Sales of bulk items, which also include spices, Pang said, skyrocketed at Sprouts during the recession because they allow customers to get just the amount they need and cut down on waste.
Sprouts' biggest traffic driver, however, is its fresh produce, Pang said. Prices on fruits and vegetables are typically 20 to 25 percent cheaper than at other grocery stores, thanks to Sprouts' longstanding relationships with the farmers from whom it sources its products, she added.
At the Ballantyne location, for instance, Sprouts is selling three Hass avocados for $1, a pound of Fuji apples for 88 cents and a pint of grape tomatoes for 98 cents. Throughout the store, Sprouts has labels indicating which products are local, meaning from North Carolina or within 500 miles of Charlotte.
The grocer's selection of "ready to eat" and "ready to heat" meals, including individual boxed meals of tofu pad Thai and cauliflower pilaf, cater to busy shoppers who want to spend less time shopping and preparing food, Pang said.
Sprouts says its prices are for "everyday shoppers."
At any given time, roughly one-third of the store is on some kind of promotion, Pang said. The retailer doesn't have a loyalty program like Harris Teeter's VIC card, but it does have a mobile app that lets users create a shopping list and download a coupon of the week. The app also alerts shoppers of special promotions, such as buy-one-get-one-off deals, Pang said.
Like Trader Joe's and Lidl, Sprouts sells a huge amount of its own private label products (roughly 2,300 items).
For grocery stores and other retailers, private labels are a way to boost profitability and eliminate the national-brand middleman. That means, however, that shoppers won't necessarily be able to find several of the national brands they typically buy, such as Tide pods or Doritos.
The Ballantyne store, at 15121 Ballancroft Parkway off Providence Road West near Publix, is the third Sprouts location in North Carolina (others are in Raleigh and Fayetteville). The company isn't saying yet whether it will add more stores in Charlotte.