Omaha's 3rd Supermercado store boasts machine that makes 10,000 tortillas an hour

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Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 12:00 am

Johnana Bautista likes her corn tortillas filled with al pastor — marinated pork with pineapple — while co-worker Victoria Cervantes prefers carne asada — thinly sliced, grilled steak.

Whatever they prefer, there should be enough tortillas to go around at the new Supermercado Nuestra Familia grocery store opening Wednesday at 1826 Vinton St. The rebranded former Bag 'N Save grocery store is Omaha's third Supermercado store.

The addition of a new tortilla-making machine that can produce 10,000 corn tortillas an hour will supply the new store and the chain's two other Omaha Supermercado stores.

Bautista and Cervantes were helping to test the machine Tuesday in preparation for the store's official debut. Just add dough to the hopper, cook for 30 seconds and watch the warm tortillas emerge from the cooling conveyor.

Rob Connor, Supermercado merchandising manager for parent company SpartanNash, said the store's transformation has been planned for some time.

“In the Omaha market, we wanted to launch three Supermercados in the Latino neighborhood,” Connor said.

Company officials have said they hope the three Supermercado stores will be an option for anyone. All three stores offer Hispanic and traditional American products intermingled on the shelves and in the produce aisles.

Shoppers can find fresh and dried chile peppers, jalapenos, sauces and imported foods, as well as a fresh meat department and a bakery that offers chocolate cake or traditional tres leches cakes.

A casual dining area where visitors can enjoy homemade tamales, delicatessen fare and other treats offers a view of the tortilleria, which Connor described as a “hefty investment.”

Russ and Jan Burton of Omaha said they've been shopping at that location for more than six years. The couple dropped by to visit the store Tuesday after a four-week vacation.

“The changes are fabulous — especially the murals,” said Jan Burton, 63.

The store's interior features murals of old world traditions, designed and hand-painted on canvas rolls by Omaha-based artist Richard Harrison. Harrison has done mural work locally and for venues in Chicago, Minneapolis, South Carolina and Colorado.

The store's expanded produce section has prompted Jan Burton to add some new items to her shopping cart. “I've bought cactus and made little decorations with it, but I'd like to try a recipe for it,” she said.

Store manager Matt Kroeger said he expects the new store to draw shoppers from the greater Omaha area as well as South Omaha because of its “variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, freshly cut meats (and) spices.”

Supermercado emphasizes a greater variety of produce and perishable items, and replaces the company's Avanza brand.

Last year, Nash Finch transformed two Omaha stores into Supermercados: a former No Frills store at 3548 Q St. and the former Avanza store at 2900 Leavenworth St. (on Park Avenue between St. Mary's Avenue and Leavenworth Street).

Nash Finch, the Minneapolis-based food distributor, merged last year with Michigan-based Spartan Stores Inc. The merged company, now called SpartanNash, operates 172 supermarkets, including Family Fare Supermarkets, D&W Fresh Markets, No Frills, Bag 'N Save, Sun Mart and Econofoods.

Many grocery chains are adding to their inventories and offering products to cater to the growing Hispanic population, according to a recent study of U.S. supermarkets by IBISWorld, a research company.

Progressive Grocer reported that Hispanic shoppers represent growth opportunities for retailers. Hispanics not only represent more than half the population growth from 2000 to 2010, but also spend more time and money per trip to the grocery store than the national average.

A study by Credit Suisse projected that over the next 10 years, Hispanic households' food-at-home expenditures are estimated to grow at a 5.7 percent average annual rate, compared with 2.5 percent for non-Hispanic households.

In Omaha, competition to capture shares of the Latino community's grocery budget has been on the rise with the opening last year of a new Walmart Neighborhood Market at 50th and L Streets. The grocery store features signs printed in English and Spanish, shelves stocked with a large selection of Latino products, and bilingual employees.

The nearby Stockyards Plaza Hy-Vee at 3505 L St. also offers a large ethnic grocery selection.

A ribbon-cutting and grand-opening ceremony for the Supermercado will be held Wednesday at 6 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday, the store will offer family entertainment, including clowns and face painters, from noon to 4 p.m.

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