Remodeled, renamed Omaha grocery thinks outside the can to compete

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Posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 12:00 am

Maybe it's the crackling and popping of roasting Anaheim peppers. Or the aroma of freshly baked flour tortillas dancing from the tortilleria, also known as the tortilla bakery. Or perhaps it's the spread of freshly cut specialty meat like carne asada at the carniceria, a full-service meat counter.

If that doesn't draw you inside, maybe the new name will catch your eye.

The Avanza grocery store along Park Avenue between St. Mary's Avenue and Leavenworth Street has transformed into Supermercado Nuestra Familia, a new concept led by parent company Nash Finch, which also owns grocery chains Bag 'N Save and No Frills. The updates are all part of a push to give customers what they want: more variety in perishable items.

Grand opening celebration

Where: Supermercado Nuestra Familia, 2900 Leavenworth St.

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Sunday

Also: The event will include food samples and a chance to win a 97-second Supermercado Nuestra Familia shopping spree. For kids, there will be face painting and clowns.

“Perishables is where you can separate yourself from the competition,” said Supermercado Nuestra Familia store director Bob Pennington. “Everybody sells a can of beans. Everybody sells a can of corn.”

In addition to freshly roasted peppers available by bag or case, a tortilleria, carniceria and deli that has a seating area, the Supermercado Nuestra Familia revamp has meant adding some 50 new varieties of produce, which includes specialty items like cactus pears, Mexican herbs and dried chili peppers, and adding pre-cut fruits and vegetables and cut flowers.

The store has also grown existing areas, Pennington said, by doubling spices, tripling the panaderia, or fresh-baked goods section, and quadrupling the spirits section of wine, liquor and beer. Also, the store is increasing its presentation of in-season fruit, which now includes peaches, plums and nectarines, and adding more varieties of onions and potatoes.

More goods and services have called for more employees. The switch to Supermercado Nuestra Familia — which on Monday evening became the official name when the Avanza logo was swapped for a Supermercado one — has boosted the store's employee count from 42 to 54, many of whom are bilingual and able to readily assist Hispanic customers.

With all the changes inside, the store — with 19,500 square feet of sales floor space — hasn't physically changed in size.

The store feels bright and open, however, and that's enhanced by a storewide, hand-painted mural. The scene includes storefronts, three-dimensional balconies and cues to the various departments. Richard Harrison, owner of A Midsummer's Mural, even designed around an existing clock, making it look like an exterior clock on a clock tower.

Construction at Supermercado Nuestra Familia has been underway for about two months, though planning has taken about a year, said Rob Connor, merchandising manager for Nash Finch's retail west division. The company, which earlier this month was purchased by Michigan-based Spartan Stores Inc., researched how to go about the changes by listening to customers and hiring a third party to perform customer surveys.

“We have a very diverse customer base around this store,” Connor said. “We knew we had a challenge ahead of us to get all of the items people were looking for.”

Bill Loneman, senior director of marketing and merchandising for Nash Finch's retail west division, said the company believes “there is growth potential for this concept” and is researching options for additional stores like Supermercado Nuestra Familia.

Nash Finch declined to say how much was invested into Avanza to transform it into Supermercado Nuestra Familia.

To be sure, other grocers in the area are reaching out to the Latino population.

Earlier this month, a new Walmart Neighborhood Market opened at 50th and L Streets, boasting signs printed in English and Spanish, more than two dozen bilingual employees and shelves stocked with a large selection of Hispanic products. The Stockyards Plaza Hy-Vee at 3505 L St. also has a large ethnic produce selection geared toward its South Omaha shoppers.

Connor said this store's advantage is partly owed to its location. Supermercado Nuestra Familia is situated in a busy neighborhood with lots of cultural diversity and foot traffic, but it's also on the western edge of downtown and along Interstate 480, making it an ideal spot for downtown workers or commuters to grab groceries on their way home from work.

Although the store has a Spanish name and many ingredients Hispanics traditionally cook with, the hope is that the Supermercado store becomes an option for anyone, Connor said.

Tuesday morning, Claudia Hernandez was shopping at the store with her family and, through a translator, she said that the mural looks nice and that she can tell the organization of the store has changed to make it easier for customers. Similarly, shopper Francisco Gaspar said Tuesday through a translator that the updates make grocery shopping a more enjoyable experience.

“I can find anything I want,” he said, noting he goes to Supermercado Nuestra Familia for the carrots, cilantro, cucumbers and peppers. Especially the peppers, he said with a smile.

Pennington, who's had a 45-year career in the grocery business, said the remodel doesn't change his love of selling groceries and working with people. But he can already tell it's going to make his job even more enjoyable.

“That's why I'm here — for the customers and to make their experience better,” he said. “The remodel gives us that ability.”

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