A sushi bar at a No Frills supermarket?

Well, it won’t be a No Frills much longer.

Six value-oriented Omaha-area grocery stores — four No Frills stores and two Bag ’N Saves — will have a new name and new, more upscale features when Michigan supermarket operator SpartanNash completes $15 million of renovations this summer.

The transformation to the Family Fare brand includes sushi bars, Starbucks kiosks, dedicated organic and natural foods sections, expanded deli counters with panini bars, wider craft beer selections and a store loyalty program.

The company will continue to operate 11 No Frills and six Bag ’N Save stores in the Omaha market.

But the changes at the future Family Fare stores are designed to give the stores an edge in a highly competitive grocery market that’s seen new brands such as Walmart Neighborhood Market and Natural Grocers take market share from existing stores.

The Family Fare brand, new to Omaha, is familiar in Michigan, and SpartanNash has also introduced it recently in North Dakota. Family Fare signs will go up later this summer. The stores’ features are more along the lines of what Omahans have seen at Hy-Vee and Baker’s, as those grocers also have upgraded their stores in recent years.

But Mark Griffin, SpartanNash’s vice president for Omaha retail stores, said Family Fare stores are smaller and more neighborhood-oriented than those competitors.

“It’s intended to be the friendly, service-oriented neighborhood grocery,” he said of Family Fare, which uses the tagline “Things are good here.”

Expanded areas of the stores are those where the supermarket industry is growing by serving customers’ desire for fresh and convenient foods, Griffin said. The growth comes at the expense of shelf space for packaged food in the center of the store.

He said customers will still be able to find bargains, pointing to a “Savings Zone” aisle and long-term “price freezes” on staple items.

Stores being remodeled are Bag ’N Saves at 50th and Grover and at 51st and Harrison, and No Frills at 820 N. Saddle Creek, at 204th and Pacific in the Elkhorn area, and in Papillion and Blair.

The No Frills in Elkhorn, only about five years old, didn’t need as much work as older stores closer to the center of Omaha, some of which are getting entirely new facades.

The stores are remaining open during remodeling, and while construction has slowed traffic, customers have shown they like the new offerings. Sales of sushi at the Elkhorn store that is made fresh several times a day already exceed expectations, Griffin said.

“I think they’re going to be more competitive, especially with Hy-Vee,” said shopper Glenda Simmons, a substitute teacher. The store is closer to her Elkhorn home than the nearest Hy-Vee, and she said she’s been shopping at it more since the remodel. She expects the new Starbucks cafe to get plenty of use from local high school students once it opens.

Natasha Hilsgen, shopping for hamburger on sale, likes seeing more ethnic food at the store, such as supplies for the stir-frys she likes to make.

“I like going to a store that’s a little bit nicer, and having a better selection of certain items — more organics and better quality meats,” she said.

But even if the features are what shoppers want, SpartanNash faces a challenge in getting shoppers to enter a store with an unfamiliar name.

“Without name recognition, you always have to fight an uphill battle at the start, and you only get one chance to make a first impression,” said David Livingston, a supermarket location research consultant.

Griffin agreed and said the company plans an advertising campaign and store opening events this summer.

The stores also are using historic photographs of the local area to convey a local feel, despite out-of-state ownership.

SpartanNash, also a wholesale food distributor, formed in 2013 in a merger of Spartan Stores and the Nash Finch Co. Nash Finch bought Omaha grocers Bag ’N Save and No Frills in 2012. The company also operates a distribution center in Omaha.

SpartanNash has since closed five stores in the area. The closures were part of the company’s broader plans to close underperforming stores. Since SpartanNash formed, it has reduced its store count to 159 from 177. More closures may be coming: Company CEO Dennis Eidson said in March that he intends to close up to 10 stores this year.

Twenty-six of the remaining stores are in Nebraska and western Iowa. The brands also include Supermercado Nuestra Familia and Family Thrift Center.

But Omaha is the market where the company is focusing most of its remodeling budget, citing Omaha’s strong economy.

For all the work going into the stores, and the opportunity to grow, what will matter most in gaining business is customer service, Griffin said.

“All that means absolutely nothing if we and our people don’t deliver a great experience in the store.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1336, barbara.soderlin@owh.com

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