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Fresh Ideas for Food Retail

Designers cook up a smorgasbord of new concepts

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Fifty years ago, food retailers were known simply as “grocery stores,” and they had it easy. Their primary customer shopped for entire families, and her priorities were simple: cost and quality first and product range second.

Flash-forward to the year 2000. Grocery stores are now subdivisions of “food retail.” The category also encompasses convenience, specialty-food, gourmet-food, natural-food and organic-food stores, as well as delicatessens and supermarkets. Not only has the variety of venues expanded, the clientele's needs are no longer cut and dried.

To accommodate an increasingly complex consumer mix, today's food retail must be convenient for the time-stressed shopper yet aesthetically pleasing enough to make the in-store experience more meaningful. And while growing interest in “health and wellness” has created a market for specialty and organic food (cost be damned), the cost-conscious crowd wants quality food, too, but at a bargain price. In short, the changing times have shaken up the food-retail industry, instigating a slew of new concepts that either aim to be all things to all people (see one of today's hypermarkets) or target specific audiences.

As a result, retailers are enlisting design firms to help concoct recipes for success. Kevin Kelley, principal of Shook Design Group (Charlotte, N.C.), says, “The grocery industry is starting to understand that the consumer demands lifestyle solutions. We have more income and less time to spend it, so retailers must find ways to make the time spent in-store meaningful.” Kelley, a noted speaker who has spent most of his career designing food-retail environments, says “piling it high and letting it fly” doesn't cut the mustard in today's grocery stores.

Another trend is an emphasis on fresh, rather than packaged, foods. “People want to see processing take place,” says Hugh Boyd, design principal at Hugh Boyd Architects (Montclair, N.J.). So, you'll find more demonstration areas in grocery stores and more open kitchens in restaurants. Boyd adds that although the Internet will have a significant impact on the food-retail industry, stores in the future will survive by educating the consumer through more interactive retail and creating a social experience through personal contact.

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And while many retailers are designing stores based on food trends, such as organic foods, ethnic foods or marketplaces, others are forging new ground. But all concepts are customer-driven. Here, we take a look at some fresh new ideas in food retail.

ZAGARA'S SPECIALTY & NATURAL FOODS (NOBLE TOWN CENTER, JENKINTOWN, PA)

Zagara, Italian for “orange blossom,” is also a three-store chain of specialty and natural food stores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. John Zagara, who opened the first Zagara's Specialty & Natural Foods Store in 1988, has carved a niche as a retail innovator who celebrates and elevates the food shopping experience through quality merchandise and well designed stores.

For his third retail venture, Zagara chose a former Wanamaker's department store. Built in the 1950s, it's a landmark in Jenkintown, Pa. Today, the building, which also houses a Bed, Bath & Beyond store and an upscale women's fitness center, is at the epicenter of a bustling community of business professionals.

To tap this affluent but time-poor clientele, Zagara commissioned Shook Design Group (Charlotte, N.C.) to create a food venue that would complement the tagline, “Where health food meets indulgence.” Using art-deco elements, floating soffits and zigzag patterns, the new Zagara's supermarket takes a decidedly personal approach to mass food merchandising.

Kevin Kelley, principal-in-charge for Shook Design, says the art deco theme was Zagara's idea. After some research, the design firm realized that a modern/art deco hybrid concept would complement the building's existing infrastructure and soften some of the harsher edges that typified 1950s architecture. Plus, Kelley notes, “Art deco celebrated a period when people had money.”

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So a trip to this store isn't a grind. Rather, featured elements make shopping for food a pleasure. The sunny yellow palette invigorates the space from floor to wall to ceiling. Large-scale murals in the produce department fill the 28-foot-high ceilings and add visual interest. Archways and soffits in specialty areas add intimacy to the space and encourage shoppers to get lost in this food paradise. fans.

Bold geometric shapes pervade the custom-designed, art-deco-inspired floor, while undulating shapes in the ceiling evoke a more modern architectural feel. Brightly colored wall tiles continue the hybrid theme, while funky metal signage throughout the store guides and educates visitors.

The new Zagara's store (open since February) has evidently been the talk of the region. Zagara says, “We've reinvented what (food) retail wants to be now.” And while plans for more Zagara's are underway, he says that future stores will place more emphasis on simplicity to meet customers' quality and convenience needs.

CLIENT: Zagara's Specialty & Natural Foods, Mt. Laurel, N.J. – John Zagara, owner; Kevin Sheffield, store designer; Lou Anselmi, project manager

DESIGN: Shook Design Group Inc., Charlotte, N.C. – Kevin Kelley, principal-in-charge; Mike Nicholls, project architect; Stan Rostas, Kevin O'Donnell, Colleen Duffy and Cicley Worrell, design team

ENGINEER: Clive Samuels & Associates, Princeton, N.J.

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SUPPLIERS: Compasso by USG, Chicago (ceiling); DesignTex, New York, and Maharam, Hauppauge, N.Y. (fabrics); Borgen Systems, Des Moines, Iowa, Hussmann, St. Louis, and Barker Co., Keosauqua, Iowa (fixturing); Armstrong World Industries Inc., Lancaster, Pa., and Interface Carpet Tile, LaGrange, Ga. (flooring); Gar, Lakewood, N.J., and Home on the Range, Durham, N.C. (furniture); Sign*A*Rama, Willow Grove, Pa. (graphics); Donovan, Brooktondale, N.Y., Flos, Huntington, N.Y., Juno Lighting, Des Plaines, Ill., Koch & Lowy, Avon, Mass., and Ron Rezek, New York (lighting); Programmed Products, Novi, Mich., and InSign Inc., Cherry Hill, N.J. (signage); McGillin Architecture, Bala Cynwyd, Pa. (building shell)

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