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More Than a Fresh Face

Fresh2GO has taken freshness to a new level in a convenience store format.

​By Sarah Hamaker

Fresh has become a new buzzword when it comes to retail. More merchants, including convenience stores, now offer fresh fruit and vegetables, while many have implemented fresh-prepared foodservice programs that rival fast-casual and quick-service restaurants.

Sendik’s Fresh2GO convenience store concept takes freshness a step further. “The idea behind Fresh2GO is that people want both fresh, quality food and convenience,” said Mark Birmingham, director of new business development for Sendik’s Food Market, headquartered in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. “We wanted to combine the two to give people what they want in a way that fits how they’re living.”

Downsizing Freshness
Sendik’s Food Markets, a chain of grocery stores, typically utilize 30,000 to 40,000 square feet of shopping space. The first Fresh2GO location in Bayside, Wisconsin, opened in August 2013 with a 7,000-square-foot space. “We worked on maximizing every square inch and still stay true to the Sendik’s name,” said Birmingham.

The key to making Fresh2GO into a convenient place to shop fresh foods relies on the deli island, which takes center stage in the store. Staff works behind the refrigerated cases to assist customers with selections and whip up fresh-made soups, sandwiches, salads and other to-go foods. A butcher even cuts meat to order behind a full-service case of seafood, beef, chicken, pork, lamb and veal.

“At Fresh2GO, we have a much higher shop in the deli and bakery departments than our regular supermarkets, so we designed the store with the center island for our fresh prep items,” said Nicholas Bandoch, communications director for Sendik’s.

Throughout the rest of the store, Fresh2GO has fewer groceries, dairy and frozen products than Sendik’s. For instance, instead of stocking 15 to 20 brands of peanut butter as in a typical Sendik’s store, Fresh2GO has three brands. “We took a hard look at space allocation and made sure we were putting the right products for the customer in all areas,” said Birmingham.

Top performers include eight panini variations, pizza by the slice, the hot bar and the salad bar. The deli salads, mac-and-cheese, chicken wings, grilled salmon and vegetables are popular items on the self-serve hot and salad bars. Other convenience store favorites that appear alongside a soda fountain, packaged beverages, single-serve bars and small bags of private-label chips include alcohol and tobacco products.

With so much fresh food for sale, the company has to stay on top of shrinkage and waste. From opening day and beyond, management scrutinized reports on what was selling section by section on a weekly basis to determine amounts and product placement. “We needed not only to adapt to a smaller footprint, but we needed to have a different mindset when looking at Fresh2GO as opposed to Sendik’s,” said Birmingham.

Fresh2GO participates in Sendik’s fresh rescue program that donates leftover bakery and other fresh foods that have not been on the hot bar to Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin. “We extended that program to Fresh2GO because it’s important for us to support the community and control our waste,” said Birmingham.

Beyond Freshness
From the beginning, Sendik’s management realized it would take more than slimming down selections to make Fresh2GO a true companion to Sendik’s Food Markets. “We focused on the fact that it would be fresh food to go with an emphasis on the convenience aspect,” said Bandoch.

That meant developing convenient packaging in single-serve sizes. For example, Fresh2GO offers fruit cups and a side of dip or hummus paired with pretzels or carrots for healthy snack options. “As people’s lives are getting busier, we wanted to have more food items that are convenient and healthy,” said Bandoch.

Serving so much fresh food necessitates a larger number of on-site staff than a typical convenience store. “For our convenience store, we wanted to make sure the smaller store reflected the values of the Sendik’s brand, and at the forefront of that brand is our commitment to service,” said Birmingham. “We truly have a full-service convenience store with our fully staffed deli island.”

That level of staffing means Fresh2GO has 12 to 15 employees on premise at any one shift. “While the amount of labor probably far exceeds other convenience stores, we feel that’s what it takes to reproduce the Sendik’s experience in a more compact setting,” said Birmingham.

A Slow Expansion
The food may be fresh, but plans for expansion have been percolating for two years. “We wanted to be sure the concept was on solid ground before opening other locations,” said Birmingham. “We took the time to work out all the kinks, to ensure Fresh2GO met all customer expectations of what a convenience store featuring fresh food should look like, before talking about expanding.”

Plans are now underway to launch a second Fresh2GO in Greendale, Wisconsin, in mid-2016, with other locations to follow soon after. “We took longer on the front end with our first location and now anticipate opening other Fresh2GOs a lot faster,” said Birmingham.

Fresh2GO plans to bring fresh food to its communities for years to come. “We often see the same person stop by the store multiple times a day, buying something for a mid-morning snack or lunch, dropping by for dinner on the way home,” said Birmingham. “That’s what we wanted to accomplish: Give people the biggest fresh food takeaway value within the smaller convenience store format.”

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and NACS Magazine contributor based in Fairfax, Virginia. Visit her online at www.sarahhamaker.com.