The Earth Fare advertisements scream, "Live Longer with Earth Fare."
Lakewood Ranch residents are about to find out.
With the new store opening 7 a.m., Jan. 27, Earth Fare CEO Frank Scorpiniti spent time with the East County Observer to talk about what sets his company apart, why Lakewood Ranch and, of course, living longer.
First, is everything on schedule for your Jan. 27 opening in Lakewood Ranch?
We had a little bit of a weather issue, but our team has done an excellent job mitigating those issues. We will be opening on the 27th.
Why Lakewood Ranch?
We toured Lakewood Ranch a couple of years ago. It was a vibrant community and there was an energy to the entire place. We saw it as a healthy community looking for healthy options. Then you look at the data about real estate. It is a substantially growing community and a family environment. That corner (State Road 70 and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard) looks like a fantastic location. People can get in and out. It is convenient. We spent a lot of time analyzing and reviewing the roads, the access to the site and what neighbors we will have. You might not want your neighbors right next to you take up all your parking. It all has to work.
So what makes Lakewood Ranch a healthy community?
When we think about a new location, we have our real estate committee, which is comprised of our management team, take a regular real estate tour of the area. We are boots on the ground when we do real estate. I bring my entire management team and it's quite a field trip. We literally walk the neighborhood, so it's kind of like buying a house. You feel it, and sense it. We saw gyms, tennis courts and outdoor activities. When you put that together, you see people who think about what they want to put inside their bodies.
Was the fact you are part of the CORE project a factor?
The medical aspect, our team was very keen on. We've done very well with our stores that are in proximity to medical things. It's very important to driving business.
So what separates Earth Fare from other grocers?
There is nothing any of our customers could buy that would contain anything on our 'boot list.' They in no way will ever find anything in our store given an antibiotic, which is different than antibiotic free (where cows are given antibiotics and then given time to flush it out of its system). We have a never-ever program. There are no artificial colors or flavors. We have beautifully colored cakes, for example, such as our red velvet cake, except we get that coloring from vegetables.
We enforce our philosophy vigorously with our boot patrol. If, by chance, we somehow make a mistake, and any of our employees or customers find that we've made a mistake, they will received a $50 boot list award. We want to keep our offerings clean. We believe the better you eat, the longer you live. This is the part that gets me excited. You know, the life expectancy of Americans has gone backwards because of what we are putting in our bodies, the exogenous chemicals. We are not on for that. Nothing is genetically modified.
Can a family do all their grocery shopping at Earth Fare?
We have the cleanest items, and yet we have a full shop. There is everything you need to feed your family, and wash your clothes. The organic produce department is the lead, but we have a fantastic bulk foods department. We have the highest quality nuts, fruits and candies. We have a full-service meat and seafood department.
And we have items already prepared. We have a full dairy section with organic milk. None of the animals ever have been treated with hormones. Our seafood all is traceable, which means the fish are serialized, tagged. Our team can determine where they came out of the water. We have wine and beer and fantastic specialty cheeses. We have organic pizza, sandwiches and a grab and go juice bar. We have 25,000 feet of everything you need to run a family, like diapers.
What would the profile of a customer look like?
I've been part of the team for three years and it has been an interesting journey. Over those three years, the profile is wide open. It is mom, dad, retirees, young, old. It's everyone looking for a healthy way to eat. It used to be it was natural and organic enthusiasts. It's just everybody now. People are learning what is in food. It always amazes me because I see a mom in an aisle, baby in the buggy, one hand on an iPhone looking up that 27-letter word she just read on a package. 'Is that something I should bring home to the kids?' We read the label so you don't have to.
Are stores such as Whole Foods competitors?
Retail is a hyper competitive environment and we do view Whole Foods as a competitor and we respect them. We are different than other stores in our unwavering focus on our food philosophy. Our prepared foods all are made in house, which isn't the case with many of our competitors.
We also think sometimes the notion of eating healthier leads to the need to spend a lot of money to eat food like this. Among other things, we have clean food security, the belief every child, even those if you are a family on a budget, should be able to eat clean for $2.50 a night (each for a family of four). We also are cognizant that eating healthy has to be convenient. We have fresh prepared food you can pick up at the drive through.
Will you use any local sources for your products?
Whenever we go into a market, we put together a community advisory board, which in this case was a dozen residents in the Lakewood Ranch area. They met with us four evenings a week and a half apart. These are people who are enthusiastic about our products and want to make (our store) tailor-made for their neighborhood. They recommend local fare. Then we also have a local vendor fair where we interviewed 40 vendors. Many of those now are going through the process of getting into our vendor system.
We say here it takes more pushups and situps to get local products on the shelf. But at our Canton, Ohio store, the local bakery had its owner stocking our shelves himself he was so excited. Now we use his products in all our stores. Local products can take off. Here, for example, we have a burgeoning relationship with Dakin Dairy.
How many employees will you have?
Our new stores have between 125 and 130 team members. But we find that our team members often believe in the mission of the business. That helps us. Our team members are friendly and they want to grow with a company that has leadership opportunities. We are going to open 10 to 13 stores a year, so if you want to be a store manager or an assistant manager, come work for Earth Fare. We also have people who have experienced incredible challenges. They share their stories, such as those who have been told by doctors either they or (their family members) should only eat at Earth Fare. They fall in love with the business.
I am by way of my background educated as a pharmacist. People take a lot more medicines to maintain the life they have than ever before. We can get them off the five medications and maybe get it down to three, or down to none. Let's keep people off those blood pressure drugs and Type 2 diabetes medications. We get team members who believe in this and who are so much more enthusiastic.