Monday, August 3, 2009

The Yin and Yang of Walmart: Meet Marketside


We've heard a lot in recent years about Walmart's efforts to get their supercenters into communities, some of which have been resistant. Well, last October, Walmart launched a new approach to bringing groceries to the masses who may not have time to do big shopping in a supermarket. It opened four Marketside grocery stores in the Phoenix area: the cities of Tempe, Mesa, Gilbert, and Chandler.

The markets are said to be a pilot project to gauge customer response to a smaller, neighborhood market. It's no doubt a direct challenge to Tesco's Fresh & Easy shops. At about 15,000 square feet, they're about the same size with similar merchandise, and pint-sized compared to the supercenters, which tend to be more than 180,000 square feet.

Recently I was in Tempe and visited the store on the corner of Rural Road and Eliot. It had taken over the building that had previously housed an Osco drugstore. That gives you an idea of the size we're talking about.

Inside, the store is a tiny version of a supermarket. You'll find a petite produce department called, ahem, "the garden," at the entrance. It pretty much has all the basics, something to fill the fridge without much fuss.


Behind that section is a deli counter with Dietz & Watson meats called "the kitchen." The section also has prepared foods, which are cooked off site, and include sushi, rotisserie chicken, meatballs, BBQ chicken, quiche Lorraine, and flat bread pizzas.


My niece, Samantha, and I picked out a Mediterranean flat bread pizza with spinach, tomatoes, feta, and Romano cheeses. The pizza can be cooked in the oven at Marketside or you can take it home and heat it up it in your oven (350 for about 20 minutes). We chose the latter. It wasn't spectacular, but it wasn't bad.


Chanel, a young woman helping us at "the kitchen" counter, told us that she and her co-workers are trained in wine, meat, produce, and prepared foods. "Everyone has to be able to do everything," she said.

There are aisles of additional packaged prepared foods. Teriyaki chicken was alongside lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs. There was crusted flounder fillet, grilled vegetables, pasta, salads, soups. Basically, many of the items you'd expect if you wanted something quick to take home for dinner. We bought a private label medium salsa and tzatziki. Both were actually pretty good.


From there, you get into the basics. There was fresh meat and poultry -- but no fresh fish. Lotsa pasta, including Barilla Plus, the whole wheat pasta by Barilla. There's a pretty good dairy and cheese selection, lots of snack items, of course, and a variety of breads and desserts.

In the baking aisle were all the usual suspects, but the surprise was seeing a nice array of Bob's Red Mill baking products, including soy flour, vital wheat gluten, and dark rye flour.

In fact, there was a surprising selection of healthy food products. Kashi cereals, organic granolas, agave nectar, and a display of gluten-free products took up what looks like valuable shelf space for a small market.


Marketside has a few aisles of wines, beers, and spirits.


And, there's a household section with detergents, TP, and health and beauty aids.

One of the attractions of Marketside, at least according to Samantha and her mother, is the Redbox movie machine. For $1 a night you have immediate access to a variety of rentals.


So, is Marketside coming to a location near you? That remains to be seen. For obvious reasons, they'll site future locations near current Walmart stores to take advantage of product transport. But, it's not even a sure thing that more stores will open. In a June Reuters story, it was reported that given the economy, Walmart isn't planning on accelerating the pilot and is waiting to have more data before proceeding with opening more stores.