A Lucky California concept store opened by Modesto-based Save Mart in Daly City on Wednesday is decidedly Bay Area. But the store – the company’s first new format in nearly 20 years – marks a change in thinking that eventually will be reflected in the Valley stores that carry the Save Mart name, a company co-president said Friday.
Lucky California is inspired by the eclectic food culture of the San Francisco Bay Area, the company said in a news release. Unlike traditional grocery stores, Lucky California offers a “better reflection of the way people eat in the Bay Area,” Nicole Pesco, co-president and chief strategy and branding and officer, said in a phone interview. “Customers there are exposed to a lot more food cultures that not many of us enjoy on a regular basis, maybe eating Thai one night, then sushi the next, or Italian, or Mexican.”
The store’s new display concept will feature constantly changing snack and meal hubs where shoppers will be encouraged to try new flavors.
“One of the things we identified as a challenge for customers is trying to find a balance between hectic schedules and putting and healthy meals on the table at night,” Pesco said. “With Lucky California, what we’re doing is taking that much further than traditional grocery stores.”
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The store will offer prepared foods but also “solutions” by way of recipes and ideas for pairing entrees with side dishes. The idea is to take a lot of the guesswork out of meal preparation, she said.
“We’ve been working for several years refining our strategy because customers today are very different than 10 years ago, even two years ago. This has been a long time coming,” Pesco said.
The traditional grocery store industry – Save Mart included – has not done a good job keeping pace with customers’ wants and needs, she said. There’s a lot of “segmentation mentality” in the way foods are carried and displayed. Foods that many shoppers eat every day are often relegated to specialty or ethnic aisles, she said. For example, rice noodles usually are on an Asian aisle rather than with spaghetti and other pastas, and that isn’t the case with Lucky California, Pesco said.
The Daly City store has a produce area with large signs reading “Better in California” and smaller signs reading “Fresh from our valleys” and “California: Taste the difference.”
“As a Central Valley-based company, we get what locally grown means to our shoppers,” Pesco said in the news release. “We place a premium on sourcing our food from local farms, producers, manufacturers, chefs and purveyors.”
“Being expert in providing California-sourced food” is not something Save Mart has applied only to the prototype store, she told The Bee. “Our headquarters is in the Valley, a rich agricultural region, and we feel strongly that’s a point of difference of all of our stores, not just Lucky California.”
As the concept store is refined, Save Mart will begin the process of renovating and rebranding its entire chain of 72 Lucky stores throughout the Bay Area.
The project is “very, very close to my heart,” Pesco said, but many Save Mart employees have “blood, sweat and tears into this.”
Pesco’s father, former Save Mart Chairman and CEO Bob Piccinini, was in on the planning of Lucky California before his death in March at age 73.
“He definitely had a chance to see everything we were doing, and he was really excited about the direction we’re taking the company,” she said. “He reminded me quite frequently that this wasn’t going to be easy, and he was completely right. … This (opening of the concept store) is a bittersweet moment because he would have loved the final product.”
Being a Bay Area chain – the nearest store to Modesto is in Livermore – Lucky’s changes mean little directly to Valley consumers, save for those who commute to the Bay Area and might occasionally shop there.
“We see what we’re doing as separate brand than Save Mart,” Pesco said. “We’re also working on new things for a concept Save Mart store, but it will be different. I do think we need to provide a better shopping experience for our Save Mart shoppers. … We’ve started this with a Lucky store, but it signals a big change for us as a company and will be felt in Save Marts.”
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327