Biz Beat

What’s inside Modesto’s new Save Mart store? Get a peek before it opens this week

In this age of online shopping and groceries delivered to your door, what’s a humble supermarket to do to keep up with the times and get shoppers to step inside?

Well, for Modesto-based grocery giant Save Mart, the answers are in its new flagship store built from the ground up on the corner of Oakdale Road and Sylvan Avenue. They include new complimentary services, an in-store restaurant that serves beer and wine, and increased self-serve hot and cold take-home options. The new supermarket opens to the public Wednesday morning.

The Save Mart Companies CEO Nicole Pesco said everything from the merchandise, design and flow of the store was intentional.

“Someone can get almost anything online, so we want to give the a reason to come to the store,” she said. “We took a look at the bigger perspective of what brick-and-mortar (stores) need and we felt like it was important to create an environment that drew people together and gave them ways to interact with the store and each other.”

In an exclusive preview of the new 54,000 square-foot grocery store, its new features and amenities were plentiful and start as soon as you walk into the entrance. Instead seeing the produce section, which is traditionally near the front for many grocers, a Valley Fresh stall greets shoppers instead.

There you’ll find fresh-cut fruit cups, on-the-spot mixed guacamole and salsa, smoothies, agua fresca, infused waters and more. You can also get your fruits and vegetables cut to order, or purchase them pre-cut in bulk at a self-serve bar. So if you loathe the teary task of chopping onions, this is the place for you.

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Custom cuts counter at the new Save Mart supermarket on Oakdale Road in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 27, 2019. The market will open Wednesday October 2. Andy Alfaro

The complimentary produce chopping stand is one of many free services incorporated into the store, designed to offer shoppers something they can’t get without walking inside. They include a meat and seafood grilling station — where the uncooked steak or salmon you plan to purchase is grilled in-store while you shop and ready by checkout time — and a nut roasting or grinding bar.

They are joined with an expansive selection of self-serve cold or warm prepared foods. Sure, there’s a salad bar like in many grocery stores. But the new Save Mart also has an extra-large hot bar. Available items including everything from barbecue chicken to pasta and ceviche can be purchased by weight (the self-serve bar prices generally range from $5.99 to $9.99 per pound). For busy families with a lot of picky eaters, this could be a popular stop on the way home from work.

But, say you aren’t quite ready to shop yet or you skipped lunch? Then right when you walk in, hang a left and stop at The Tipping Point, the grocery store’s new restaurant that specializes in fire-grilled tri-tip — hence the name. You can also get yourself a pint of craft beer or glass of wine to enjoy either in the in-store restaurant or on its large covered patio, a first for the Save Mart chain and all area grocery stores.

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The Tipping Point eatery inside the new Save Mart supermarket on Oakdale Road in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 27, 2019. The market will open Wednesday October 2. Andy Alfaro

Pesco said tri-tip was chosen because of its connection to the Central Valley — a theme they hopes comes through in their product displays and overall merchandise. For example, in the dairy aisle some of the names of area milk producers are listed above the cold cases. And in the bakery you can watch fresh tortillas be made in front of you, or purchase specialty sweets from Escalon-based Rosa’s Bakery, including the Mexican pastry pan dulce.

In the produce section, local fruits and vegetables are again emphasized. Also expect a larger organic selection and more varieties like heirloom tomatoes. The look is also meant to emulate a farm-stand, a frequent theme in the design.

That follows through in the materials used in the store’s look, including wood-grained siding, cinder blocks, corrugated metal and exposed ductwork to pay homage to the valley’s agricultural and manufacturing industries. Even the 45-foot, multipaned entrance window wall is meant to mimic the front of a barn.

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New Save Mart supermarket on Oakdale Road in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 27, 2019. The market will open Wednesday October 2. Andy Alfaro

“This store is a reflection of the Central Valley and inspired by the Central Valley,” said The Save Mart Companies spokeswoman Stacia Hill Levenfeld.

Part of that is also its partnerships, which include working with local 4-H clubs to maintain raised garden beds in the new patio area. The Empire 4-H Garden Club and Kiernan Klovers 4-H Horticulture Club will plant and keep up the beds, and once harvested sell the the produce in front of the store.

The new flagship store will be the testing ground for all new amenities and innovations within the company, and brings together some pilot programs launched at other stores all into one spot. So expect more experimentation to come.

While the aisles are largely set up like a traditional grocery store, you will find a few Easter eggs within including a pour-your-own olive oil and vinegar station. The store also has a fully refrigerated beer cave (unmistakable from the giant neon sign above reading “BEER”). As with other local products throughout the store, the company hopes to highlight local crafts brews front and center, along with more than 500 different kinds of brews.

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Save Mart will offer a way to grind nut butter from a section of nuts at the new supermarket on Oakdale Road in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 27, 2019. The market will open Wednesday October 2. Andy Alfaro

Pesco hopes that mix of specialty grocery store amenities (think a Whole Foods with its bulk sections and prepared dishes) and traditional grocery products (still plenty of Cheerios and Pop-Tarts) will attract new shoppers while retaining those who come just for the essentials.

“One of the things we didn’t want was for it to feel overly stuffy,” Pesco said. “We didn’t want it to seem overly gourmet. People equate that, places like Whole Foods, with being too expensive. We’re still about bringing value.”

Some 135 employees were brought on board to staff the new store, including many from the grocery chain’s nearby location just down the block in the Lakes Shopping Center on Oakdale Road. That 34,000 square-foot store, which has been operating since 1987, will stay open through Tuesday and close at its normal time at midnight. After that that store will be shuttered and shoppers will be able to come to the new store at 6 a.m. starting Wednesday morning.

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Marijke Rowland writes about new business, restaurant and retail developments. She has been with The Modesto Bee since 1997 covering a variety of topics including arts and entertainment. Her Business Beat column runs midweek and Sundays. And it’s pronounced Mar-eye-ke.
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