Festival Foods has been on a bit of a store-opening spree this past month, opening new stores, Nos. 32 and 33, respectively, in Verona and Milwaukee, Wis., its first in the metropolitan area. Winsight Grocery Business had the opportunity to tour the 67,000-square-foot Verona store, which the De Pere, Wis.-based independent retailer opened on Oct. 1
The Verona store is the second in the Madison area, but the one located in downtown Madison is a metro store, notes Verona Store Director Jeff Brasel. “The offerings we have here and the offerings they have there are not all the same,” he said.
A unique element to the Verona store is that it brought the deli to the front of the store, which makes it easier for customers to grab and go, Brasel said. The department has a separate register, so customers do not have to go through the front-end checkouts if they don’t want to. The department also has a dine-in seating area for more than 30 people, and it is home to the American Heroes Cafe on Friday mornings, where coffee and doughnuts are available for veterans who come in to socialize.
Because the store is still very new, product selection in the deli is still being decided by the department's team of about 35 employees (ideal staffing will be about 40 people). Prime rib on the weekends, however, has proven to be a hit, along with turkey and beef dinners, Brasel said. The $5 and $6 dinners the chain is known for also are popular with the store’s diverse clientele that is a mix of older customers getting meals for one and families that are looking for something easy to put on the table for dinner.
The natural/organic food section ties in with the organic produce selection, making it an easy one-stop shop for customers. “All of that does really nice in this area, just to tie it all in together. Our distribution in natural/organic is pretty high,” Brasel says. “The organic section tied in with the produce has really been a win-win for us.”
As with most Festival Foods stores, the Verona location bakes from scratch on-site. The staff of about 20 begins about midnight frying the doughnuts. Bread is also baked overnight. “We pride ourselves on the majority of the items here being scratch bakery items,” Brasel said. “All of the cookies, the artisan bread, all of our buns, they’re all made right here.”
Brasel notes that the store has a very talented cake decorating team, decorating cakes that are made fresh in-store. “We really just go through and make sure that we do what’s right for the guest,” Brasel said. “All those little personal touches for the guest, because if you don’t pay attention to the details, it’s the little things that make the difference.”
The extensive produce department is in the back corner of the store and carries about 100 different organic items in addition to the 550 traditional items that are available seasonally. Items are sourced as close to the store as possible, Brasel said. “Not everything can be grown in Wisconsin, so we have to understand that,” he added. “We’re going to get however close we can get, but it’s really local within the Midwest.”
For the seafood department, the store purchases only sustainably sourced products. “If they don't meet the standards, we're not using them,” Brasel said. The fish is available in the case within 36 hours of being caught, no matter where it is coming from, and is always sold fresh, never frozen.
The meat department, which has three butchers on staff cutting meat on-site, also offers a variety of items seasoned and prepared in-house. “Spoon Roast, Ribs on a Stick, Dad's Chicken Breast, those are all marinated here,” Brasel said. The department offers a lot of grass-fed beef and all natural products to meet consumer demand that is mostly sourced within the Midwest. While the store offers Select, Choice and Prime cuts, the majority of products sold are Choice and Prime and is typically carried around the holidays. “It depends on the market,” he said. “When I worked in Green Bay, we sold Prime every day. But here, it’s baby steps. It’s understanding the market. You just want to bring it in and then throw it out. So it’s understanding what people are looking for.”
The Verona store is designed to be as energy efficient as possible with most of the dairy cases featuring doors and all of the lighting using LED. “When you have guests talking about a warm, inviting feel, they want that,” Brasel said. “People buy with their eyes, so if it’s not bright, if it’s not neat, if it’s not ready, they’re going to walk right on by. So lighting is one of those things that really makes a difference in the store. We have skylights in our stores as much as we can.”
At 67,119 square feet, the new Verona store comes in at the middle range for Festival Foods, which has stores as small as 50,000 square feet and as large as 80,000 square feet. “We can't be everything to everyone, but it's one of those that we can be something to someone,” Brasel said. The store has nine regular registers and eight self-checkout lanes, allowing customers to make their own choice. Brasel said at the store in Madison, customers typically choose the self-checkouts while in Verona, so far, customers are choosing the regular checkout lanes.
Open just over a month, the store has about 210 of the total 230 employees that are needed, and Brasel noted that he’s not looking to hire just anyone. “They have to have a personality, they have to have communication skills, they have to be able to talk to the guests,” he said. “They have to smile. It’s not necessarily the experience they have; it’s what they can do with the guests. I can train them how to bake. I can train them how to do produce. I can train them on deli. I can’t train them to smile. I can’t train them to have some of the other stuff. We would rather be really selective than just hire for the sake hiring.”