- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Food Lion LLC plans to covert nearly all of its Washington-area stores to its new, upscale Bloom brand this year.

Forty Food Lion stores in Northern Virginia and Gaithersburg will be upgraded to Bloom, which emphasizes produce, dairy, fish and meats, and groups everyday items such as milk and bread in the front of the store.

“We have studied the demographics of the market [in Washington],” spokeswoman Karen Peterson said. “This particular grocery store … certainly meets the needs of the shoppers in this area.” Bloom stores offer “all-around convenience and superior quality.”

The stores will have wider aisles and hand-held scanners for customers to scan their groceries as they place them in the cart, reducing time at the check-out counter. Monitors throughout the store will allow customers to type in the product they plan to buy and receive recipe ideas. Each store will have a table near the front with ready-made dinners, including pizzas, sandwiches, sushi and rotisserie chickens.

The price range is similar to that of Food Lion, Ms. Peterson said.

The average local household has an annual income of between $46,000 and $88,000. Combined, area residents spend about $8.5 billion in grocery stores, making Washington a popular target of upscale chains such as Harris Teeter and Whole Foods. Basic Food Lion stores can’t always compete.

“With some of their stores closer to the Beltway, I think they have maybe not performed as well as some stores in other marketing areas,” said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food World, a regional trade magazine based in Columbia, Md. “It’s more upscale than the stripped-down Food Lion.”

The Bloom store is an opportunity to separate from the “vanilla, original model of Food Lion,” Mr. Metzger said. “It’s got a little of Whole Foods in it, but it’s not organic. It’s got a little of Balducci’s, but it’s not gourmet.”

Ms. Peterson said the brand switch is not a result of a problem with Food Lion.

“We’re still renovating a number of Food Lion stores [in Washington] as well,” she said. “We looked at demographics to determine which stores we were going to remodel or renovate and which locations would best fit a Bloom or Bottom Dollar, another one of our brands, and which ones remain a Food Lion.”

The grocery industry is trying to recover from the rise of Wal-Mart, which has been so successful drawing price-conscious consumers that it has forced supermarkets to offer upscale alternatives to survive.

“The trend in the United States is toward more of these upscale markets,” said George Whalin, president and chief executive officer of Retail Management Consultants, a San Marcos, Calif., retail consulting company, pointing to Safeway’s renovations in its organic-driven, brighter “Lifestyle” format and the success of Whole Foods. “This move is toward upscale-looking, more refined selling with a little bit of quality to upscale markets.”

Mr. Whalin said Wal-Mart’s success has squeezed supermarkets out of the low-price market.

“The traditional supermarket model is broken,” he said. “It’s why stores like Bloom and Lifestyle stores and companies like Whole Foods are making traditional supermarkets rethink how they do businesses.”

The Washington stores turning over to Bloom this spring will not be closed during construction, which is expected to be completed in late fall.

Food Lion opened five Bloom stores in a Charlotte, N.C., test program in 2004. It is constructing seven Blooms in Greenville, S.C.

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