- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2015

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) - Everyone involved insists the attack of the “killer b’s” in Fairfield is one big coincidence.

Nonetheless, downtown’s b.good and Plan B Burger Bar have now been joined by bfresh, a grocery store that recently opened at 1262 Post Road and will celebrate its grand opening on Friday.

Each “b-store” offers some variation of “real food,” promising customers good-tasting offerings made with natural ingredients whose origins can be traced.

At b.good, the website says the restaurant wants to “make fast-food ‘real’ by making it the way it should be . by people, not factories.” Plan B says its beef is freshly ground in house, twice daily, and has no added antibiotics or hormones.

And bfresh, which offers prepared food as well as organics and grocery staples, says it’s “for foodies who have fresh, healthy food top of mind.”

Despite the similarities in name and mission, the businesses are not related, with b.good based in Boston with locations in Greenwich and throughout the Northeast, and Plan B based in Hartford with locations in Milford and Stamford, plus others south to Virginia.

The newest entrant is bfresh, which doesn’t share the home-grown origins of the other two. Operated by Fresh Formats, the company is owned by Netherlands-based Ahold, the retail giant that also owns Stop & Shop. With only one other location, in Boston, bfresh officials say there are no immediate plans for further expansion.

Though they share an owner, officials with bfresh insist it is a wholly separate company from Stop & Shop. The new 8,600-square-foot bfresh, which shares a building with Plan B, will nonetheless compete to some degree with the gigantic-by-comparison Super Stop & Shop less than a mile away at 1160 Kings Highway Cut-off.

There’s another Super Stop & Shop not far away at 760 Villa Ave. in Fairfield, plus others in Bridgeport and Westport within a few minutes’ drive.

“It’s a completely different format and offering,” said bfresh spokeswoman Suzi Robinson. “We have an exponentially higher percentage of organic and specialty products.”

The store also specializes in prepared foods, offering salads, pizza, sandwiches and more, all made from scratch on the premises. “Our prepared-food offering really is quite different from what other stores can offer,” Robinson said.

But beyond the specialty and organic items, it’s also a grocery store featuring recognizable brands like Pop-Tarts and Cocoa Puffs.

“There are many people who like certain brands, and at the same time are looking for other specialty options, as well,” Robinson said. “We’re bringing that assortment in together.”

The trend of large-format stores branching into smaller, more urban-friendly variations is not limited to Ahold.

Target had opened a variety of CityTarget and TargetExpress stores, but is now branding the smaller-sized stores in cities simply Target. Walmart has also explored reduced-scale stores in dense neighborhoods, while Trader Joe’s and Aldi have thrived with floor plans far smaller than the typical suburban mega-grocery store.

“There are convenience factors,” Robinson said. “People think, ‘Do I have to go into a huge place that will take me 10 minutes to get across?’”

She said bfresh is expecting a mix of walkers and drivers at the new store, adding that employees from nearby businesses are already regular customers.

Though Fairfield doesn’t have a large downtown population, the neighborhood’s proximity to residential areas could boost traffic for this type of store, said Mark Barnhart, the town’s director of economic development.

“We have residential neighborhoods that back right up to the commercial center,” he said. “It’s not like in Stamford where there are high-rises, but there are a number of people living in the area.”

Commuters are another factor, he said. “It’s in close proximity to one of the busier train stations on the New Haven Line, and there are a lot of office users, as well. Between the three of those, you hope there’s enough people to go around for everyone,” he said.

The new store may share some customers with Stop & Shop, but the more likely competition comes from other downtown stores that also appeal to the food-conscious demographic, which is well represented in Fairfield.

Mrs. Green’s Natural Market, at 1916 Post Road, based in Irvington, N.Y., sells organic produce and has locations in New Canaan, Stamford and around New York and New Jersey. The Pantry, at 1580 Post Road and also in the heart of downtown, combines an upscale market with a deli, salad bar and bakery, with selections of prepared food throughout the store.

“Clearly this might be aimed at similar market segment, because there are some similar products,” said Barnhart, calling The Pantry “an institution here.”

“Hopefully they’re distinctive enough, but that’s the nature of the industry,” he said. “There’s always going to be competition. And from a consumer standpoint, it’s always good to have options.”

Customers at bfresh said they’re happy to give the store a try.

“It’s an interesting mix of organic and nonorganic foods,” said Jen Gorin, of Westport, who added she was worried the store could put Mrs. Green’s out of business.

“The prepared food could set them apart,” she said.

Maureen Valus, of Fairfield, said she liked the variety offered by bfresh. “Some of the other stores only offer their own brands,” she said. “I really like the mix.”

The store’s prices are balanced out by other factors, she said.

“I don’t know about the prices, but it’s definitely not prohibitive,” Valus said. “It’s worth it for the convenience. It’s a great location.”

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Information from: Connecticut Post, https://www.connpost.com


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