Cub Foods fired the latest shot in the battle for Twin Cities grocery dollars Tuesday.
At Cub’s newly opened store in Oakdale, directly across the street from Hy-Vee, shoppers found both the good and the ready: a larger produce selection that includes more organics and an expanded section of grab-and-go foods.
In what is now the largest of its 69 stores in the Twin Cities, the newest Cub also has a sushi bar, indoor-outdoor patio seating, a drive-up pharmacy and beefed-up selections of pet foods, flowers and baby products.
“We don’t take our No. 1 market share for granted,” said Darren Caudill, vice president of merchandise and marketing. “This is a much more competitive market than when I arrived three years ago.”
Although Cub Foods has long been the market leader in the Twin Cities, that share is dwindling. In 2009 when SuperValu-owned Cub had 48 stores, Nielsen reported that Cub had 35 percent of the Twin Cities market. In 2015, when Cub had 68 stores, including some purchased when Rainbow exited the market, its market share had fallen to 24 percent.
“Cub got a lucky break when Rainbow went out of business,” said David Livingston, a supermarket analyst from Milwaukee. “But there are a lot of new concepts now. Time is running out.”
When Hy-Vee opened stores in Oakdale and New Hope in 2015, its chief executive, Randy Edeker, described the Twin Cities as potentially becoming its largest market. The retailer is planning to open as many as three to five stores annually for the next 10 years. New stores in Lakeville, Brooklyn Park, and Eagan will open this summer. Savage, Maple Grove and Cottage Grove have tentative opening dates for next year.
Smaller stores modeled after Trader Joe’s and Aldi are also crowding the market. Fresh Thyme debuted locally in Bloomington. It will open in Apple Valley in May and St. Louis Park later. Lakewinds, Mississippi Market and Seward co-ops have added locations within the past 18 months. Lucky’s, Earth Fare and Meijer have also been poking around the Twin Cities for possible locations.
Consumers are basking in the new options. Elli LeClair of Woodbury patronizes Hy-Vee’s Market Grille restaurant and the deli with half a dozen specialty areas. “We’ve loved coming to Hy-Vee ever since we started shopping here,” she said while shopping at Hy-Vee in Oakdale on Monday.
Whether Cub’s newest store can offer enough to entice customers back remains to be seen. Twin Cities supermarket consultant John Dean said that the former Rainbow store that Cub took over in 2014 “was a tired, old store.” Dean estimates that Cub’s Oakdale store lost as much as 25 percent of its customer base after Hy-Vee opened. “That’s a major loss for anyone,” he said.
In the short run, consumers will shop both stores in Oakdale. Chad Hermanson of Maplewood said he prefers Cub over Hy-Vee, mostly because of lower prices, he said, but he shopped at Hy-Vee on Monday. “This store is tempting,” he said. “It’s difficult to get through Hy-Vee buying just what I came for, especially the meat and prepared food departments.”
Christie Crotty, shopping at the old Cub store in Oakdale that closed Monday night a block away, said she prefers Cub because of lower prices and an easier store layout. “I’m looking forward to a better bakery and meat department at the new Cub,” she said. Still, even Crotty, an Oakdale resident, admits she’s been to Hy-Vee about 20 times since it opened last fall.
Both the new Cub and Hy-Vee stores in Oakdale are open 24 hours, except for their wine and liquor stores.
What Cub shoppers won’t find at the new location is a post office, drive-through grocery pickup, express-medical clinic, Starbucks, dry cleaning service, gas station, and a sit down restaurant, all available across the street at Hy-Vee. Cub also chose not to have employees bag shoppers’ groceries, as Hy-Vee does, because most of its customers prefer to bag their own, Caudill said. Anyone who wants groceries bagged at Cub can simply ask, he said.
Despite what looks like the best of times for Twin Cities consumers, Livingston thinks the number of new retailers joining the fray may be overblown. Meijer may be pulling back on its Twin Cities expansion plans while it sorts out problems in its underperforming Wisconsin stores, he said. Even the fad toward natural and organic might be hitting a wall.
Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s continue to do well, but Fresh Thyme, Fresh Market, Lucky’s and Sprouts are struggling, he said. “It’s become a game of musical chairs. We’ll probably see a few supermarkets exiting the market.”
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633