In a little over a year, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market went from relative unknown in the Twin Cities to having locations in Bloomington, Apple Valley, Plymouth, Savage and Vadnais Heights.
The arrival of the Chicago-based company is part of a broader reshaping of the local grocery scene that will continue in 2017 as at least three chains add multiple locations.
“Minnesota continues to be an outstanding market,” Fresh Thyme Chief Executive Chris Sherrell said in an interview. “We’re still hoping for 12 to 15 stores by 2020. Sales are exceeding expectations by double digits at nearly all locations.”
Next year, the company will open a store in Waite Park, Minn., near St. Cloud, on Jan. 25 and in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park on July 26.
It plans a Minneapolis store in Prospect Park near the University of Minnesota in 2018. The St. Louis Park and Prospect Park stores are slated to include liquor stores as well. Currently, only the Vadnais Heights store includes a separate space for wine, beer and spirits sales.
Sherrell said the company is still looking for locations in West St. Paul and Coon Rapids after previous sites fell through. A spot in St. Paul near the former Ford plant is also a possibility.
With its new stores, Fresh Thyme next year will close in on Trader Joe’s, another alternative format grocery chain that has seven locations in the Twin Cities.
Developers continue to struggle to find space to fit the number of supermarket and retail chains looking to expand in the Twin Cities. In 2017, Hy-Vee will open in Savage in the early spring, Cottage Grove in the summer and Shakopee in the fall. Stores in Farmington, Maple Grove (two locations), Columbia Heights and Robbinsdale are expected to open after next year.
Aldi’s expansion plans include a Burnsville store opening in late March, a Roseville store in June, Maplewood in May, plus several more locations to be announced, all opening in 2017, said Matt Lilla, vice president of Aldi’s Faribault division. The additional stores will bring its Twin Cities’ total to nearly 40 locations.
Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are coming to downtown Minneapolis and Woodbury, respectively.
Supermarkets nationwide are expanding their selection or organic and local produce as production increases and prices have become more competitive.
Cub Foods, which opened new stores in Blaine and Oakdale this year, is enlarging the space allotted to organics in new stores. It continues to be the dominant player in the Twin Cities grocery scene with nearly 70 stores, about 20 more than its nearest competitor, Target.
Fresh Thyme is still seeing excellent growth in organics and locally grown items, when they’re in season, Sherrell said.