Twin Cities consumers looking for more supermarket choices are enjoying a feast.
In May, Fresh Thyme opened in Apple Valley and Cub Foods took its turn in Oakdale with a new superstore. Hy-Vee volleyed back in June and July new stores in Lakeville and Brooklyn Park. On Wednesday, Fresh Thyme expanded its Twin Cities presence again with new stores in Savage and Vadnais Heights.
“This makes the seventh grocery store in Savage,” Mayor Janet Williams said before the ribbon-cutting on Tuesday.
Fresh Thyme, a hybrid similar to Trader Joe’s and a co-op, opened its first Twin Cities store in Bloomington last year. The Chicago-based supermarket chain plans to have as many as 12 stores in the Twin Cities by 2020, and it’s already well on its way.
A Plymouth location will open Sept. 14 and construction has begun in St. Louis Park and Coon Rapids. “Sales at our Bloomington store are way ahead of projections,” said Dave Bernier, vice president of operations for Fresh Thyme. “We’re double digits ahead of plan.”
More than 25 percent of Fresh Thyme’s sales come from its produce department, which includes a significant portion of organic goods. The stores get trucks with produce deliveries five days a week, Bernier said. The stores also include juice bars, build-your-own pizzas, a sushi bar, and hot and cold sandwiches from scratch. It is part of a new breed of smaller stores focusing on produce, fresh meat and dairy with less packaged foods.
The chain gets partial financial backing from Meijer, a Michigan-based retailer that has also expressed an interest in the Twin Cities. The chain yanked an application with Lake Elmo in July after residents complained about the large size of the store.
The Vadnais Heights Fresh Thyme, formerly a Festival Foods, includes a liquor store. Plymouth will also include a separate liquor shop. The Savage store used to be a Rainbow. Both appear to be better locations than the one in Bloomington, which is difficult to find at first.
Supermarket analyst David Livingston in Milwaukee said Fresh Thyme’s lightning-speed growth means the company hasn’t always chosen the best locations. “When you grow at a rapid pace, you can’t choose the best locations. You have to take what comes along, even if it’s an old Office Depot,” he said.
Fresh Thyme isn’t the only grocery chain being squeezed by a lack of an appropriate space with so many new stores planned. Aldi, which recently opened a new Cottage Grove store, will open in Apple Valley in the fall and Burnsville in 2017. Two more locations to be announced are in the works, said Matt Lilla, Aldi vice president in the Faribault division.
Hy-Vee will open an Eagan store in late summer, Savage in 2017 and Cottage Grove in summer 2017. More Hy-Vee locations are pending in Shakopee, Robbinsdale, Columbia Heights, Farmington and two in Maple Grove.
Cub is expanding its Burnsville location on County Road 42 and has broken ground for a new store in Blaine.
Fresh Thyme has hired about 100 to 140 employees to work at each store.