A foray into the pricey world of organic food has ended badly for Supervalu Inc., the Eden Prairie supermarket giant, which announced that it's closing its Sunflower Market organic and natural food stores.

The five locations, none of them in Minnesota, were to be the first of a national rollout of a smaller organics food store meant to compete in the supermarket niche where Whole Foods and Wild Oats have found customers. All five locations will close the week of Feb. 18.

"While the division did not meet our goals, our learnings from this project are invaluable," Supervalu spokeswoman Haley Meyer said in an e-mail. "And, given our new, national footprint, we now have a much broader canvas to which we can apply those learnings."

Supervalu had opened Sunflower Markets in Chicago, Indianapolis, and three in Columbus, Ohio.

The chain, the first of which opened in Indianapolis in January 2006, billed itself as a cheaper alternative to places like Whole Foods, which has seen some consumer pushback for its high prices.

A 2002 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture said organic items cost 50 to 100 percent more than their conventionally grown cousins.

The Sunflower stores, at 13,000 square feet, were far smaller than a typical Cub Foods, which can run nearly 90,000 square feet. They carried 8,000 to 12,000 items, about one-fourth the volume of a typical supermarket. Supervalu once had hoped to open 50 Sunflower Markets within five years.

The company used its own private label, Nature's Best and Wild Harvest, to stock the shelves at Sunflower Market. Meyer said the company will continue to carry the Wild Harvest label at other Supervalu stores.

Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329