by Howard Riell/contributor
The outlook for the South Florida market is bright, despite the pounding it took from Hurricane Irma last year, as the retail food trade is opening stores and tailoring offerings to a demographically evolving audience.
Wells Fargo Securities noted that Florida continues to diversify its economy away from its historic dependence on tourism and retirees. “Professional and technical services consistently rank among the state’s fastest growing employment categories, driven by hiring in information technology, software and life sciences. Some of the strongest growth in these industries is coming from just outside the state’s major tourist centers in Orlando and South Florida.”
University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith has forecast that while Florida’s economy is projected to expand at an average annual rate of 2.9 percent through 2019 to $1.074 trillion—making it the 16th-largest in the world, according to rankings by the World Bank—though he noted that South Florida, especially Miami, “already is being hurt by global woes in Brazil.”
Camille Douglas, senior managing director for acquisitions and capital markets for the LeFrak Organization, recently told news site Bisnow.com that she predicted that the residential real estate market in South Florida will be strong due to sustained economic growth in the U.S., “as well as further regional gains in population, due to the relative competitiveness of Florida in the wake of federal tax reform and the increasing attractiveness of Miami as a world-class city.”
That said, the outlook for South Florida remains bright, as retailers continue to express, through word and deed, a bullish attitude on the South Florida market.
“I can tell you that business for Trader Joe’s in the area is great,” said Kenya Friend-Daniel, national director of public relations for Trader Joe’s. “We are committed to providing customers with great and unique products at amazing prices. We want customers to want to shop with us. This has always been our commitment and desire, and it will be so this year and every year after that.”
Several recent moves serve to underscore that optimism. For example:
- In November, Southeastern Grocers LLC, parent company of the Fresco y Más, Harveys and Winn-Dixie grocery stores and the fifth largest conventional supermarket group in the U.S., announced the continued expansion of its Fresco y Más and Harveys Supermarket banners, with eight new stores throughout Florida. Among them are five new Fresco y Más stores in South Florida. As the company’s newest banner, Fresco y Más caters to an ever-growing Hispanic population with the addition of amenities such as a full-service Latin Butcher, authentic prepared foods and Latin-style cafe.
- On Jan. 10 this year, Whole Foods Market opened its newest natural and organic community market in the Dadeland neighborhood of Miami. The store boasts, among other things, El Bocadillo Café and Bar, an in-store American gastropub inspired by the cultural flavors of Miami. In keeping with the company’s commitment to supporting the communities they serve, Whole Foods Market Dadeland donated 1 percent of the store’s net sales to community non-profit organizations, including the South Florida National Parks Trust.
‘Steady, overall good’
Business for the retail food trade in South Florida in 2017 “remained steady and, overall, good,” according to Josie Legido-Correa, executive director of the Florida Grocers Association, a division of the Florida Retail Federation (FRF). “With overall consumer confidence up, I think we saw that translate to our food retailers as well.”
In addition, this past year’s busy hurricane season provided an influx of more goods sold during the end of the third quarter. The distribution of Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (D-SNAP) in South Florida also helped many stores to make up for lost business during the hurricanes.
“Aid of this type generally has a three times multiplier effect on local economies,” Legido-Correa explained. “In Broward alone, there were an estimated 270,000 eligible households for the D-SNAP program. In Palm Beach, there were another 200,000 applicants.”
Another factor that helped increase sales was the approval of the sale of hot foods with SNAP benefits for two and a half months after the hurricane. There also were smaller independent stores that were down for several days and some for weeks without electricity, which created problems and negatively impacted their sales volume for the year.
Market has been welcoming to Aldi
“We’ve had a terrific response from the South Florida community this past year,” said Chris Hewitt, Royal Palm Beach Division VP for Aldi. “In fact, we live and work alongside our customers and hear their positive feedback and love for Aldi firsthand. From organic produce and antibiotic-free meats, to our award-winning wine and cheese, more than 40 million customers across the country every month trust our handpicked products and curated selection to deliver what they want and need.”
Aldi currently operates 40 store locations in South Florida, and continues to grow its local footprint in the state. This year, the chain has eight new store openings planned in South Florida.
“We’ll also be celebrating over 15 store remodels in the area, including locations from Miami to the Treasure Coast,” Hewitt noted.
Earlier this year, the company hosted a statewide hiring event to fill more than 400 positions across Florida.
Looking ahead, Hewitt said, “we’re excited to bring the Aldi difference to 100 million customers a month, including many in South Florida, by the end of 2022.”
Filling a void
Demographic shifts also are affecting business in the region. One of the changes seen last year in South Florida was the conversion of many Winn-Dixie stores in South Florida into the Hispanic-centric brand, Fresco y Mas, which reinforced the significant impact that Hispanics have on the South Florida community. One of the major influxes over the last year has been people from Venezuela who now are calling Miami-Dade and Broward counties home.
“Although this has slowed down over the last year, it certainly doesn’t seem like the Venezuelans are leaving any time soon,” said Legido-Correa. “The South Florida market, especially the greater Miami area, is unique in that smaller independent grocers can remain competitive due to the fact that they are very good at entering under-served communities where the demographics are very ethnic and may not be suited for larger stores.”
Some of the main challenges in the months to come will be remaining competitive in the area with so many new stores opening and alternative discount formats like Aldi arriving, Legido-Correa suggested.
“Traditional stores will need to diversify what they do inside their stores to keep their customers engaged and coming back multiple times in a week.”