by Lorrie Griffith/editor–Southeast
Central Florida is in the midst of a housing crisis created by Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico last September. According to the Orlando Sentinel’s 2018 Central Florida Business Forecast, released in January, 50,000 or more Puerto Ricans are believed to have moved to Florida since the storm, many of them now in the Orlando area. “And thousands more are expected to continue coming here,” the paper said. “They are finding a strong job market and the strongest economy since the Great Recession. But they’re also finding a severe shortage of affordable housing–or any housing really.”
The Sentinel said employers are benefiting from the fresh supply of employees, and Sean Snaith, economist at the University of Central Florida, told the paper, “I think our labor market is in pretty good shape to absorb this growth. The momentum in Central Florida is significant, and we have billions of dollars of infrastructure projects under way on (Interstate) 4, in Lake Nona, on International Drive, and elsewhere.”
The forecast also noted that Central Florida may continue to gain population as some living on the South Florida coast become wary of weathering potential future storms and head north.
Other trends include a population shift to downtown areas and continued attrition for big-box stores, “reflecting a national trend toward e-commerce and experiential shopping,” the Sentinel said. “Already in 2018, Sam’s Club in Fern Park is closing, resulting in 173 layoffs, along with dozens of other Sam’s Clubs, even as parent company Walmart announced raises for employees.”
One of the biggest development projects in the area is Amazon’s 2.4 million-s.f. warehouse that is expected to open by the end of this year. It is located south of Orlando International Airport.
Development strong among grocers
The Sentinel noted that “a group of new specialty grocers will enter Central Florida in 2018, one of the few types of retailers still growing with the incursion from online.”
Lucky’s Market, in which The Kroger Co. is an investor, is expected to open four new stores; Earth Fare will open its first store in Central Florida, south of downtown Orlando; and Arizona-based Sprouts will open a new store in Winter Park.
The first of the new stores in Central Florida, according to the Sentinel, is slated to open this spring in Clermont at 1720 E. Highway 50; others are planned for south downtown Orlando; Town Center Boulevard in Kissimmee; and University Boulevard in Winter Park. In early February the paper reported that another is planned for East Colonia Drive, across from Orlando Fashion Square. Located in a former Sports Authority store, it is expected to open this fall. It will be the sixth Lucky’s in the market. The Colorado-based grocer opened its first store in the area in June 2016.
Another specialty grocer, Asheville, North Carolina-based Earth Fare, opened its eighth store in Florida in January in Central Florida, in the Lakewood Ranch area.
To hear what Lakewood Ranch shoppers wanted out of the new store, Earth Fare connected with a wide range of community members through its Community Advisory Board. The board comprises local health and wellness experts as well as residents and community leaders. They help tailor the retailer’s approach to the in-store experience, ensuring the store’s offerings meet the needs of the local community.
“We could not be more thrilled to now offer Lakewood Ranch residents a place to shop for all their families’ grocery needs, knowing their carts are full of only the healthiest, tastiest foods,” said Frank Scorpiniti, president and CEO of Earth Fare. “We are thankful to our local vendors and Community Advisory Board for helping Earth Fare build the best healthy offering, specific to the Lakewood Ranch area.”
Whole Foods Market opened a new store in Sarasota in January, a 40,000-s.f. store located at 5298 University Parkway. It is the second Whole Foods in the Sarasota area and the 28th in the state of Florida.
On March 9, Publix Super Markets announced that it would open one of its GreenWise Market stores near its corporate headquarters in the Central Florida city of Lakeland. The store will be located on South Florida Avenue, just north of the intersection at Lake Miriam Drive and West Pipkin Road and across the street from Lake Miriam Plaza.
The Lakeland store will be approximately 25,000 s.f.; a projected opening date has not yet been determined.
“Our new GreenWise Market concept celebrates specialty, natural and organic foods, and we think foodies and health-conscious customers alike will love what the store will offer,” said Kevin Murphy, Publix SVP of retail operations. “We’re especially excited to announce a location in our hometown.”
Publix revealed that it would redesign the GreenWise concept last year, with the first two stores to be in North Florida (Tallahassee) and South Carolina (Mount Pleasant). The Tallahassee store is expected to open in late September this year, followed by the Mount Pleasant store in early 2019.
The chain says it continues to “look for additional GreenWise Market locations throughout its operating area,” which also includes Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.
A report earlier this year in the Orlando Sentinel said that Publix is planning a store that will focus on delivery. The store in Longwood reportedly would be a smaller-than-normal Publix at 30,000 s.f. and feature a distinct pickup area for delivery services.
Southeastern Grocers (SEG), which recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, last November added its Harveys Supermarkets banner to the competitive mix in west central Florida. The company opened two stores in Lakeland (2630 U.S. Highway 92 and 1305 Ariana Street West) and Tampa (7851 Palm River Road) on Nov. 8. These stores, as well as five new Fresco y Mas Hispanic banner stores that opened in South Florida, formerly were Winn-Dixie banner stores.
Anthony Hucker, president and CEO of Jacksonville-based SEG, said, “The unprecedented success we have witnessed over the past year at our Fresco y Más and Harveys Supermarket banners is a clear indicator that we are providing localized shopping experiences that resonate with our customers. Rather than relying on one store model, we are entrenching ourselves in the communities we serve to better understand each unique landscape, and our customers’ shopping habits.”
The Harveys stores focus on offering shoppers “significant value and great prices every day.”
The three West Florida stores gave the Harveys banner 80 stores in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, the most stores the chain, which was founded in 1924 in Nashville, Georgia, has ever operated.
Hard discounter Aldi also has been growing in the Tampa area. Last August the grocer held hiring events for stores in Bradenton, Brandon, Clearwater, Holiday, Largo, Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg and Winter Haven. According to Aldi’s website, it has 80 stores in Florida that are serviced out of its Haines City warehouse (36 stores in South Florida are supplied out of its Royal Palm Beach warehouse).
Another alternative food retailer, Bulk Nation, has eight stores open in Central Florida, with locations in Lakeland and St. Cloud “coming soon,” according to the website. (A North Florida store, in Lake City, also has opened.)
Founder Clay Donato opened the first Bulk Nation store in Brandon in 2014, believing there was space in the market for a “specialty bulk food grocer that offered an extensive selection of quality products at great value.”
The stores offer more than 3,000 specialty bulk food items such as dried fruits, nuts, flours and spices, coffees, teas, ancient grains, local raw honey, candies, vegan, non-GMO and organic products.
“Variety, quality and the ability to buy as little or as much as you want makes Bulk Nation stand apart from other grocery retailers,” the company says.