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Georgia Profile: Foothills A 2015 IGA Finalist, New Store Activity Afoot Across State

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Foothills IGA in Marble Hill is one of just six stores across the country that is a 2015 USA International Retailer of the Year finalist.

Last updated on June 14th, 2024 at 10:31 am

There are thousands of IGA stores around the world, yet one of Georgia’s own is among six stores in the U.S. that is a 2015 IGA USA International Retailer of the Year finalist. Moreover, it’s not the first time the 25,000-s.f. store has been a finalist. Foothills IGA in Marble Hill, owned by Jeff and Sandy Downing, was nominated in 2008, too.

Sandy and Jeff Downing, owners of Foothills IGA.
Sandy and Jeff Downing, owners of Foothills IGA.

“(IGA) has certain criteria that they’ll judge the six stores by,” Jeff Downing told The Shelby Report on Dec. 11, the day before IGA CEO Mark Batenic and IGA SVPs Doug Fritsch and Dave Bennett were to visit his store for judging.

The other finalists are in Washington State, Montana and Ohio.

Foothills IGA opened in 2002 and is managed by Steve Treadaway. The store was expanded in 2008 by approximately 4,000 s.f., adding a pharmacy and enlarging its deli/bakery offering as well as its wine department. The store is supplied by Merchants Distributors Inc. (MDI), headquartered in Hickory, North Carolina. MDI is an IGA licensed distribution company. These companies nominated the candidates for the 2015 IGA USA International Retailer of the Year honor.

Downing said hard work “and just sticking with it and not giving up—having some staying power” has been the secret to his success.

“And surrounding yourself with good people and treating them well, so they treat you well in return,” he added.

Downing said he expected the three IGA USA International Retailer of the Year winners to be announced in mid-December.

“There are certain things that go with winning—I was planning on going to the (IGA Global Rally) anyway but that would be part of it, and they feature those people at their convention, but they also feature the finalists on (The Independent View). One of the six finalists are featured on that daily email that comes out.”

The IGA Global Rally will be held in Orlando in March.

Read more about Foothills IGA in the Independent Grocers feature that will appear in the February edition of The Shelby Report.

Specialty stores find niche, but lots of competition, in Georgia

In addition to independents like Foothills IGA, specialty stores have made moves across Georgia in 2014 and have big plans in 2015.

Sprouts Farmers Market, for example, entered the state in 2014 with four stores in Suwanee-Johns Creek, Lawrenceville-Snellville, Peachtree Corners and Dunwoody. The grocer, which focuses on natural and organic items, plans to open a Cumming store at 530 Lakeland Plaza on Jan. 14. The Georgia stores are the easternmost locations for the Arizona-based grocer.

Another specialty chain, The Fresh Market, is expected to open its 13th Georgia store in the summer. The North Carolina-based company has signed a lease for a new location in Atlanta at the intersection of North Druid Hills and Briarcliff roads in the former Loehmann’s Plaza, which is being redeveloped and renamed Brighten Park.

Fellow North Carolina-based specialty grocer, Earth Fare, which already operates stores in Athens and Martinez/Augusta, will open one of its first Atlanta-area locations at the Collection at Forsyth (previously Avenues Forsyth), according to Tomorrow’s News Today-Atlanta. The store is expected to open in early spring.

Earth Fare also plans to open a Norcross/Peachtree Corners store soon at 5270 Peachtree Parkway in a space that once housed a Bruno’s supermarket.

Phase two of Emory Point on Clifton Road near Emory University also will be home to a new Earth Fare, Tomorrow’s News Today-Atlanta reports. The new store, being built from the ground up, will anchor the project and should open late in the second quarter of 2015.

The news outlet says Parkway Pointe shopping center on Cobb Parkway in Vinings is expected to welcome an Earth Fare as well, reportedly opening on the first floor in a portion of the current Pier 1 Imports and all of the former Old Navy.

Additionally, an Earth Fare reportedly has been proposed for Sandy Springs.

Whole Foods Market, headquartered in Austin, Texas, is expanding in Georgia as well. In addition to its new store in Alpharetta (see box), the grocer opened an Augusta store in September. The chain also reportedly will open, likely in 2016, a store in Kennesaw at the corner of Cobb and Barrett parkways.

Walmart Neighborhood Markets popping up

Meanwhile, a very different retailer is making inroads in the Peach State. Walmart, which currently operates 11 Neighborhood Markets in the state, according to its website, is building two of the smaller, grocery-only concepts in Gainesville, just northeast of Atlanta.

The stores are being built on properties previously occupied by Lanier Plaza and Lanier Commons shopping centers and are scheduled to open in early 2015, according to a press statement released by the city of Gainesville.

“On behalf of the city, I would like to welcome these stores to our community. At 41,000 s.f, these stores on Thompson Bridge Road and Browns Bridge Road will provide almost 200 additional jobs for our community, generate additional tax revenue and stimulate new investment in the surrounding area,” Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said.

Neighbors who live near the Thompson Bridge Road site objected to the development throughout the rezoning process. Although city leaders never revealed publicly that the tenant would be Walmart, residents suspected the store would locate in the former Lanier Plaza. Most opponents objected to the possibility of increased traffic and competition on other stores in the area.

There was no objection to a similar plan at the former Lanier Commons on Browns Bridge Road, which formerly housed a Food Lion store.

The Gainesville stores will be entering an already-saturated grocery climate. The area already boasts two Kroger stores (including the company’s larger Marketplace format that opened in early 2014), two Publix stores, and Ingles and a Food Lion, two J&J Foods stores as well as a Walmart Supercenter.

In the southern portion of the state, a Walmart Neighborhood Market is being built in Brunswick, the first of the stores in southeast Georgia and the first outside the Atlanta area, The Florida-Times Union reports.

The 40,000-s.f. store is under construction in what was formerly a strip shopping center at the intersection of busy Altama Avenue and Community Road and is being built on the site of the city’s original Walmart at 11 Glynn Plaza.

The store is expected to open in mid-January and employ 95-100 people.

Walmart has a single store in Glynn County—a Walmart Supercenter just outside the Brunswick city limits.

A Walmart spokesperson told the Times-Union in 2014 that four Neighborhood Markets are planned for Augusta.

The Brunswick store is near a Winn-Dixie, and there also are Rite-Aid and Walgreens stores at the intersection.

Walmart Neighborhood Markets were designed in 1998 as a smaller-footprint option for communities in need of a pharmacy, affordable fresh groceries and select household merchandise, according to the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer. The company currently operates approximately 350-400 Neighborhood Markets nationwide.

Community Meets Technology at Whole Foods’ New Alpharetta Store

Second Story, part of SapientNitro, in November launched four interactive experiences it created for Whole Foods Market’s new Alpharetta store, which opened Oct. 14 in the Avalon development. The installations, placed in key shopping locations throughout the store, leverage the latest innovations and tools of a responsive environment.

Located across the store’s café, produce, Whole Body and specialty wine and cheese departments, the installations are designed to create a more informative, entertaining and streamlined shopping experience—including connecting shoppers more closely to the farmers who provide the food they eat, and educating them on the sustainable growing practices Whole Foods Market uses to rate farms in its new Responsibly Grown produce ratings program.

“The bar on the retail experience is continually being raised, and today’s always-on shopper demands a more informative and immersive shopping experience, whether they are in a store, on their couch or on the go,” said Donald Chesnut, CEO of SapientNitro. “We used our pioneering approach to blending digital experiences in physical spaces to bring information from outside the store in, empowering shoppers with real-time information that allows them to make better buying decisions and to explore all the store has to offer in an engaging and entertaining way.”

Added Joel Krieger, Second Story’s creative director who led the program, “Every Whole Foods Market is filled with these amazing stories about the foods we eat and the local farmers, ranchers and fishermen who provide them. We designed the installations to connect shoppers to these stories in a new and meaningful way.”

Second Story created the following four interactive experiences:

Farm… Meet Table

To help Whole Foods Market connect its customers more closely to the real people that provide the food they eat, Second Story created this installation in the store’s café. An interactive wall of window panes offers shoppers a glimpse into the lives of the local suppliers. Each window is dedicated to a different local supplier, displaying real-time images from their Instagram feed, allowing customers a peek into authentic moments—such as hands patting down freshly planted herbs or shots of the farmer’s daughter blowing out candles at her birthday party. Additional curated content such as Q&A, maps and video profiles are displayed for each supplier.

Wise Wood

Second Story created “Wise Wood,” a 12-foot tall x 2.5-foot wide wooden tower, to tell the story of Whole Foods Market’s Responsibly Grown produce rating system. Customers—including families and children—can transform a farm landscape by pulling a series of wooden knobs, to learn more about a specific sustainable farming practice that is part of the program. For example, pulling the “Energy Conservation” knob causes a set of wooden windmills to appear out of the ground and start spinning. It’s an innovative demonstration of an “analog interactive” experience that brings stories to life, in an entirely non-digital format. Wise Wood is designed to help shoppers to use play to learn about pesticide and water use, the treatment of farm workers and waste management and other issues surrounding the food they eat, so they can make more informed shopping decisions.

Whole Body Mirror

Whole Body Mirror is designed to help shoppers discover Whole Body products that match specific needs. Customers see their forms reflected in a “magic mirror” as one of three auras: Refresh, Energize, Relieve. They are prompted to align their whole body by mimicking a pose, such as becoming “zen,” flexing one’s muscles or hugging one’s self. Achieving a pose activates a burst of the shopper’s aura and reveals a product within Whole Body related to the pose just completed.

Perfect Pairings

Many shoppers become bewildered by the vast selection of wines, beers and cheeses in the specialty sections of Whole Foods Market. At the junction of these three sections, Second Story created an in-the-round installation of modular stacked crates to help shoppers discover products. On each of the three faces of the installation, there is an exposed open crate  revealing one of three interactive touchscreens:

– “Expand Your Palate” allows shoppers to discover products they might like based on their individual taste preferences. For example, tapping the tile “tastes like dark chocolate” reveals a coffee and wine product recommendation. Tapping the “I like” tile for curry or barbecue ribs reveals a relevant beer pairing for each.

– “Celebrate Your Passion” is an Instagram feed of photos of favorite pairings from the Avalon community using #WFMAvalon.

– “Become a Connoisseur” educates and assists customers by answering questions such as “I’m having a party, how much wine should I buy?” or “How do I make a cheese plate?”

Registration Open for 2015 Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest

From cheeses to chutneys, craft chocolate to chorizo, the 2015 Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest—sponsored by the University of Georgia Center of Agribusiness and Economic Development—will celebrate Georgians’ creativity and craftsmanship by finding the best products in the state. Registration is now open for the 2015 contest.

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Earlier this year, Tim Young, center, received the 2014 Flavor of Georgia grand prize for his Georgia Gold Clothbound Cheddar from Gov. Nathan Deal, left, and Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. (Photo: Merritt Melancon/UGA)

“Flavor of Georgia is a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to gain publicity and exposure for their products,” said Sharon P. Kane, a UGA food business development specialist and the contest’s coordinator. “It’s also a chance for them to network with other food entrepreneurs and industry experts.”

Nearly 90 percent of the finalists in the 2014 Flavor of Georgia Contest reported seeing increased interest in their products following the contest, and many others benefitted from increased sales, profits, publicity and website traffic, according to Kane. Some also indicated an increase in full- and part-time employees. More than 50 percent saw an increase in new contracts within one month of the contest.

A follow-up survey of past finalists, from the 2007-2012 contests, found that they attributed about 11 percent of their business revenue to their participation in Flavor of Georgia.

Finalists and winners will be eligible to participate in a number of high-profile industry showcases throughout 2015, including the Georgia Grown Symposium, the Georgia National Fair and showcase days at the Buford Highway Farmers Market. They also will receive industry feedback and use of the Flavor of Georgia finalist logo for their product’s packaging.

Winners will be featured in the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Georgia Grown magazine, a statewide publicity push, a booth at the Georgia Food Industry Association convention, a spot at the Sherwood Food Distributors annual food show and use of Flavor of Georgia winner logo for their packaging.

Contest finalists will be invited to participate in the final round of judging and a public tasting March 9-10 as part of the Governor’s Agricultural Awareness Day in Atlanta.

Food marketing experts, grocery buyers, chefs and Georgia agricultural experts will judge each product based on flavor, Georgia theme, unique or innovative qualities and commercial appeal.

Registration runs through Jan. 30 and includes commercially available products or market-ready prototypes. Product categories include barbecue sauces; beverages; confections; dairy products; jams and jellies; marinades and sauces; meat and seafood; salsas, chutneys and condiments; snack foods; and miscellaneous products. There is no limit to the number of products an individual can submit.

Visit flavorofga.com or call 706-583-0347 for more information or to register. Registration is $100 per product for entries completed online or $115 each for entries received by mail. Registration prices will increase in the final weeks before the deadline.

Local companies draw attention to state

Georgia is home to many innovative food producers, and two specifically are drawing extra attention to the state with their products.

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Cathy Cunningham Hays is the owner of Geraldine’s Bodacious Foods Co., based in Jasper.

Geradline’s Bodacious Foods Co., maker of Geraldine’s Cheese Straws, will be featured on the Food Network’s “Unwrapped”—likely in January, though a definitive date had not been set at press time in mid-December.

“They’re going to feature how you make the cheese straws and how you make the gluten-free cheese straws,” Geraldine’s owner Cathy Cunningham Hays told The Shelby Report. “They filmed a whole lot of stuff; they spent a whole day in Jasper.”

Cunningham Hays says the broadcast should be one of the premier episodes of “Unwrapped,” following the show’s reintroduction.

“They took the show off air for a while and it now has a new host,” she said.

And while “Unwrapped” may be new, Geraldine’s is not. The company has been around for 20 years and is the No. 1-selling cheese straw in America. The products are available nationwide, with concentration in the Southeast, and are available in major retailers like Kroger, Publix, Food Lion and Ingles. The company currently has nine SKUs.

The cheese straw recipe is Cunningham Hays’ mother’s cheese straw recipe. Her mother’s name, of course, is Geraldine.

The company, which has about 15 employees, recently launched its gluten-free cheese straws, a product Cunningham Hays spent years developing.

“I started really trying to formulate this in 2009, but we didn’t get it in the package until 2012, and we decided to put it in the Geraldine’s brand in 2013,” Cunningham Hays said.

She became interested in the gluten-free segment after she watched her son struggle with his weight as an adolescent and after talking to other concerned mothers.

“We have the only twice-baked potato sticks in the marketplace—under the Geraldine’s brand as well as under a Jackson’s brand,” she said. “They’re the only truly baked, never-fried or puffed potato sticks in the marketplace. We’re getting ready to go great guns on that and just try to sell that under two different brands and see what we can make happen. Jackson is my son, and the Jackson’s brand is more like a potato chip bag and it would go into the snack space and we want to keep Geraldine’s kind of in the higher-end peripheral or deli space.”

Cunningham Hays hopes, with some more hard work, the new gluten-free snacks will become as loved as the original Geraldine’s Cheese Straws.

“One reason I think cheese straws are so popular is because it’s a stand-alone snack,” she said. “You don’t really need to dip it in anything—you can if you want, it goes real good with a lot of different things—but really it’s a pairing of its own. It pairs beautifully with wines and beers and lemonade and good old southern iced tea, sweet tea.”

Plus, she added, laughing, “You shouldn’t have a party without cheese straws. It’s almost against the law in the South.”

Another company shaking up the local market, though much younger than Geraldine’s, is Georgia Grinders.

The Chamblee-based company, owned by Jaime Foster, recently rolled out a line of premium handcrafted Georgia Grinders Peanut Butter. The launch follows the coast-to-coast success of her NaturAlmond’s line of Almond Butters, a business Foster launched in March 2012.

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Jaime Foster’s company, Georgia Grinders, recently launched a line of peanut butters following Foster’s success with her NaturAlmond nut butter products.

“The drought in California has drastically affected the almond crop and the almond crop is basically at an all-time high right now for costs,” Foster told The Shelby Report. “We needed to figure out a way to get through this time period, and it made sense to really start sourcing locally. Georgia’s known as the Peanut Capital of the World and peanuts are dirt cheap compared to almonds. We started researching and realized there’s not a true handcrafted Georgia peanut butter.

“We decided to try to capitalize off of what we’ve done extremely well with in the production of a premium nut butter and test the market with a lower price point, true Georgia-grown, Georgia-produced product,” she said. “And that’s where Georgia Grinders Peanut Butter came from.”

Georgia Grinders Peanut Butters are available in creamy and crunchy versions and began production in December and already have been picked up by regional Whole Foods, Sprouts Farmers Markets and Central Market grocery stores and many gourmet food markets in Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama and Florida. The 12-oz. glass jars ($5.99-$6.99) of Georgia Grinders Peanut Butter will be available on shelves beginning in January.

Georgia Grinders Peanut Butters are made with two ingredients—non-GMO Georgia-grown peanuts and sea salt. The peanuts from South Georgia are hand selected, slow roasted and then ground to a signature texture for the new line.

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Georgia Grinders Peanut Butter comes in Crunchy and Creamy varieties.

Being a Georgia company is important to Foster and her family.

“It’s very important—as we decided to rebrand our company to Georgia Grinders,” she said. “We wanted Georgia to be in it. It’s where we’re from, we’re in business here, we source Georgia peanuts. We keep everything, as far as production, in state. We don’t outsource anything. (Our distributor, Destiny Organics, is in Georgia), the people who print our labels are Georgia based. We purchase sea salt from a girl here in Atlanta who has a sea salt company. We want to see our economy grow and want to keep everything local as much as possible. Obviously with almond butter we can’t because 90 percent of the world’s almonds are grown in California but, when possible, we want to source everything from the state of Georgia.”

This market profile story by Kristen Cloud appears in the January 2015 print edition of The Shelby Report of the Southeast.

About the author

Shelby Team

The Shelby Report delivers complete grocery news and supermarket insights nationwide through the distribution of five monthly regional print and digital editions. Serving the retail food trade since 1967, The Shelby Report is “Region Wise. Nationwide.”

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