by Treva Bennett/staff writer
The North Florida economy is strong and getting stronger, as the Sunshine State continues to grow in population, job opportunities and tourism.
Jacksonville.com, citing an “Elevate Northeast Florida” report, recently said the Jacksonville area could become the “highest performing economy in the country” over the next five years. The report recommended focusing on the area’s waterways as an attraction for residents and tourists, giving more support to the health/biomedical industry, the financial services industry, advanced manufacturing, and transportation and logistics.
North Central Florida offers a vast amount of undeveloped and affordable land, along with an abundance of “excellent and accessible transportation infrastructure,” according to the North Florida Economic Development Partnership.
The town of Greenville is receiving $1.7 million from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, and part of those funds will be used to construct a publicly-owned building to be leased as the only grocery store in town, according to a report from Green Publishing Inc. Clover Farm, a grocery store in nearby Madison, Florida, will lease the property, according to the report.
And economic development in Northwest Florida is on the rise, too, according to a report from WKRG News 5, with people moving into the areas in and around Pensacola to Fort Walton Beach. Florida’s Great Northwest website reports that unprecedented financial resources are available in the area, with a $1.5 billion Triumph Fund dedicated to Northwest Florida and $85 million from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund awarded for economic growth and diversification.
According to University of Central Florida Economist Sean Snaith in the “Florida & Metro Forecast” from the UCF Institute for Economic Competitiveness, Florida’s economy is expected to outperform the national forecast for four straight years, driven by “a strong, post-recession job market recovery, continued salary growth and increased retail spending.”
Lorena Holley, general counsel and VP of the Tallahassee-based Florida Retail Federation (FRF) and staff liaison for grocery members, agrees that the state’s economy is very strong.
“We’re currently the third largest state with a continually increasing population,” she said. “We have a 10-year low unemployment rate, which means more residents have jobs and more money to spend. We have higher consumer confidence and 120 million tourists who play a significant role in Florida’s retail success.”
Holley said in spite of grocery store openings being down 29 percent nationwide, Florida has more grocery stores now than ever before and it continues to be a “booming market” for grocers.
“We have observed some larger grocers spending millions to renovate older stores while also opening new, smaller boutique-type stores (around 30,000-45,000 s.f. as opposed to 70,000-80,000 s.f.) on or near college campuses, targeting younger customers with more organic and local products, combined with ready-to-eat products and bar selections,” Holley said. “The ready-to-eat or take-home meals are a rapidly growing segment for professionals and families as people’s lives get busier and the food offerings get better.”
She said the industry is responding to customer demand for online orders, home delivery and curbside pickup. Consumers also are requesting fresh items at an affordable price, and retailers are listening.
In the state legislature, which adjourned May 3, the FRF reported there were many successes and “great momentum” was built for 2020. According to a May 6 update from Grace Lovett, VP of government affairs for FRF, a continuing push to raise Florida’s felony threshold for retail theft resulted in a compromise. The felony threshold was increased from $300 to $750. The original proposal was $1,500.
Holley said there is a growing trend among local governments attempting to ban or regulate single-use plastic bags and polystyrene, despite a state pre-emption.
“There is also a growing trend of banning straws, for which there is no pre-emption and is problematic for our members to comply with and can be confusing for consumers,” Holley said.
Lovett reported the legislature passed a four-year moratorium on these type of bans with a study conducted by the Office of Program Policy and Government Analysis.
Another bill Holley mentioned “provides that local governments may not enact legislation on any subject that has been expressly pre-empted to state and provides for the award of attorney fees and costs in successful legal challenges to local legislation that has been pre-empted to state.”
FRF initiated the legislation, which was passed. The law will go into effect July 1 and “FRF believes it will have a chilling effect on local governments that pass ordinances to make a statement or for political purposes,” Lovett stated.
Other highlights of the legislative session include:
• The designation of sales tax holidays. A five-day back-to-school sales tax holiday is scheduled for August, and a seven-day disaster preparedness sales tax holiday in June.
• A bill promoting “e-fairness” died this session. The bill would see that marketplace providers are subject to dealer requirements for the registration, collection and remittance of sales taxes. “FRF initiated this legislation and enthusiastically supported this legislation,” Lovett wrote. FRF already is beginning to discuss its strategy to get the bill passed in the 2020 legislative session.
• A bill concerning beverage container deposits died. It would have established a refund value for specified beverage containers; requiring dealers and consumers to pay a deposit fee for specified beverage containers; and prohibiting the establishment of a redemption center unless it is registered with the Department of Environmental Protection. FRF opposed this bill.
Grocers find Florida friendly
Several well-known grocers are taking advantage of the state’s robust economy, either by opening new stores or remodeling existing ones in North Florida.
With its corporate headquarters in Lakeland, Publix continues to expand in its home state. Two new GreenWise Markets were announced in February for Florida, including one in Nocatee (Ponte Vedra Beach) near Jacksonville.
GreenWise Market focuses on the specialty, natural and organic product categories.
“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, in a press release.
The company’s first GreenWise Market opened in Tallahassee in October 2018.
Colorado-based Lucky’s Market has definitely found luck in the Sunshine State, operating 18 stores in Florida.
In North Florida, Lucky’s will open a new store May 22 at Oakleaf Station in southwest Jacksonville, at 8380 Merchants Way. The new store, at 30,000 s.f., will bring a wider selection of affordable organic, local, specialty and gluten-free items to the surrounding community.
It also will feature a full apothecary department, with a bulk DIY wall where customers can buy what they need to make their own teas, salves, tinctures, healing elixirs and more, the Boulder, Colorad-based grocer says. In addition to local soaps, candles and salt lamps, natural remedies and mainstream medicines for common ailments will be available.
Lucky’s concept of “healthy eating, healthy lifestyles and good food at great prices” is appreciated by Floridians, according to Lucky’s Market Communications Manager Krista Torvik.
“We couldn’t be more excited to bring more stores to Florida,” she said. “We have plans to continue to expand all across the state and be the new one-stop shop.”
Lucky’s also offers same-day delivery through its Lucky’s Market Delivers program, often as soon as an hour.
Lucky’s Market is always working on ways to reduce its carbon footprint as a whole. In an effort to be more energy efficient, stores feature LED lighting, heat reclaiming instruments, remote refrigeration systems controls, reflective roofs, and energy efficient equipment and appliances. Food waste diversion and mixed recycling programs are also prioritized in all stores.
Aldi also has found the Sunshine State to be very welcoming, with 129 store locations and plans to add and remodel more in 2019.
Last year, Aldi opened 14 new stores and remodeled 31 stores in the state, including its first store in Orange Park, at 661 Blanding Boulevard. In 2019, Aldi plans to open 17 new stores and remodel 27 in Florida.
According to a company spokesperson, Aldi is investing more than $115 million to remodel 83 stores throughout the state. This extensive project began in 2016 and is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2020. Remodeled Aldi stores have a layout that focuses on fresh food, produce, dairy and baked goods, the spokesperson said. The updated design also features open ceilings, natural lighting, environmentally friendly building materials and additional refrigeration space.
Aldi offers online grocery delivery via Instacart in certain locations. In Florida, Instacart is available in 430 zip codes. The spokesperson said Aldi’s goal is to have online delivery capabilities available at every store.
Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, Sprouts Farmers Market Inc. has been busy in Florida, opening stores in 2018 and planning to open more in 2019 and 2020.
A new Sprouts Farmers Market is scheduled to open in the second quarter of this year at 4873 Town Center Parkway in Jacksonville.
The Jacksonville store will feature Sprouts’ newest operational and design enhancements that highlight department destinations and promote customer engagement throughout the store. The design, which maintains center-store focus on produce, debuted last year in five locations.
“Since entering the Florida market just two years ago, residents across the state continue to ask for a Sprouts location in their neighborhood,” said Terry Gibbons, VP of real estate for Sprouts.
Each new store brings approximately 140 new jobs to the local community.
Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods has plans to open a new store in Jacksonville Beach.
According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, the new store will be located at Regency Centers’ Pablo Plaza shopping center, across A1A from Huguenot Park. This will be the second Jacksonville location for Whole Foods.
Following a nearly $200 million investment in Florida last year, Walmart is continuing to build and remodel stores in the state in 2019.
Walmart expects to spend an estimated $173 million this year in Florida through the opening and remodeling of 34 stores, as well as the launch and continued expansion of several customer-focused innovations.
“Our leadership has a fantastic vision for how we need to evolve and adopt to further position us as a leader in retail innovation, and I’m proud of the work our associates are doing to stay at the forefront of that change,” said Elise Vasquez-Warner, a VP and regional GM for Walmart in Florida. “If you consider that almost every innovation being tested in the company right now is happening in our state, you can see why Florida is such an important area geographically for the business. We’re certainly building off strong momentum from last year to serve our Florida customers in new and exciting ways and help our associates work smarter, easier and faster.”
In North Florida, Walmart is remodeling supercenters: in Crestview, Destin, Gulf Breeze, Jacksonville, Marianna, Panama City Beach, Pensacola (two locations) and Tallahassee.
Customer-focused innovations Walmart plans to expand this year in Florida include:
• Grocery pickup option: Plans include expanding the program to more than 72 additional stores across the state by the end of the year. The company also recently introduced Walmart Voice Order, which allows customers to simply say, “Hey Google, talk to Walmart” and the Google Assistant will add items directly to their Walmart Grocery cart;
• Grocery delivery: Plans call for adding the service to 63 stores, increasing its coverage in the state;
• Pickup towers: These towers are 16-ft. tall, high-tech vending machines capable of fulfilling a customer’s online order in less than a minute once they arrive at the store. This year, Walmart plans to add 36 towers to stores across Florida;
• Autonomous shelf scanner: Scanners use automation to scan shelves and help identify where in-stock levels are low, prices are wrong or labels are missing. The company plans to expand the technology this year to 32 additional stores across the state;
• FAST unloader: A new system in Walmart backrooms, known as FAST, automatically scans and sorts items that come off trucks based on priority and department, allowing associates to spend more time on the sales floor with customers. This year, Walmart plans to expand the technology to 88 stores across Florida;
• Autonomous floor scrubber: This uses assisted autonomy technology to perform the task of cleaning and scrubbing concrete floors in stores. This technology will be expanded to 112 stores across the state this year.