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Market Profile: Leevers Supermarkets Embraces Hyper-Local Focus, New Format

by John McCurry, contributing writer

Leevers Supermarkets, headquartered in the Denver suburb of Franktown, traces its roots to 1938 in North Dakota. Today, the company operates 18 stores along Colorado’s Front Range between Fort Collins and Pueblo. Most of the stores are under the Save-A-Lot banner. 

In addition, the company operates El Mercado de Colorado, also known as Colorado Ranch Market. Its latest venture is Leevers Locavore, a store format focused on promoting local suppliers. It opened in Denver last November. 

CEO John Leevers said the motivation for creating Leevers Locavore was to provide a place for local startups to bring their products to market. The concept allows local manufacturers and small suppliers to connect more directly with consumers.

“When we were looking at the local supply concept, we wanted to connect the sources of local products to the market in a way they don’t have access to otherwise,” he said. “That’s where we came up with the idea. 

“People in Colorado are sensitive to food sourcing, and to the carbon footprint of their food, and are supportive of local foods as much or more than anywhere in the country.”

Leevers noted that the new store is based on a proven concept. 

“We are partners with restaurants inside the store. For example, we don’t do our own deli or bakery. We have three separate restaurant concepts located inside the store, as well as a meat department that is outsourced to a local butcher shop. We have multiple local bakeries that come in and deliver product daily, rather than doing our own baking onsite. We’ve taken a collaborative approach with a lot of the local purveyors to try to create a different food-shopping experience.”

Things had just begun to settle in at Leevers Locavore when the pandemic hit.

Leevers“We’ve had a bit of lift in business with the pandemic, and it has introduced us to the neighborhood in a quicker fashion than we might have,” Leevers said.  “It’s opened well and gotten better. We’ve gotten a lot of positive comments, including quite a few that comment on the calming and soothing environment. That’s an odd thing to hear about a grocery space, but people feel like it is clean and safe and fits the current needs of the public well.”

The early success of the new format has Leevers considering the possibility of adding other locations. 

“We need to do some fine-tuning in the operations, but we like to think we have an opportunity to grow in Colorado,” he said.  “For the time being, we would likely stay in the metro area of the Front Range. We cater to communities that are sensitive to local foods.”

Overall, the pandemic experience has been hectic. The main focus has been trying to stay as stocked as possible. 

“I’m very proud of our employees,” Leevers said.  “I think we stayed in stock better than our competition throughout the course of the pandemic because we are a little smaller, a little more flexible and nimble. We were able to adapt to our environment.”

When the supply chain was disrupted, Leevers Supermarkets bought paper products and cleaning supplies through office supply companies that were sitting on huge stocks because offices were closed. The chain also was able to source meat and produce through restaurant suppliers. Local sourcing helped the company keep some items stocked.

Leevers described his company’s staff as “true frontline workers,” and management wanted them to think of themselves that way.

“After healthcare workers and first responders, we really are the next line of defense, keeping people in the community fed,” he said.  “We had T-shirts made up for them with ‘Supermarket Superheroes.’”Leevers

Leevers stores currently do not offer online shopping. That was in the works pre-COVID, but has been put on hold. 

“Our focus is hyper-local, and each store is set up to cater to its individual neighborhood,” Leevers said. “They will vary greatly in what they carry based on demographics of their area. Online shopping was a growing trend, and the pandemic did speed it up. 

“At the same time, if you look at the numbers and the volume, most people still want to have an interaction when buying their food. They want to see their produce and their meat. There is a personal aspect that will always be present in our business.”

The local sourcing of products has proved to be beneficial throughout the pandemic, according to Leevers. 

“People here want to be connected to their food, and so have more of an interest in local,” he said. “They want to hear about the places the products come from and, for example, how the cows are cared for. The pandemic has probably only increased the desire for people to know about their food and where it comes from. 

“If there is a story behind it, they want to know about it. We have a bit more of that tendency here in Colorado perhaps than some other places.”

For more information, click here to visit Leevers Supermarket’s website.

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