Cardenas Markets, The Shelby Report of the West’s Innovator of the Year, is in the process of a company-wide facelift. Within its three-state market area of California, Arizona and Nevada, the grocer has undertaken renovations at all of its stores.
In preparation for honoring Cardenas ahead of this special section, The Shelby Report’s Bob Reeves got a special guided tour of the company’s store in Montclair, California, which boasts the “forward footprint” for new and renovated locations going forward.
The tour was led by Prabash Coswatte, chief operating officer, who began by outlining Cardenas’ approach to store upgrades.
“We aim to achieve a stable, consistent feel across the store base as we are four independent chains merged,” he explained.
When customers enter the store, they are greeted with a dazzling array of colors. These come from the freshly baked in-house sweets, cakes and treats lining the wall. Coswatte was reminded of the brand’s social media-type platform, WorkJam, after seeing the cake display.
“There’s usually at least one post a week of a cake from this store,” he said. “A few weeks back, they made a wedding cake, a beautiful three-tiered cake. It’s really cool to see their amazing creations.”
At the time of the store tour, the bakers were preparing for Dia de Muertos by creating festive cakes and cupcakes that showcased Cardenas’ Hispanic heritage. These holiday-inspired creations appear in the cake display case throughout the year, which Coswatte said “really lets our team members show off their creativity.”
Alongside the cake cabinet, customers will see another large display of various freshly made sweets and treats, including cookies, a variety of pan dulce and sweet rolls.
Following the bakery display is the “tip of the spear” for the grocer – the produce department. “We lead with produce,” Coswatte said.
Cardenas’ produce standards have risen within the past three years, and it now employs a quality control and assurance team at its warehouses, according to Coswatte.
“We’d rather reject a load versus receive an inferior product,” he said. “We want to maintain high standards. We want to make sure the product not only looks good in the store but also looks good for X amount of days after the customer takes it home. That’s the standard that we maintain.”
This desire to uphold quality standards also has contributed to the surge of store renovations.
“When customers think Cardenas, they have brand expectations,” Coswatte continued. “The goal is to update the stores and deliver on the brand promise.”
While this renovation journey is still ongoing, he and his team expect them to be completed in another two years or so.
Another area that is continuing to improve within Cardenas is the bulk sales, which can be found throughout the perimeter of stores.
As customers leave the fresh produce and sights and smells of baking sweets, they are welcomed into the carnivorous section of the store.
Beginning with the seafood section, they will encounter a display of whole tilapia, catfish, crabs and shrimp, among other delicacies, on ice. A delicacy that sets Cardenas apart from most grocers is the fact many stores carry Central American delicacies such as octopus and stingray.
Partnered with the seafood section is Cardenas’ full-service meat department.
“Traditionally, our customers really love that interaction at the meat counter with our experienced meat cutters. We want to make sure that that interaction stays in place,” Coswatte said. “Whether our customers prefer grab-n-go options or a specific cut of meat from the meat counter, we’ve broadened our offerings to accommodate customer preferences.”
Just as Cardenas has improved its produce quality, it also aims to make USDA Choice meat available at each location.
The stores themselves have prepared food options throughout. In Montclair, cold crema – a slightly tangy condiment similar to sour cream – is available fresh behind the counters, as are homemade Mexican sausages and chorizo.
“Our chorizo is world famous,” Coswatte said. “Customers come and tell us – and we see it in the numbers – that they prefer our chorizo over the prepackaged options.”
Montclair has a tortilleria, or tortilla bakery, which makes fresh masa and tortilla products. A local food chain, Dos Patrios Taqueria, gets its masa from that particular store for its four restaurants, Coswatte said.
The tortilleria also is known for its use of the Nixtamal process where corn is turned into masa, which is then baked into tortillas all in the same vat.
“It makes the tortillas extra flavorful and our customers love them,” Coswatte said.
In addition, Cardenas has introduced a third-party program, Fujisan, which makes fresh sushi in-house. Next to the tortilleria is the Cardenas Cocina, where traditional Latin America breakfast, lunch and dinner options are prepared and served.