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A Santa Fe Albertsons gets an upgrade

December 3, 2018

So what’s with the Market Street signage replacing Albertsons at DeVargas Center since Nov. 15?

What happened to Albertsons?

The answer: A lot.

Market Street is essentially a deluxe specialty brand within the Albertsons family, courtesy of the West Texas supermarket chain United LLC that Albertsons acquired in 2013. Officials said the sign change is part of a rebranding that includes a different look for the store — one company officials hope will give a boutique feel to offerings that compete with stores that do well in Santa Fe, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Sprouts.

Market Street is a supermarket chain with in-house dining; an executive chef, certified butcher, cheese and floral experts; more than 400 made-in-New Mexico items; a 3,300-square-foot liquor store with 1,700 varieties of wine and 1,000 varieties of beer; and a concierge service to plan anything from a wedding to a corporate meeting.

“I think Market Street is hoping to have everything I go to Whole Foods for,” said John Vollertsen, director the cooking school at Santa Fe’s Las Cosas Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School and long-time shopper at the DeVargas Albertsons. “I’m impressed with a lot of the specialty items, the items they didn’t have before. They didn’t have ground veal and veal chops before.”

Nor was there a beef jerky section 12 feet wide and six rows high at Albertsons before it transformed into Market Street.

What Market Street officials call the food service area — essentially the food court right at the store entrance – is expected to open Monday. Dining area seating for about 90 behind the Starbucks already had been in place for a while.

“The deli is the last piece that makes it a Market Street,” said Mary Myers, United’s senior communications manager.

Market Street is the gourmet/specialty/traditional grocery brand of the Lubbock, Texas,-based United LLC or United Family supermarket chain. United, which also has 43 outlets in Texas, since 1998 has opened 19 Market Street stores in cities like Abilene, Amarillo, Odessa and the Dallas suburb of Frisco.

The Market Street in Santa Fe is the first in New Mexico and first outside Texas for United, with no others planned at this time in the Land of Enchantment — including the Albertsons stores on St. Francis Drive and Zafarano Drive, said Tony Crumpton, United’s executive vice president of facilities. Parent company Albertsons adopted the Market Street model and opened one in Boise, Idaho, in July within a half-mile of Albertsons corporate headquarters. A second opening in the Boise area is planned in the spring.

The arrival of Market Street is an intriguing wrinkle in a city that already has a full complement of specialty grocers: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, Natural Grocers, Kaune’s Neighborhood Market and La Montañita Co-Op among them.

How does United see Market Street fitting into the crowded field?

“We have most of what you can get in Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Sprouts, but Market Street also is everything you can get in a traditional supermarket,” said Wes Jackson, United’s chief merchandising and marketing officer.

Vollertsen noted most of the specialty grocers are west of downtown, though Sprouts also has a store at DeVargas Center.

“I think their goal is to attract a different type of shopper to this side of town,” Vollertsen said. “I think they are going after the Whole Foods customer.”

Market Street gives a shot in the arm to DeVargas Center, a mall official said, noting the Market Street in Boise instantly became a destination shopping venue.

“It gives us more of an anchor, not just a supermarket,” said Katy Fitzgerald, DeVargas’ senior project manager. “It gives more options for dining on the [mall] property. The more time you can keep people on the property, the more they will spend.”

Working within the same 63,000 square feet as the prior Albertsons (and a long time ago, Montgomery Ward), Market Street keeps close tabs on shopper habits to supply a greater variety of foods and also, in many cases, far more choices of, say, mustard than the typical Albertsons or other supermarkets.

The same 63,000 square feet will have between 375 and 425 employees in contrast to the 150 employees a few months ago at Albertsons. About 125 employees will be in the food service area alone, Jackson said.

The food service area has a delicatessen that comes with a cheese specialist. Sushi is made in-house. The Asian food counter offers rice bowls and Vietnamese pho. The kitchen will have pizza and hot and cold sandwiches.

Prepared foods will nearly all be made in-store. A great proportion of the bakery items also are made in-store.

“I think they are tapping into the current trend of having more semi-prepared foods,” Vollertsen said. “It could be a positive new dining option.”

Market Street also is gearing up to be event central. The store can accommodate small weddings, large meetings, small office meetings, large corporate conferences, Myers said.

The $6 million creation of Market Street started in July with the new frozen food and dairy sections and then the meat service counter. By September, the Market Street variety of merchandise was mostly in place even if the Albertsons name remained.

Market Street also launched its e-commerce service last week. Customers can order online and pick up groceries curbside in front of the store. The service is free but requires $30 minimum purchase.

Specialty grocers’ arrival in Santa Fe

Kaune’s Neighborhood Market, 1950 with an upscale look completed in 2013

Wild Oats, 1991

Natural Grocers, 2004

Trader Joe’s, 2004

La Montañita Co-Op, 2005

Whole Foods, 2007 as it acquired Wild Oats

Sunflower Farmers Market, 2009

Sprouts, 2012 as it acquired Sunflower

United LLC in New Mexico

Though owned by Albertsons, United LLC is a separate, decentralized division within Albertsons. In March 2017, the Albertsons in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos were assigned to the United division. Before then, seven Albertsons in Eastern New Mexico and four in Texas were assigned to the United division. United brands these Albertsons stores as Albertsons Market.

Six Albertsons in Farmington, Las Cruces, Silver City and Gallup remain in Albertsons’ Phoenix division as all New Mexico stores previously were. Albertsons assigned the stores 24 Northern and Eastern New Mexico stores to United after the Texas company expanded its Lubbock distribution center from 500,000 to 750,000 square feet.

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