Gallery: First look inside Oliver’s Markets new store in Windsor

Jaime Cardona of Pellegrini's Platinum Painting Services paints some finishing touches to the wall at Oliver's Market before the grand opening on Wednesday morning. Photo taken in Windsor, on Monday, May 16, 2016. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

BILL SWINDELL,

The latest entrant in the super-competitive supermarket industry debuts Wednesday when Oliver’s Markets opens the doors to its new grocery store in Windsor near the Town Green.

The 35,000-square-foot store has a decidedly modern look with an exposed ceiling and targeted spotlights.

Its walls are adorned with large banners of some of its more than 300 local suppliers who are prominently featured as part of its “Buy Local” marketing campaign, from dairy powerhouse Clover Stornetta Farms to the lesser known FEED Sonoma, short for Farmers Exchange of Earthly Delights.

It has a taqueria, a sushi stand, a gelato counter and a deli with a prime rib carving station, along with a family-friendly bar area offering shoppers a selection of 12 beers and ciders on tap, including Pliny the Elder, and eight wines on tap. And yes, there is free Wi-Fi.

“If you don’t innovate, you die,” Tom Scott, chief executive officer for Oliver’s, said Monday as he offered a tour of the new store.

The store’s offerings are a reflection of the intense competitive pressures reshaping the U.S. supermarket business, where the net profit margins after taxes were a slim 1.5 percent in 2014, according to the Food Marketing Institute.

Sonoma County is one of the most competitive food markets in the country, Scott acknowledged, thanks to an array of strong local and national grocery businesses vying for customers’ time and money.

The two-year Windsor project is designed to lure shoppers in the northern part of Sonoma County, not just residents, but also workers and visitors. While the typical shopper with the weekly grocery list will be still be prevalent in the aisles, the new store will cater to other types of customers.

They are likely to range from people stopping in for a beer and burrito after work to those looking for a place to grab coffee and check their laptop during the midday while picking up a few things for the home. In the morning, it will be more like a Starbucks, he said, and in the evening, more like a friendly neighborhood pub.

The diversity of customers targeted by the store reflects a powerful change in the grocery business.

More than 17 percent of Oliver’s Markets’ business is now grab-and-go meals that are ready to eat, Scott said.

Same-store sales in the three Oliver’s in Sonoma County increased by 6.5 percent last year to $114 million. The Santa Rosa supermarket chain is becoming one of Sonoma County’s largest private employers, with almost 1,000 full-time and part-time employees.

The Windsor store, which opens its doors at 7 a.m. Wednesday, will debut in a rapidly changing market that offers more options than ever to Sonoma County shoppers. Earlier this year, Big John’s Market in Healdsburg doubled its size with a satellite Costeaux Bakery, a pizzeria and new department for local cheesemakers.

And over in Sonoma, Nugget Markets, an upscale family-owned grocer headquartered in Woodland, bought the Sonoma Market and Glen Ellen Village Market in February.

Oliver’s, however, is in a unique position among grocers because it competes in the natural foods sector, dominated nationally by Whole Foods Markets and the local Community Market, and also more conventional ones such as Safeway and Lucky’s.

There also is other competition, ranging from G&G Supermarket to Trader Joe’s and Andy’s Produce Markets.

“We’re a crossover store. We were actually one of the pioneers of that concept. We’re both a natural foods store and conventional store, and probably a gourmet store,” Scott said.

Oliver’s keeps its pricing competitive with the big chains that have large economies of scales, Scott noted, while adding the benefit of a longtime focus on locally sourced products that goes back to when Lagunitas Brewing Co. and Amy’s Kitchen were just small manufacturers.

“We have been calling this the family photo wall,” Scott said as he glanced at some of the banners along the wall.

“We’re a place where people can start.”

The company will have local producers visit the Windsor store for appearances, and its shelves will also have employee recommendations, similar to what is done at Copperfield’s Books. Its produce section will be bifurcated between organic and conventional items on different rows.

The company has staked its niche in the marketplace on local products since it was founded in 1988 by Steve Maass. About 25 percent of its revenue comes from locally based manufacturers, Scott said.

“We try to build stores that we want to shop in,” he said. “There’s nothing that has changed in philosophy about this store versus our other ones. We just tried to do a deeper dive.”

The company contends that for every dollar spent at Oliver’s, there is at least an 11.5 percent larger economic impact on Sonoma County, compared to national or regional chains.

“A lot of customers, if they know the difference, they will choose local, all things being equal,” Scott said.

Oliver’s wanted to expand beyond the popular beer-centric tasting room housed at the Whole Foods in the Coddingtown Mall.

For example, it will offer such fare as Korean barbecue, tacos and macaroni and cheese with bacon, as well as offering Revive Kombucha and cold-brew Taylor Maid coffee on tap.

“For a grocery store, it’s going to be really unique,” Scott said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.