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Meijer CEO Rick Keyes Meijer CEO Rick Keyes COURTESY PHOTO

Right time to diversify away from big box format, Meijer CEO says

BY Nick Manes Monday, June 26, 2017 05:01pm

GRAND RAPIDS - Drivers and pedestrians on Grand Rapids’ west side will soon see a new scaled-down store format take shape for Walker-based grocery retailer Meijer Inc.

Rick Keyes, the company’s President & CEO, said a new 37,000-square-foot Meijer-owned store along Bridge Street will offer new opportunities for the West Michigan-based chain, known mostly for its 200,000-square-foot supercenter format stores.

At a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Bridge Street Market on Monday, Keyes told MiBiz that the slimmed-down store format, with its focus on fresh food, is largely a response to market dynamics and the on-going trend of people moving back to cities. Right now is the right time to diversify away from the big box format, Keyes said.

“I think it's the shift that's taking place with our customers,” Keyes said of the store, which is planned for the northwest corner of Bridge Street and Seward Avenue. “We pride ourselves on really being focused on what our customers’ needs are. We've got a lot of customers that are moving downtown into our communities.”

But even as Meijer has quietly tried to diversify its formats — including creating the Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market as somewhat of a skunkworks brand, as MiBiz previously reported — Keyes said he believes urbanized areas still call for a different type of store.

“I think Fresh Thyme has a unique place in our formats,” Keyes said, marking the first time a Meijer executive had confirmed the company’s ownership of the Fresh Thyme brand since MiBiz broke the news last October. “(Bridge Street Market) is unique and really focused on the market we’re in. It's very localized so we're focused on bringing to life the west side and bringing a full grocery shop together. We see it as different and something that will add to this community.”

While both Keyes and Meijer chairman Hank Meijer believe the Bridge Street Market will be successful - and has the potential for expansion, according to Keyes - Meijer has struggled with smaller stores in the past.

Earlier this year, the retailer shut down two of its approximately 90,000 square foot stores in the Chicagoland area, citing the locations as underperforming.

Keyes said he thinks the concept planned for the Bridge Street location works because of its focus on fresh food sold at a value, rather than just trying to shrink down stores.

“In this format, what we're really excited about is it's really food-focused and fresh led,” Keyes said. “We're not trying to shrink down the supercenter. We're delivering a full food experience with a full grocery shop … in an urban environment that's really going to be cool, fun and exciting to shop.”

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