The Fresh Market Tulsa

Other than the fact that it will be 15,000 square feet and anchor the future Arboretum Village shopping center at Gaston-Garland-Grand, The Fresh Market is unknown to most neighborhood residents. Last year it was No. 1 on the list of Supermarket News’ “small chains and independent grocers,” ranked according to sales, and the company grew so much between 2012 and 2013 that it moved to No. 71 on Supermarket News’ rankings of “top retailers and wholesalers.”

The website of the North Carolina-based grocer says its stores, with their “fresh cut flowers, fresh cut meats, fresh produce [and] free samples of fresh brewed coffee,” first opened in 1982 in response to “the over-commercialized, impersonal warehouse stores of the time.” Characterized by “bulk items, rustic decorations and an open-air feel,” The Fresh Market is proud that 30 years later it still “plays classical music” and “supports local growers and charities.”

So is it more like Whole Foods or Central Market? Sprouts or Tom Thumb? Can we buy Cheerios, Dr Pepper, Colgate toothpaste and Charmin toilet paper? Or should we expect to find the likes of Kashi, Oogave and Toms? These are some of the burning questions on the minds of its future shoppers.

The Fresh Market chalkboardA recent trip to Tulsa, Okla., to visit family gave me an opportunity to visit The Fresh Market. It’s the company’s only one in Oklahoma, housed in a former Borders bookstore. The chalkboard with the week’s specials greeting customers as they enter made me wonder if I would be shopping at a smaller version of Whole Foods. Inside, however, The Fresh Market’s decor felt more like Tom Thumb’s somewhat recent makeover that gave its stores a more rustic feel.

As I shopped, however, I began to feel like I was in a mini Central Market. The Fresh Market offers plenty of organic products and produce, but unlike Whole Foods, that isn’t its main focus. Prices for fruit and veggies were a bit too high to be in Sprouts’ category ($3.99 for a pint of blueberries, 69 cents a pound for bananas, $2 for a head of green lettuce). And though the store has a rustic feel, the many major brand names that Tom Thumb carries were almost nowhere to be found.

The store did, however, have a large (and yummy-looking) prepared foods case; fairly substantial sections devoted to fresh bakery items, deli meats and cheeses; and many of the same specialty brands I have seen while shopping Central Market’s aisles.

The Fresh Market specialty sodaThe Fresh Market sodaAnother similarity to the sister store of HEB (which was the original company speculated to anchor Arboretum Village) was that it carries some of the more mainstream brands along with specialty brands. Right next to shelves stocked with Oogave and Dry Soda was a shelf with Sprite and Coke Zero. (No Dr Pepper, but perhaps that will happen in Texas.) It also carried Cheerios and Life in the cereal section, and Tostitos and Lays along with more hip and trendy chip options. Parents can buy either Pepperidge Farm goldfish or Annie’s bunny snacks for their young children.

The Fresh Market bulkThe most fun, in my experience, was the bulk food section. I went a little crazy grabbing a little of this and a little of that — a “cranstachio” blend of dried cranberries and pistachios for $9.99/lb; blueberry yogurt-covered pretzels for $6.99/lb; milk chocolate crunch, which included chocolate covered mini pretzels, cereal and nuts, for $9.99/lb, and the same bulk item of the week, gummy bears, for $3.99/lb. (There were many healthier options of nuts, trail mixes, etc., but I’m five months pregnant and was craving sweets — please don’t judge.)

The Fresh Market yogurt pretzelsThe bulk food section also included lots of coffee beans, grind-your-own butters (peanut, almond, etc.) and pre-packaged dried fruits, baking ingredients and other treats. I found baskets full of bags holding orange, strawberry and lemon yogurt-covered pretzels, and snagged one of the last bags of key lime (also $6.99/lb).

It was a good “grocery shopping experience” overall. At the meat counter, when I asked for two pounds of hamburger, the employee informed me that the ground sirloin was on sale for $4.99/lb — same price as the ground chuck and much leaner. I couldn’t find Velveeta for the Rotel dip (not a huge surprise after being in the store for a bit), so asked the cheese specialist for an alternative. The queso cheese they normally sell was out of stock, but he looked up and told me the day the next shipment would be in. Another customer service perk was not having to print off tags or write down numbers for produce or bulk foods. The Fresh Market beerAt each cash register is a handy dandy “scroll” with all of those codes, placing the burden on the employees to learn the codes rather than requiring shoppers to spend their time on it. (And yes, Alice Laussade, The Fresh Market passes your litmus test of offering cold beer in the store.)

I live in Lakewood Hills, and after about an hour poking around the store, I found myself looking forward to having The Fresh Market across the street by late 2014. The neighborhood grocery landscape has grown even more interesting in the past few years, thanks to newcomers such as Trader Joe’s, Green Grocer, Natural Grocers, Sunflower-turned-Sprouts and even Walmart, not to mention the White Rock Local Market. The question is whether we replace the stores at which we currently shop with newcomers that are closer to home, or whether the new stores are added to our ever-expanding list of grocery stops.

In my family’s case, it’s been the latter. However, each new store we introduce to our repertoire whittles away at an existing store(s). My guess is, once The Fresh Market opens, I won’t make it to Central Market as often. It’s one of my favorites, both in terms of products and customer service, but with a mini version opening so close to my home, I may be there once a month or so rather than once a week.

We have sent a few more questions to The Fresh Market’s corporate office, such as how a 15,000-square-foot store in Dallas would be different than the 24,700-square-foot store in Tulsa, and why the company is “particularly” excited about the Dallas market as it expands into the Lone Star State, especially considering the flood of new entrants to the market. Keep checking the Advocate Daily Digest for more.

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