It’s easier to avoid junk food temptations at the recently opened Raley’s Supermarket on Fair Oaks Boulevard.
Just hit the wide aisles in the center of the store, where the shelves are lined with “eco-friendly” products, an extensive probiotics display, vitamins and organic foods. There, Ben Barreda, one of two on-site “wellness specialists,” is available to answer questions.
And he promises not to judge.
“We’re not going to say ‘get this or don’t get that’ … We want to be as helpful as possible for their wellness questions. There are many different options,” said Barreda, who majored in nutrition at nearby Sacramento State.
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The newly created “wellness specialist” positions at the 35,000-square-foot store at 2075 Fair Oaks Blvd. involve direct interaction with customers. Today, you’ll find a “wellness champion” in every store in the West Sacramento-based grocer’s chain, thanks to a program that has been gradually instituted over the past year, according to Raley’s spokeswoman Chelsea Minor. The champions’ primary mission is to help educate Raley’s team members on wellness initiatives, healthy foods and sustainability.
The store’s “wellness hub” is the latest invention in the local grocer’s two-year effort to serve increasingly health-conscious consumers and compete with rival grocery store operators that have grown or moved into the Northern California market over the past decade. Since 2015, Raley’s has announced everything from cage-free eggs to fresh seafood offerings from only sustainable sources.
The 82-year-old grocery company – which employs more than 11,000 and oversees more than 120 stores in Northern California and Nevada under the Raley’s Supermarkets, Bel Air Markets, Nob Hill Foods and Food Source banners – plans more stores like the Fair Oaks Boulevard location, said Keith Knopf, Raley’s president and chief operating officer.
Michael Slusser, a Los Angeles-based grocery industry analyst, characterized the Raley’s initiatives as “really necessary in today’s competitive environment.”
Slusser believes the Raley’s wellness/sustainability initiatives likely will enable it to retain Northern California/Nevada customers amid similar moves by competitors that include Woodland-based Nugget Markets, Sprouts Farmers Market (it opened a sixth Sacramento-area store in Folsom in March) and Whole Foods Market, which recently was the target of a $13.7 billion purchase by online retail giant Amazon.com, he said.
“It pays to feature fresh, locally grown, healthy foods … and to promote sustainability,” said Slusser. “Numerous consumer studies have shown that these things matter to California grocery shoppers.”
It pays to feature fresh, locally grown, healthy foods … and to promote sustainability. Numerous consumer studies have shown that these things matter to California grocery shoppers.
Michael Slusser, grocery industry analyst
Sacramentan Mary Roberts called the Raley’s wellness emphasis “a huge improvement” during a recent shopping trip at the Fair Oaks Boulevard store.
“There’s so much more now if you want healthier foods,” said Roberts, a 39-year-old homemaker with two children. “It’s like a totally different kind of store from the (Raley’s) stores I went to just a few years ago.”
There’s so much more now if you want healthier foods. It’s like a totally different kind of store from the (Raley’s) stores I went to just a few years ago.
Sacramentan Mary Roberts
The sustainable seafood initiative, announced earlier this month, is the latest move the supermarket chain has made since 2015. Under it, Raley’s will source its fresh seafood only from fisheries or farms with internationally recognized certifications.
In March 2016, the grocer said it was transitioning all private-label eggs to cage-free, with an additional goal of sourcing only cage-free eggs for all other brands by 2020, based on availability. In June last year, Raley’s said it would eliminate private-label brand sodas, including all flavors containing high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors. Last fall, Raley’s started providing free fruit to shoppers’ children under the age of 12.
Beyond individual endeavors, Raley’s has instituted multiple health and wellness initiatives under a program called “Let’s Begin,” designed to help customers make healthy food and lifestyle choices, stressing education, personal goal-setting and sharing.
Raley’s marketing materials also stress the message, touting its efforts to “change the way the world eats, one plate at a time.” The Raley’s website features “more than 10,000 natural and organic products” that can be delivered to doorsteps via the grocer’s “Ship To Home” program.
Raley’s says early feedback on its initiatives has been positive from a wide variety of shoppers.
In the “wellness hub” of Raley’s on Fair Oaks Boulevard, Barreda said he fields questions ranging from which vitamins are most beneficial to the benefits of probiotics with widely varying prices to the availability of gluten-free options. Barreda said he gets questions from a wide demographic – students from nearby Sacramento State to baby boomers from surrounding neighborhoods.
Customers who spoke with The Sacramento Bee overwhelmingly liked innovations at the new store.
“I mostly eat vegetables, but my husband likes the occasional steak or hamburger … so now, I can do my shopping in one place instead of going to two or maybe three stores to get all the groceries,” said Sacramentan Roberta Chavez.