LOS ANGELES – Residents of L.A.’s Woodland Hills neighborhood now can enjoy a taste – and feel -- of Europe when they go grocery shopping.

Bristol Farms, a Carson, Calif.-based chain of 13 upscale supermarkets, has opened the first of what it expects will be a series of concept stores with a food hall format.

Featuring several epicurean market stations and “innovative taste experiences,” the store is “a true culinary destination for families, foodies and everyday shoppers,” the company says.

The 25,000 square-foot Mulholland store (located on Mulholland Drive) is supplied by hundreds of local vendors and features a wide selection of European and import-style products, 4,000 natural and organic grocery items as well as traditional grocery products and supplies.

Bristol Farms always has had a “foodie influence” at its roots, president and CEO Adam Caldecott said on opening day Nov. 11.

During the cookie-cutting ceremony that replaced the traditional ribbon cutting, Caldecott told the gathered first-day shoppers that the store will “bring a new foodie experience to the world.”

That experience includes:

  • An artisan California bakery;
  • Premium wine and spirits cave;
  • Gelato parlor;
  • International cheese selection;
  • Cascading floral wall; and
  • Grab-and-go options from classic recipes as well as new seasonal, ethnic meal options.

At the new store, the chain “really tried to bring forward a food hall-style experience that puts forward the fresh ideas that we have in the company (and) the fresh food philosophy that we really bring to the table as our point of difference,” he said.

He pointed out that the produce department, along with floral and foodservice, greets shoppers at the front door.

“We feel that’s the biggest point of difference from other brands out there,” he said.

On opening day, shoppers entering through that front door had to detour around a large display table stacked with organic bananas on sale for 59 cents a pound.

The food hall format was in evidence with high open ceilings and polished concrete floor.

As shoppers made their way further into the produce department, they saw row after row of low-profile, European wood tables stocked with everything from traditional apples and oranges to less traditional carambola – or star fruit – Japanese fuyu persimmons, Buddha’s hand, sugar pie pumpkins, baby purple fingerling potatoes, rambutans and cipollini onions.

Display tables were flanked by a 48-foot wet rack on one side and a series of “bars” on the other. There’s a two-sided salad bar with offerings like roasted rainbow carrots; a hot entrée bar with everything from sausage and pancakes to grilled asparagus; a fresh fruit bar with cut mangoes, melons, pineapple, berries and more; a Baja bar and even an olive bar.

And there’s a squeeze-it-yourself juice station where shoppers can squeeze and bottle their own juice choosing from orange, tangerine, grapefruit or other selections.

For those not into DIY, bottles of juice pre-squeezed by the store’s staff also are available as well as a selection of juices from Bolthouse Farms, Bolthouse Farms 1915 Organic and Evolution Fresh.

Opening-day shoppers seemed most impressed by the perishable sections, with crowds formed around the meat and produce sections while many of the regular grocery aisles were nearly empty.

Shoppers like Elizabeth Nielsen from L.A.’s West Hills neighborhood lauded the freshness of the produce, the inviting presentation and the “well-managed displays.”

john savidan bristol farmsJohn Savidan, director of produce, said the new store will put an emphasis on organic fruits and vegetables.

Bristol Farms already features a wide range of organic produce, he said, “But we don’t get a lot of credit for it.”

The Mulholland store is “trying different merchandising and focusing more on getting the credit for the organic offerings that we have,” he said.

Savidan said the European-style tables, where every piece of fruit is hand stacked, should make the produce department more inviting.

“We’re focused on craftsmanship and merchandising,” he said.

About 80% of the produce at Bristol Farms stores is organically grown, he said. That figure jumps to 90% for the vegetable wet rack.

The new store has a 5,000 square-foot produce department with up to 600 stock-keeping units versus 400 or 500 at other Bristol Farms locations, he said.

The concept store is “the first of many to come,” Caldecott said.

“We are working on leases around Southern California,” he said, but he added that he was not yet ready to reveal where and when new locations might open.

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