New natural foods chain coming to Fresno

Sprouts Farmers Market plans to open a location in North Fresno by May 2013.Sprouts Farmers Market plans to open a location in North Fresno by May 2013.Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market — an organic and natural foods supermarket competing in the same space as Whole Foods — will open a new 35,000 square-foot store in North Fresno by May. 

Sprouts has nearly 150 locations and 11,000 employees in the West. Earlier this year it acquired the 36-store Sunflower Farmers Market chain.

CEO Doug Sanders said in an interview this week that the currently-vacant Fresno property at 7477 N. Blackstone Ave. will be leased. The location previously housed a Sports Authority store that was consolidated into a location across the street at The Marketplace at River Park earlier this year. The new store will employ around 85. An employment fair will be announced. All Sprouts stores are non-union.

“We will see how it goes, but I would not be surprised if we added another store in this marketplace,” Sander said.

Beside Fresno, Sanders confirmed there is interest in locating a store in Visalia. About half of the chain’s stores are located in California, with most in Southern California. The company’s distribution center is in Riverside.

Sprouts was founded by the Henry Boney Family, which also launched Henry’s Markets in Los Angeles, now part of Sprouts. Sunflower, acquired in March, had a similar marketing approach that emphasizes fresh produce, Sanders said.

“Unlike most grocery stores, our produce section is in the middle of the store. It’s the farmer’s market approach,” he said. “It’s what we hang our hat on.”

Asked about Sprout’s comparison to Whole Foods, Sanders said Sprouts aims to compete with traditional grocery stores with produce prices that are typically “20- to 25-percent less expensive.”

“We are more value-added than Whole Foods,” Sanders said, “appealing to a broader group.”

On the Web, some have done an item-by-item shopping comparison for typical products and Sprouts appears to be cheaper. On a 1/2 gallon of Silk Soy Milk, for example, it costs $3.69 at Sprouts versus $4.29 at a Los Angeles Whole Foods location.

Sanders said Whole Foods features more food service items than Sprouts.

The company CEO said the organic grocery marketplace has come a long way in the past ten years, with “more affordable products along with better quality.” Some formerly unknown brand names are now household favorites, such as Kashi, Organic Farms and Annie’s. These companies have helped increase the quality of food items as well as provided the scale and competition to lower prices.

The shopper too has changed, he added, from a small cadre of true believers who demand organic to a wide variety of shoppers who want to have a healthier diet. A large group these days are “trial buyers” who are experimenting, he said.

A major stakeholder in the private company is publicly traded Apollo Global Management, which also has equity interest in Smart & Final, Ralph’s, CKE Restaurants and Claire’s retail stores, among others. The Henry Boney Family remains active in the management of Sprouts.

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This article originally appeared in the Dec. 21 print edition of The Business Journal. Don't be a week late to the news. Visit our subscription page http://www.thebusinessjournal.com/subscriptions or find a newsstand http://www.thebusinessjournal.com/subscriptions/find-newsstand today.