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Ralphs’ Fresh Fare Stores Exceeding Firm’s Expectations

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It has antique-looking wood shutters, chandeliers and gooseneck lamps. Not what you’d expect to find in a supermarket.

Ralphs Grocery Co. unveiled the new look last month when it opened its first Fresh Fare store at Wilshire Boulevard and Bundy Drive in Brentwood. Since then, Compton-based Ralphs has converted four other Ralphs to upscale Fresh Fare stores in a bid to lure customers with gourmet tastes.

Ralph’s executives say consumers are responding to Fresh Fare’s posh styling and gourmet food selections. Sales at the Wilshire-Bundy store have risen more than 50% since the conversion, and the other Fresh Fare stores are doing better than expected, said Ralphs President Sam Duncan. Ralphs plans to convert 15 to 20 stores to the upscale format next year instead of the six originally planned, Duncan said.

“We’re pleased because we’re proving we can appeal to the gourmet market,” Duncan said.

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Fresh Fare offers more organic vegetables than does Ralphs. Its deli section sells items that cannot be found in other Ralphs stores--dishes such as chicken Florentine, beef Wellington and deserts such as truffles covered with white chocolate. And Fresh Fare’s larger wine section is staffed by a steward who fields questions.

The foray makes sense, industry analysts say, because demand for gourmet food is growing. Bristol Farms, Gelson’s and Pavilions--a chain owned by Vons--are the leaders in this market. Fresh Fare will be a strong competitor in the gourmet food fight, according to Jonathan Ziegler, a San Francisco-based analyst at Salomon Bros.

“The format is already working for Ralphs,” Ziegler said. “Ralphs serves the budget-conscious market with its Food 4 Less stores and reaches the middle market with the regular Ralphs format. Fresh Fare allows them to cover the rest.”

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George White can be reached via e-mail at george.white@latimes.com.


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