Market Study green lights community-owned grocery store

In late 2017, the Whitewater Grocery Co. commissioned Keith Wicks, a grocery consultant, to conduct a preliminary market study of the Whitewater retail food market. This preliminary study is a “first-pass” performance forecast, meaning we are looking at the basic ability of the town to support a grocery store based on key assumptions. 

General assumptions for the Whitewater Grocery Co. in this study include:

  • The store will be a cooperatively-owned, hometown business
  • Comfortable store size, smaller than conventional but offering a full range of products
  • Quality, service, community, and social focus
  • Designed for full-service and profitability

Based on these assumptions and the demographics of Whitewater, Wicks discovered that we can support a 10,000 to 15,000 square foot store with a focus on fresh perishables, produce, meats, beer and wine, and a kitchen café.

Armed with this study and the knowledge it provides, we know that we can move forward with more research based on a 15,000 square foot, full-service grocery store -- about the size of an Aldi or Trader Joe’s. Our next steps include a business plan, additional market studies based on our developing plans, and a pro forma. The pro forma --  a financial document that tells us how much we need to make and how much we can spend to be successful -- is next on our timeline.

The study looked at three different areas of the Whitewater -- west, downtown, and east -- all located along the Highway 12/Main Street corridor. Each area has its own unique benefits and challenges. Without a clear path forward for an existing site, the study shows us more about the store itself than where it will be located. The location can then be selected based on the area where our planned store will be most successful.

The Whitewater Grocery Co. will be a full-service grocery store with 10,000 square feet of retail space and 5,000 square feet of backroom space. It is recommended that there be 50 to 75 parking spaces for a store of this size.

The store will carry traditional, conventional items as well as local and organic alternatives. This initial study looked at 70:30 ratio -- natural and organic to conventional products. The end plan product mix will be affected by the actual site and store design. We envision our store being designed as a cozy, yet efficient, place to do all of the weekly shopping for a household. For this reason, future studies will assume a ratio of less organic to conventional (50:50).

Our store will feature fresh produce as a lead feature, both in merchandising and marketing. Local produce would be favored when in-season. An in-store kitchen and café would replace and build upon traditional notions of a grocery store deli and bakery with the addition of quick-service meals. The kitchen area would offer a choice of takeout or in-store dining and a seasonal patio.

Fresh meat and seafood would be offered and could take on one of many forms depending on our priorities as a cooperative:

  • In-house prepared meat including fresh cuts, grinds, and hand-crafted specialties
  • Leased, in-house space to a local meat specialist
  • Reduced labor model with “case-ready” fresh and frozen product, packaged by supplier and delivered ready for merchandising (no in-house preparation)

No matter which form we settle upon, we can offer a mix of local, grass-fed, organic, and choice or prime conventionally raised meats. Our seafood can be fresh or frozen, with frozen being the more economical choice.

The center store grocery area, including bulk foods, health and wellness (body care, vitamins, and toiletries), and household sundries would occupy a total 30-35% of the store.  A beer and wine department (perhaps with liquor), and a standard dairy and frozen foods section will complete the space.

Not included in this study, but as a nice-to-have option if we can afford the additional space, is a large gathering area. The kitchen and café will have room for dining-in and socializing, however an event or classroom space is on many owners’ wish lists.

For quick overview of our market study, download our key findings.  

While we work on store feasibility, we are also looking to meet with community leaders, developers, landowners, other grocery stores, and potential vendors to continue to shape the direction of the Whitewater Grocery Co. Everything we are learning during the feasibility stage will help us plan the store and find a suitable location.

Simultaneously, we are also growing our ownership base. We aim to have 500 owners by the time we are ready to move on to the next stage of development. Our ownership goal for the day we open the store is 1,000. As of March 2018, we have 353 owners. If you have questions about The Whitewater Grocery Co. or would like more information about becoming an owner, please contact us at [email protected]. We're excited to talk with you!