Southeastern Grocers launched its pilot Winn-Dixie supermarket Thursday morning, reopening the to-the-walls renovated Baymeadows location that President and CEO Ian McLeod said will be a springboard for more remodeling.
“If it works well, we’ll roll it to other stores in the Southeast,” he said.
Shoppers entering the Baymeadows prototype will see a lot more than they might have expected.
At the start, they’ll see the main entrance was moved from the checkout area to open into the large produce section.
To their right and beyond produce, they’ll find the floral, sushi, kitchen, coffee (with tables), bakery, seafood, butcher, cheese and deli departments.
And to their left, they will see clearly across all eight checkout lanes designed with an unobstructed view.
“I always like a sense of arrival,” McLeod said.
Departments are clearly identified on the top of walls, part of Southeastern Grocers’ aim to make store navigation easy, especially for busy shoppers.
The store is designed with the traditional Winn-Dixie colors of red and white, with accents including woodgrain, brick and tile.
Most of all, McLeod said, is “the impression of freshness.”
The store at 10915 Baymeadows Road in the Point Meadows shopping center, just off of Interstate 295, will operate 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
It serves as a pilot store for Southeastern Grocers, which McLeod said expects to remodel 50 stores among its three banners this year in its eight-state footprint. It operates 752 Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo and Harveys supermarkets.
The first remodeled Winn-Dixie opened this month in Ladonia, Ala.
McLeod said there will be varying degrees of renovation among the stores, with the Baymeadows location the first complete interior reconstruction.
McLeod said the store was designed to emphasize freshness, quality, value and the “sense of something cooking in the kitchen,” referring to the on-site food preparation.
The store employees smoke meats; bake breads, pizzas and pastries; fry mini-doughnuts; roll sushi; and even age fresh meats to customer specifications in the butcher area.
Departments include a large “Naturally Fresh” area of at least 3,600 natural, organic and other specialty foods near the front, flowing into an extensive wine and beer area arranged by value, favorites and origin.
Natural and organic selections also can be found within the various departments. More than 4,000 such products are available, with 2,600 of them new to Winn-Dixie.
Another area will feature Jacksonville products among the large selection of craft beers.
Those are Bold City Brewery, Veterans United Craft Brewery and Intuition Ale Works, which coincidentally is led by Ben Davis, a grandson of the legendary J.E. Davis who chaired Jacksonville-based Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. for decades. It was founded in 1925.
Winn-Dixie also will open a liquor store next door.
Throughout the store, sign boards prominently display value-priced items. Winn-Dixie has been cutting prices, recently lowering the cost of more than 400 regularly purchased items by up to 50 percent. That follows an earlier price cut on 3,000 items.
Southeastern Grocers formerly was known as Bi-Lo Holdings, which was formed in 2012 with the merger of Winn-Dixie and Bi-Lo. It located the combined headquarters in Jacksonville and then changed its name to Southeastern Grocers LLC in May.
McLeod, a Scotland native, became CEO of Southeastern Grocers almost a year ago in March.
Before he officially started as CEO, he visited the Bi-Lo Holdings stores, including the Winn-Dixie about 2 miles west at 9866 Baymeadows Road.
The manager recognized McLeod and offered his views. He didn’t understand why the Point Meadows Winn-Dixie had been closed in 2010 after seven years of operation.
It was in a fast-growing area, with upscale housing and commercial development. Neighborhood customers had healthy household incomes. And, as McLeod found, Winn-Dixie had a 30-year lease on the store.
While Winn-Dixie at the time said it closed in a cost-cutting move, McLeod said it had been built as a standard store and not targeted to the needs of the neighborhood.
“It was closed because it wasn’t performing very well,” he said Wednesday.
McLeod said since 2010, the population in the area has increased by 50 percent.
The store is not far from the St. Johns Town Center, which opened in 2010, and is near large new developments, such as the IKEA store that will be built at I-295 and Gate Parkway.
“This seems to be an ideal opportunity,” he realized.
His extensive experience and travels exposed him to many supermarkets and food stores, which generated ideas. The goal was to apply the right ones to the Jacksonville Baymeadows market.
“That’s where the vision came from,” he said.
The interior was demolished in October and renovations began in November. McLeod declined to say how much was invested in the remodel. The building permit was for a $3 million project, but that was just construction.
The store is arranged, stocked and accessorized with customer desires in mind, he said.
“This is about atmosphere,” said Winn-Dixie Regional Vice President Shawn Sloan.
For example, the Naturally Better department’s appeal would include younger, well-educated, affluent individuals and couples who are health-conscious, he said.
The store also will focus on Jacksonville and Florida products. In addition to the beer and the St. Augustine wines, there are shelves toward the front with Sweet Pete’s candies.
FreshJax, Stubbie’s and other local products can be found. The fresh meat includes Adena Meats from Adena Springs Ranch near Ocala. Seafood from local waters also is available.
There’s also game meat, such as elk, boar, venison and bison.
“We’ve tried to create a store which provides every opportunity for customers to buy the items that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get in a Winn-Dixie store and it’s really taking it to what we believe to be a different level,” he said.
Not all of the ideas would work at every store, he said, but themes can be used where appropriate.
The sales floor comprises about 31,000 square feet of the almost 46,000-square-foot store. It employs 107 people and created more than 100 additional jobs during the construction and setup.
It will be managed by store director Warren Rickuss, who joined Southeastern Grocers in November. He moved from Australia, where he worked with McLeod at Coles.
Wi-Fi and LED lighting are throughout the store. Carts are designed with cup holders. There are wine and cheese stewards and a coffee barista.
Children also can take part in the shopping experience, with small carts and some educational displays, such as the push-button “clucking” chicken and “moo” cow. Children also can snack on a mini donut from the bakery.
There also are many international products, including one specifically requested by McLeod — Mull of Kintyre Cheddar cheese.
“It’s my indulgence,” he said, adding he hoped shoppers liked it.
Along with the pilot store, Southeastern Grocers launched a refreshed Winn-Dixie logo, which McLeod said would be rolled out progressively with renovations and marketing.
“The main focus is to improve the existing stores,” McLeod said, although new construction is “in our thoughts” for the future.