Sprouts debuts grocery market chain in metro area

Sprouts Farmers Market Snellville. 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Shoppes at Webb Gin, 1250 Scenic Highway, Lawrenceville. 678-690-1279. www.sprouts.com

Three more locations to come:

July 16: 2480 Mt Vernon Road, Dunwoody

Aug. 20: 5130 Peachtree Parkway, Peachtree Corners

Sept. 17: 3630 Peachtree Parkway, John’s Creek

About Sprouts:

  • Handmade sausages in 14 varieties will be available in the meat department.
  • You can purchase natural brands of vitamins, lifestyle items and personal care products.
  • Store shelves are labeled with food attributes such as gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, etc. to help shoppers find foods to fit their dietary needs.
  • Coupons are available online and must be printed to redeem in-store.
  • About 170 items in the store are from Georgia growers and producers, including a selection of produce, wine, honey and craft beers.

Buying fresh organic food once required deep pockets and a trip to a specialty store. The only other option was a sad corner of organic produce tucked behind the apple chips at the supermarket, and it still cost more than many shoppers wanted to spend.

But times are changing. Major retailers have recognized the demand for healthy organic foods at a lower price point. In 2012, Kroger launched its Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organics line of foods. In April, Walmart began rolling out the Wild Oats organic brand to 2,000 stores nationwide, available locally at the Chamblee store.

And now there's Sprouts Farmers Market, an Arizona-based retailer of healthy and organic foods, which opened its first metro area store Wednesday on Scenic Highway in the Shoppes at Webb Gin in Lawrenceville.

“Organic is hot,” said Michael Wall, director of programs for Georgia Organics. Farmers markets have grown 600 percent in the state in the past six years, he said. “Even during the recession, the organic sector grew, so it is no wonder the big guys want in.”

Sprouts Farmers Market began 12 years ago in Arizona. It is modeled as an indoor farmers market with piles of produce, homemade sausages and barrels filled with grains and nuts. The company went public in 2013 and is undergoing rapid expansion. There are now 175 stores in 10 states stretching from California to Kansas. Atlanta will serve as the Southeastern hub.

Produce, including both local and organic options, accounts for 25 percent of total store sales and is priced on average 20 percent to 30 percent below traditional supermarket prices, said spokeswoman Donna Egan. Sprouts stores have a robust bulk foods department, hand-cut and ground meats prepared by on-site butchers, fresh baked goods and packaged groceries. About 80 percent of the offerings are natural or organic and represent a range of brands, Egan said.

Three more Sprouts stores are scheduled to open in the next couple of months, all located in the northern suburbs, areas already home to similar stores such as Whole Foods Market, The Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s.

Meanwhile, some areas of the metro area have no options for healthy, fresh or organic foods, and residents of those areas aren’t happy about it.

When Harvey Davis, a technology management consultant who lives in Southwest Atlanta, learned Sprouts was opening, he wondered if a store would come to his neighborhood. He wrote to the corporate offices and sketched a rudimentary map showing not a single major natural food store south of Midtown.

“The demand is unquestionably here. People who want the service and the food drive 14 or 20 miles to go get it,” said Davis, who shops for groceries once a week when he attends church services on the northside. “They are losing out on a business opportunity and it is just perplexing.”

It is a problem perplexing enough to captivate actor Wendell Pierce, best known for his roles in HBO’s “The Wire” and “Treme.” The Louisiana native, who is in town filming “Selma,” wants to bring stores with fresh produce and healthy foods to under-served areas of metro Atlanta.

He and his partners are trying to open a Sterling Farms market in Sweet Auburn. If the deal goes through, construction will begin this year, said Pierce, noting the impact food availability can have on a community.

“How will you change people’s behavior? Before you even answer that question, you have to give them a choice,” said Pierce. “We are going to go to those communities where they have for generations asked the grocery stores to come.”

Already Sprouts has been bombarded with requests for stores in other neighborhoods. Company CEO Doug Sanders asks locals to be patient while taking their interest as confirmation that Sprouts is on the right track.

“Natural foods has grown from being a small percent of the market to appealing to a broader base of consumers,” Sanders said. “We take pride in making healthy eating affordable for the community.”