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What's in Store: Lean and green

New retailer Green Zebra Grocery plans to keep it small, simple, sustainable

By Christine Blank
July 01, 2013

Healthful food on the go is a retail concept that gained traction over the past year or two. However, a startup grocery retailer may be the first in the United States to marry healthful food and convenience in one location. 

Green Zebra Grocery in Portland, Ore., will open its first store in the city this fall and launch two additional stores by the end of 2014. The company plans to open 20 stores by 2020 in Portland and the surrounding area. The 6,000-square-foot Green Zebra stores include most of the traditional supermarket departments, but on a much smaller scale with unique offerings like espresso and juice bars. 

The retailer’s philosophy is to offer grab-and-go foods made fresh with healthful and local ingredients such as sustainable seafood, local produce and grass-fed beef. 

“Eaters can get overwhelmed by too much choice, so we think of it as category curation,” says Lisa Sedlar, president and CEO of Green Zebra Grocery. 

Plus, the stores are meant to fill a need in Portland neighborhoods that don’t have grocery stores nearby, following the goals of The Portland Plan. The city initiative aspires to provide neighborhoods with access to all the goods and services they would need within a 20-minute bike ride or walk from their home.  

“The idea of the 20-minute neighborhood really resonates with me and I think our smaller-sized stores will fit well into a lot of Portland neighborhoods,” Sedlar says. “A grocery with fresh produce, meat, seafood, deli and other items is a key anchor to building and supporting these neighborhoods and creates a more sustainable lifestyle.” 

While Green Zebra’s format is unique, it faces significant competition in Portland, including grocery operators like Safeway, Albertsons, Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s. 

Grocery retail veteran Sedlar recognizes that the new format offers something different from its competitors. 

“When you are in the grocery business, everyone who sells groceries is technically your competitor because you are competing for trips. We will be different in that we are healthy and convenient, and no one else is really competing in this space,” Sedlar says.

Sedlar’s experience as CEO of New Seasons Market in Portland should come in handy as she expands the brand and differentiates it in the marketplace. Sedlar started as president of New Seasons in 2005, then served as COO, and finally as CEO. While New Seasons features locally grown and sustainable produce, seafood and other fare, its stores are set up more like traditional smaller-format grocery stores, averaging 30,000 square feet. 

While Green Zebra’s fresh seafood departments will only have around 6 feet of retail space next to the meat department’s 8-foot section, the protein will play a big role in offerings throughout the stores.

“Seafood is a big part of our diet in the Pacific Northwest, so we’ll definitely be featuring a lot of seafood options in our prepared-foods department,” Sedlar says.

Those products will include grilled salmon, crab cakes, salmon cakes, shrimp salad and tuna salad.

A small selection of wild and sustainable seafood will be offered in Green Zebra’s fresh seafood department, and at least a quarter of the SKUs will be oven-ready, grab-and-go seafood dishes. 

“We will offer a lot of oven-ready options as we think that’s a big part of what it means to be convenient. This is a growing trend because not everyone is super knowledgeable about seafood preparation,” Sedlar says.

Retailing sustainable seafood is the “only” option for Green Zebra, according to Sedlar, with the Marine Stewardship Council as its primary eco-label. 

“We’ll also be working directly with local fishermen to ensure the fish we sell are caught using sustainable methods,” she says. 

Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla.

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