When I was little, my granddad managed the produce section at the local IGA (that’s a grocery store, in case you don’t recognize the name). He was a proud man. His department was clean, well-organized and fresh. He had very strict rules about who was allowed in particular areas. He was a Marine; of course, there was structure. The two exceptions were my sister and me. We had the run of the place. We would burst through the swinging doors to the back area. Employees would look up to shoo us off; then they would recognize us and point to where he was. It’s not exactly John John’s Oval Office access, but to us, it was big stuff.
To this day, I am very picky about meat and produce. Granddad said you could judge a grocery store by those two departments. I believe almost everything he told me. I have been known to regularly drive across town to food shop because the neighborhood grocery store’s produce gave me the skeeves.
So I was kind of excited to get an invitation to tour the new Kroger Marketplace in West Little Rock. Despite not being much of a cook, I dig grocery stores. I also like the post office, but that’s another issue. A group of bloggers from town were invited to see it in advance of the ribbon cutting. (full disclosure: they offered us samples of sushi, fruit, cake, hummus and lots of other stuff. I ate every bit of it. They even gave us some coupons, cashews and coffee for our trouble. I took those. I am not a woman who turns down cookies or caffeine.)
Let’s be clear from the get-go: this is grocery store. It has some pretty cool features, but at the end of the day, they sell milk and bread. If you’re looking for soul-changing experience, best to look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a large store with some features new to the sad situation that is Arkansas retail, check it out. Also, important to note: almost all of us on the tour know each other. We’re friends. So we behaved like 12-year-olds, when given the opportunity.
I was pretty sure I was gonna get thrown out of the joint when they were bragging at the bakery about their ability to put your child’s photo on a cake so you can cut. into. his. face. and then eat it. I suggested an even better idea would be to put an ultrasound photo on a baby shower cake, then people could eat the fetus. The very indulgent manager went along with me for a few questions before he realized I’m a lunatic. Then he just stopped talking to me. Most people would have had me removed from the premise for suggesting his department was a cake wreck waiting to happen, so I give him credit for just handing me chocolate and moving me along.
This was absolutely not my granddad’s IGA. It has a jewelry store, for crying out loud. It also has a fairly large “Home” section. So you can get yourself some fruit, flowers and you know, art and a diamond, if you want. It’s a concept that’s worked well for them in other cities for about 20 years. Yes, it takes that long for something like this to get to Arkansas.
There had been no customers yet when we went in, so the presentation was marvelous. It has all the new store shine to it; that’s always kinda fun. It’s definitely got the upscale products you would find in a Whole Foods or Fresh Market, but it’s still Kroger, so there are Value branded items and pop tarts. I have a Monkey Boy; I care about those things.
Sofas and tennis bracelets aside, what I think people will like are novelty features. I missed this on the tour, but I’m told by friends, they allow you to create your own six-pack of beer. That’s a nice way to try new brews. Another fun feature: make your own peanut butter. In the bulk food section, there are machines filled with various types of peanuts. Grab a container; push a button; presto – chango: peanut butter. My friend Sarah demonstrates:
But really what made me the happiest, was the “Sonic at the Kroger” drink machine. Yes, indeed, you can make your own fountain Coke with flavor shots. I’m from Russellville. Things like this impress me.
There was a Pepsi machine too, but who would use that? Savannah made her favorite: vanilla, cherry Dr. Pepper.
Overall, I was impressed. Not too terribly much by the building, but by the department managers we met. They reminded me of my granddad, honestly. They seemed to genuinely care about the food they make and sell. Many of them expressed a desire to help customers select the proper food to feed their families, whether in the high priority meat and produce departments, or in the prepared, discount or organic food departments.
Hands down, the absolute best woman on the planet may be Linda in the bread department. She was genuinely excited to show us how customers could slice their own bread. Even when the whole demonstration was derailed by an unplugged slicer and an unruly crowd, her genuine enthusiasm for opening the new store was undeterred. I think Linda and my granddad would have gotten along well.
(Please forgive the terrible video. I’d had about four vanilla diet cokes from the magic machine at this point)