Check out tasty dishes to spice up your life

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - DAILY LOCAL NEWS - By Kelli Kennedy

MI­AMI » In con­ve­nience stores spawned by the well­ness wave, kom­bucha slushies take the place of corn-syrupy treats in­fused with red dye, tor­tilla chips are made of cas­sava flour in­stead of corn and there are ve­gan ice cream bars and a dizzy­ing se­lec­tion of or­ganic pro­duce and craft beer on tap.

Tra­di­tional cor­ner mar­kets have been notch­ing up their health­ier op­tions in re­cent years, sell­ing pre-made sal­ads, nut milks and or­ganic yo­gurts.

But a new crop of niche stores aimed at mil­len­ni­als who can af­ford to pay more have com­pletely over­hauled the shelves, mak­ing gluten-free and or­ganic prod­ucts their sta­ples, not just the side dish, along with com­postable straws and on-de­mand de­liv­ery. Th­ese shop­pers also like to see their stores sup­port what they con­sider wor­thy causes.

“We think of our stores as a hu­man recharg­ing sta­tion as op­posed to the tra­di­tional con­ve­nience store, which tears down your health,” said Lisa Sed­lar, who’s about to open her fourth Green Ze­bra Gro­cery in Port­land, Ore­gon.

The store sells so much kom­bucha that it re­cently launched its own line of kom­bucha slushies with fla­vors in­clud­ing pineap­ple gin­ger and mar­i­on­berry mint. It also of­fers it­self as a pickup spot for cus­tomers who have pre-or­dered weekly boxes of fresh pro­duce from lo­cal farms.

There’s even a store on Port­land State Univer­sity cam­pus to sat­isfy late-night dorm crav­ings. That store at­tracts about 1,500 vis­its a day with co­conut sugar and gluten-free flour in bulk bins, and other health-ori­ented goods.

An­a­lysts say mil­len­ni­als, who are will­ing to pay a pre­mium for higher-qual­ity in­gre­di­ents and want to sup­port com­pa­nies in line with their val­ues, are a driv­ing force be­hind the trend for stores that are pop­ping up around the coun­try from Los Angeles to Philadel­phia.

A 2018 re­port from EuroMon­i­tor says con­ve­nience stores are chang­ing their image to ap­peal to a more health-con­scious gen­er­a­tion, stock­ing up on gluten-free, grass-fed and or­ganic prod­ucts.

While “porta­bil­ity and gra­band-go con­ve­nience re­main crit­i­cal, mil­len­nial di­etary habits stand to rev­o­lu­tion­ize a chan­nel that has been any­thing but health-con­scious in the past,” the re­port says.

At least 200 stores fall into this cat­e­gory in the United States, said Jeff Le­nard, a vice pres­i­dent with Ad­vanc­ing Con­ve­nience & Fuel Re­tail­ing. And while that’s still a small seg­ment of the 154,000 con­ve­nience stores in the U.S., he said it’s likely to grow.

Ev­ery­thing at The Goods Mart in Sil­ver Lake, Cal­i­for­nia, is free of ar­ti­fi­cial fla­vors and dyes, ni­trates and ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied in­gre­di­ents. Cus­tomers choose from healthy snacks, $4 break­fast bur­ri­tos and ugly fruit pro­vided through a part­ner­ship with a lo­cal farmer, in­clud­ing av­o­ca­dos that cost only 50 cents.

There are no sin­gle-serve plas­tic bot­tles or plas­tic straws. In­stead the cof­fee and slushies come in re­cy­cled pa­per cups with com­postable pa­per straws, although many cus­tomers buy metal or glass straws at the cash reg­is­ter.

Cus­tomers can also do­nate up to 5 per­cent of their bill to char­ity, in­clud­ing a lo­cal home­less mis­sion, says founder Rachel Krupa.

Ex­perts pre­dict those lay­ered mis­sions will give green con­ve­nience stores stay­ing power.

“I don’t be­lieve it’s a pass­ing fad,” said David Por­ta­latin, food in­dus­try ad­viser for trend group NPD. “Peo­ple bring the same de­mand for con­ve­nience but with a whole new set of food val­ues to go along with it.”

Choice Mar­ket in Den­ver even cre­ated its own de­liv­ery app for con­sumers who want their gourmet sand­wich, or­ganic pro­duce and craft beer on de­mand. About 30 per­cent of the store’s sales are de­liv­ery.

“It’s such a big piece of our tar­get mar­ket and how they shop,” said CEO Mike Fog­a­rty, who donates left­overs to a lo­cal food bank.

The re­sponse has been so strong that con­struc­tion has started on two ad­di­tional stores, in­clud­ing one in part­ner­ship with the Den­ver Hous­ing Au­thor­ity to ser­vice low-in­come neigh­bor­hoods lack­ing nearby gro­cery stores with health­ier foods and fresh pro­duce and to hire at-risk youth.

The check­out counter at Men­dez Fuel in Mi­ami is filled with the ex­pected cig­a­rettes, lottery tick­ets and mini bot­tles of whiskey, but there’s also a large se­lec­tion of high-end dark choco­late. Be­hind the cafe counter sits a mas­sive prep bowl of leafy greens next to a woman pour­ing fill­ing into hand­made ve­gan em­panadas.

A large line has formed wait­ing for or­ders off a menu that in­cludes smooth­ies with al­gae, bee pollen, matcha and other su­per­foods. They also serve house-made, or­ganic, cold-pressed juices and have a vast se­lec­tion of craft beer.

Jay May­orga, a 25-year-old bar­ber who works nearby and fol­lows a pa­leo diet, stops in about four times a week for a green smoothie or acai bowl and he usu­ally grabs some jerky or a pro­tein bar.

“Pa­leo is hard to find so I like that,” he said.

The store has a large se­lec­tion of ve­gan, pa­leo, keto and other healthy snacks in­clud­ing spe­cialty nut but­ters, non-dairy cheeze puffs and grain-free tor­tilla chips.

Men­dez Fuel owner Michael Men­dez made an ef­fort to stock the shelves with hard-to-find spe­cialty diet items, in­clud­ing a $15 jar of dairy-free yo­gurt with 400 bil­lion live pro­bi­otic cul­tures, $19 jars of high-end nut but­ters and $4 col­la­gen pro­tein bars.

“We’re be­com­ing a des­ti­na­tion,” Men­dez said. “Peo­ple are go­ing out of their way to come to us be­cause we have prod­ucts that they can’t find any­where else.”

AP PHO­TOS/LYNNE SLADKY

Man­ager Andrew Men­dez holds a beer growler for craft beer sold at the Men­dez Fuel con­ve­nience store in Mi­ami. In con­ve­nience stores spawned by the well­ness wave, kom­bucha slushies take the place of corn-syrupy treats in­fused with red dye, tor­tilla chips are made of cas­sava flour in­stead of corn, and there are ve­gan ice cream bars, a dizzy­ing se­lec­tion of or­ganic pro­duce and craft beer on tap.

Cus­tomer Ju­lian Guilarte eats an em­panada at the Men­dez Fuel con­ve­nience store in Mi­ami. There’s no stale dough­nuts and cold cof­fee at Men­dez Fuel con­ve­nience store in Mi­ami.

Cold pressed juice pressed by Men­dez Fuel is dis­played at the Men­dez Fuel con­ve­nience store in Mi­ami.

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