Lucky’s Mar­ket sees big ap­petite in Den­ver area

Boul­der-born gro­cer with na­tional ap­peal ea­ger to feed Mile High City too

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Joe Ru­bino

Open­ing its first lo­ca­tion in Boul­der in 2003, the Lucky’s Mar­ket gro­cery chain comes from the epi­cen­ter of Colorado’s nat­u­ral and or­ganic food cul­ture.

In an in­verse of a clas­sic Colorado kid story, Lucky’s — tagline “Or­ganic for the 99 per­cent” — has done a good deal of its grow­ing up away from Boul­der, set­ting down roots in other col­lege towns such as Colum­bus, Ohio, Ann Ar­bor, Mich., and Gainesville, Fla.

Co-founders Bo and Tr­ish Sharon opened a se­cond lo­ca­tion in Long­mont in 2013 and a flag­ship south Boul­der store in 2016, but to date 29 of Lucky’s 33 lo­ca­tions are in other states. Its largest foot­print is in Florida, with 15 stores.

Lucky’s didn’t for­get about Colorado, though, and it hasn’t ceded the state to big­ger, more-rec­og­niz­able com­peti­tors such as Whole Foods or Sprouts. The com­pany made its first in­roads into the metro area in Au­gust when it opened a 35,000-square­foot store at 3545 Wadsworth Blvd. in Wheat Ridge. It ex­pects to crack Den­ver proper in 2019 with a 25,000-square-foot lo­ca­tion in the Lowry neigh­bor­hood. A Fort Collins store also is on track for next year.

With mo­men­tum and a sig­nif­i­cant but undis­closed in­vest­ment from U.S. gro­cery leader Kroger at its back, Lucky’s is on track to be­come much more fa­mil­iar to lo­cal con­sumers in the near fu­ture.

“Ob­vi­ously, Colorado’s home,” Bo Sharon said of his com­pany’s some­what cir­cuitous route to lo­cal growth. “Avail­abil­ity is

key — find­ing the right spots, of course, to be suc­cess­ful. While the Den­ver mar­ket is heavy, there are pock­ets where folks aren’t do­ing what we do, so that is sort of the start.”

Count­ing pipe­line stores — some pub­licly an­nounced and some not — Sharon said Lucky’s will eclipse 50 lo­ca­tions in 2019. It’s not the big­gest nat­u­ral and or­ganic gro­cery chain from Colorado. That dis­tinc­tion be­longs to Lake­wood’s Nat­u­ral Gro­cers by Vi­ta­min Cot­tage, a pub­licly traded op­er­a­tor of 149 stores na­tion­wide. But its growth is ac­cel­er­at­ing.

When Sharon and his wife quit their jobs as chefs in Las Ve­gas to take over what was then the North Boul­der Mar­ket, “we just wanted to be open the next day,” he said. But the store be­gan to earn loyal shop­pers and carve out its bar­gain or­ganic niche by lis­ten­ing to customers.

As food­ies, the Sharons were com­mit­ted to car­ry­ing a wide se­lec­tion of fresh, or­ganic pro­duce and meat that has never been treated with hor­mones or an­tibi­otics. But they were will­ing to stock some pop­u­lar prod­ucts out­side the health store norm.

“What we heard is that folks wanted or­ganic pro­duce, and they wanted Drano,” Sharon said. “And that sort of made sense to us.”

They only make up about 5 per­cent of of­fer­ings, Sharon said, but Lucky’s car­ries so-called “iconic brand” goods such as Coca-Cola, Oreo cook­ies and Camp­bell’s Soup.

The mix of the healthy and the fa­mil­iar res­onated with some shop­pers brows­ing the Wheat Ridge store’s aisles last month.

“I think it’s just a re­ally good com­bi­na­tion of Sprouts, Whole Foods and King Soop­ers all in one place,” Laura Bar­nette said as she shopped with her grand­son one morn­ing. “It has a lot of stuff that I wanted.”

Lucky’s ap­proach re­mains on-trend with many other as­pects of the mod­ern gro­cery in­dus­try. About a quar­ter of its Wheat Ridge store is ded­i­cated to pre­pared foods in­clud­ing a ra­men sta­tion and the chain’s first hot taco bar. It’s home to a large “apothe­cary de­part­ment,” a sec­tion car­ry­ing a va­ri­ety of self-care goods in­clud­ing jars of scrubs, teas and salves avail­able for bulk pur­chase.

One of Lucky’s mar­quee of­fer­ings — its “sip and stroll” pro­gram where customers can buy tap beer to take with them as they shop — was undone by Colorado liquor law. Only the south Boul­der store of­fers that. Wheat Ridge has tap kom­bucha and root beer, though.

Steve Hoff­man is the di­rec­tor of Com­pass Nat­u­ral Mar­ket­ing, a Boul­der-based mar­ket­ing and PR firm spe­cial­iz­ing in nat­u­ral and or­ganic prod­ucts in­dus­try. He said Lucky’s has done a good job at­tract­ing ta­lent from the Den­ver-Boul­der area’s pool of nat­u­ral and or­ganic prod­ucts pro­fes­sion­als to help sup­port its growth.

It’s also ex­panded in a smart way, go­ing into mar­kets where some big­ger com­peti­tors might not ven­ture.

“They have had an aggressive ex­pan­sion plan, but they want to make sure they ex­e­cute very well, and I think they’ve found cities and lo­ca­tions where enough of the pop­u­la­tion will sup­port their stores,” he said.

An­other el­e­ment to the chain’s ap­peal is dol­lars and cents, Hoff­man said. Lucky’s of­fers the healthy, or­ganic foods that an in­creas­ing num­ber of con­sumers want, but with their pri­vate la­bel goods and “lucky find” dis­counts, they can un­der­cut many com­peti­tors on price.

“Peo­ple want their healthy foods, but they’re still price con­scious,” Hoff­man said.

Hy­oung Chang, The Den­ver Post

Lucky’s Mar­ket em­ployee Sa­van­nah Wor­thing­ton ar­ranges pas­tries at the Wheat Ridge store last month. The 35,000-square­foot store, at 3545 Wadsworth Blvd., made its de­but in Au­gust.

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