The Tampa Bay Times/Justine Griffin - It looks like Publix has some new competition in Pinellas County. A new Safeway grocery store is open this week after a $10 million renovation of the former Albertsons store in the Largo Mall.
As a born and raised Floridian, I've grown up shopping at Publix and occasionally Winn-Dixie. I've never shopped in a Safeway before. So I had to check it out for myself.
The new store is in a busy retail corridor at Ulmerton Road and Seminole Boulevard. It's surrounded by other major retail outlets, like a Publix and a Home Depot across the street and a Walmart Neighborhood Market a mile and a half away.
But still, customers streamed in and out of the store when I visited Tuesday afternoon. Maybe they were as curious as I was.
The store is bright and clean, and the employees were friendly. I immediately noticed the large and colorful floral department in the front corner of the store. Behind it is a big and open produce department, which has a surprisingly large organic section.
The wine and beer section is also pretty big — much larger than my Publix in South Pasadena. Then there's a hot bar, Asian bar and salad bar, which is great for to-go lunches at $6.99 per pound.
Overall, the selection and prices seemed to be on par with Publix. Some items, like a few of Safeway's prepared meals, some cuts of meat and bottles of wine, seemed cheaper. But that could just be grand opening promotions.
There are a few things that set Safeway apart from the slew of other grocery stores we already have in Tampa Bay. For one, there's a Starbucks inside. There's also a juice bar in the produce section. I sipped on some free chilled cucumber water from the juice bar as I strolled through the aisles.
And then there's grocery delivery. Safeway will deliver groceries to customers who live within 30 miles of the store within an hour any time during normal store hours.
Minimum orders must be at least $49 and there's a $12.95 fee if the order is less than $150. The fee drops to $9.95 if orders are $150 or more. Employees will pick the items from the store and deliver it in a refrigerated truck, so frozen items will still be frozen when they get to your door. First-time deliveries are always free. Use the promo code "EASY7" online to avoid a fee.
The Safeway website also tracks your order history, so if you plan to use the service regularly it's easy to make repeat purchases.
Safeway is the only company offering grocery delivery in Florida. There are other companies, like Shipt, that don't work directly with grocery stores, but offer a similar service.
Safeway enters Florida at a time when the state is already brimming with supermarket options. There's a Publix in almost every neighborhood. Winn-Dixie just launched a new Hispanic foods concept in South Florida called Fresco y Mas and has plans to expand. The Fresh Market, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Market make up the upscale organic offerings, with new players like Lucky's Market, Earth Fare and Sprouts Farmers Market on the way. With just three stores in Florida, how will Safeway stand out?
"Safeway is going after Publix and to some degree, Winn-Dixie," said Jeff Green, a retail analyst. "I'm sure they feel as though Publix has an unreasonably high market share in Florida, and therefore there's room for another traditional supermarket. But the problem will be distribution. How do they manage distribution in a state with just three stores?"
A spokeswoman declined to comment on plans for future stores in Florida. The three stores in Florida — the others are near Fort Lauderdale and Orlando — are managed by a distribution center in Houston.
The California-based Safeway chain was acquired last year by a private equity firm, which merged the chain with Albertsons. The company operates stores across the United States and Canada, with most of its stateside stores in Western states like California and Colorado.
Albertsons is the fourth-largest grocery chain in the United States with $58.3 billion in reported sales last year and 2,205 stores, according to industry publication Supermarket News. Before the merger, Safeway reported $37.1 billion in sales for 2014 with 1,326 stores.