For the first time in 34 years, shoppers at The Fresh Market can buy toilet paper.
They also can buy pet food, baby food and shampoo.
The supermarket chain introduced many changes Wednesday at three flagship stores, including the Winston-Salem store at 3285 Robinhood Road. The company-wide makeover will spread to other stores throughout into 2018.
The changes were spurred on by customer research that predates the company’s sale, said Chris Miller, Fresh Market’s vice president for marketing and strategy. An affiliate of Apollo Global Management bought the 176-store Fresh Market chain, which is based in Greensboro, in a $1.36 billion deal last spring.
Throughout its history, Fresh Market has been known not only for the gourmet, specialty items it did carry, but also for the everyday household items it did not carry.
The latter has now changed.
The most visible change has occurred in the center of the store. The low bins that covered a large portion of the store’s center to offer bulk coffee, nuts, candy and other items are gone.
They have been replaced by more traditional, taller aisles that have allowed the store to add about 4,000 new items.
“Those bins took up a lot of space. So we went vertical,” said John Wozniak, the company’s zone vice president for the Mid-Atlantic.
“This is really about reinventing the center of the store,” Miller said.
A few items that did not sell well have been discontinued, but all the same categories remain. So, 24 varieties of Fresh Market’s bulk coffee, for example, are offered, but they are displayed in a much more compact way.
“Coffee is a still a big deal for us,” Wozniak said.
Some of shoppers’ favorite parts of the store remain largely unchanged. Fresh Market still has a sizeable flower section near the front of the store. And the adjacent produce section is almost exactly the same except for new labeling.
Also unchanged is the popular meat counter, the pastry area and the prepared-foods counter.
A new permanent sampling station near the front of the store offers samples daily and puts more emphasis on the store’s Little Big Meal program. Similar to a program at Publix and other stores, Little Big Meal assembles in one place all the ingredients for a $20 meal package for four people that includes a protein, starch, vegetables, sauce and dessert.
“And we’ll still have sampling throughout the store,” Wozniak said.
The store also has lowered prices on many items throughout the store, Miller said.
The décor of the store has changed slightly, too. The antiques that used to grace the walls have been replaced by colorful food photos and department descriptions.
The new lighting may be a little brighter than the low-level lighting for which Fresh Market is known.
The music has been switched from classical to jazz.
“We still want to be classy but not necessarily classical,” Miller said.
Pet foods, previously not offered at all, now take up 12 feet of shelf space. Another aisle groups such baby items as diapers and baby foods.
In addition to toilet paper, customers can now pick up name-brand plastic wrap, paper towels and cleaning supplies.
The additions extend to foods, too. For years, Fresh Market eschewed many mainstream name brands in favor of its specialty items. Now people can buy such name brand goods as Oreo cookies and Special K cereal.
A new Mind and Body section contains about 3,000 items, including vitamins, minerals, homeopathic remedies, and such health and beauty supplies as shampoo and toothpaste.
The company also is promoting its local and organic items. The store features about 1,600 organic and 350 local items. Organic produce is now grouped together. And all local and organic items throughout the store are clearly labeled.
Gluten-free items are marked, too.
Fresh Market’s demographic traditionally has been slightly older, more affluent shoppers. The company hopes to keep its regular customers and gain some new ones.
“The whole idea is to expand the demographic,” Miller said.
“Customers have been telling us they don’t want to go to another store to get paper towels or those kinds of items,” Wozniak said. “People today have told me, ‘It’s about time.’ ”
At least one customer was not pleased with the changes.
“Fresh Market used to be a special store,” said Ken Neher. “Now it’s just a grocery store.”
“We’ll come back for the meats,” his wife, Rita, said. “But it’s so crammed.”
Others seem generally pleased by the makeover.
“I give it an A-plus for the changes,” said Debra Boozer. “I like how the store is set up. It’s more consumer-friendly.”
“I like all the variety,” said Catherine Arthur. “It’s different, but it still feels like Fresh Market.”