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Veria offers shoppers ‘well-spring’

BY Antoinette Alexander

ARLINGTON, Texas. —Consumers increasingly are expressing a desire to live a healthier life and so one company has stepped up with a holistic approach to meet that need: Veria.

What makes Veria unique is its multipronged approach to providing consumers with a total health and wellness solution. A key component of its multi-tiered strategy is Veria Wellness Centers.

The centers will offer Veria brand products in such wellness categories as nutritional supplements, vitamins and herbal remedies, and natural baby care. In addition to national brands, the centers also will sell the Veria and Chandra line of beauty care products. While the retail locations will have on staff a registered nurse trained in homeopathic and traditional medicine, the locations will not have a pharmacy.

Veria Wellness Centers, which will range between 3,500 square feet and 5,000 square feet in size, also will offer a range of personal day spa services, including massage and facials, and will have a studio area for yoga classes, tai chi and wellness seminars.

The first such location opened its doors on Sept. 27 in Plano, Texas, in a 3,500-square-foot retail space. A second location, that is expected to also feature a healthy eatery with foods prepared by Veria, will open in Arlington, Texas, in December. And a New York center is slated to open around March 2008, according to Subhash Chandra, chairman of the Essel Group.

The longer-term goal is to open 50 wellness centers nationwide over the next 18 months and, ultimately, more than 400 across the United States.

As the retail locations expand and the brand becomes more known, Chandra said the company would be open to offering its branded products in additional outlets, such as chain pharmacy retailers and independents.

The venture is the primary consumer brand of Natural Wellness USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of India’s Essel Group. The Essel Group is a multi-million conglomerate encompassing television networks, cable systems, satellite communications and theme parks.

In addition to the products and services, the Wellness Centers will serve as an information resource through Veria television programming broadcast in the store and in-store information kiosks that provide direct access to www.veria.com.

The Web site serves as a one-stop shop offering an online wellness encyclopedia, health and wellness articles, and trailers of Veria TV programs.

Veria TV launched in early October and, in addition to airing in the retail locations, is available on DISH Network to subscribers nationwide. Veria TV, which airs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, offers original programming covering such areas as food and nutrition, travel, exercise, and alternative medicine and holistic health.

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Big crowds greet Tesco debut in Los Angeles

BY Doug Desjardins

LOS ANGELES Tesco wanted to make a good impression with its Nov. 8 Fresh & Easy debut in Los Angeles—a city where image is everything—and it did just that with a huge crowd jamming the aisles on opening day. Company officials reported similar turnouts at five other grand openings in Southern California and acknowledged customer response exceeded expectations.

More than one hundred people stood in line waiting to get into the Los Angeles store, with employees letting customers in as others left. And what they saw inside was a Tesco’s new hybrid combining elements of Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and 7-Eleven with some borrowings from its stores in Europe.

The basic concept of Fresh & Easy is a convenient shopping experience with an emphasis on healthy food and prepared meals from its Fresh & Easy private label. During a brief tour of the crowded store, Uwins explained that 50 percent of its food offerings are from its private label and that everything is created, cooked and packaged at its own state-of-the art “kitchen” in Southern California, including all of its prepared meals.

“We expected pre-prepared meals to be a massive hit here in the U.S.,” said Simon Uwins, Tesco’s chief marketing officer. “And so far, judging from the gaps we see in our refrigerated cases, they’re being cleared out rather fast.”

Several things set Fresh & Easy apart from other grocery retailers like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, the two it resembles the most. As Uwins mentioned, its Fresh & Easy private label has a 50 percent penetration rate and is represented in nearly every major food category including produce, meat, prepared meals, juice, coffee and mixed nuts.

And that reliance on private label allows it to offer some very competitive prices. Overall, Tesco says its prices are well below its main rivals at standard supermarkets. “We estimate our prices are about 20 percent lower than most supermarkets in the area,” said Uwins.

Its selection general merchandise, health and beauty and over-the-counter medications is small supermarket standards and runs more along the lines of a convenience store, though with a broader assortment. Basics like paper towels, diapers and pet food are stocked in a single aisle and its HBC and OTC products are located on one long shelf toward the back of the store capped with a section for greeting cards and magazines.

The rather small selection—and the complete lack of private label products—shows Fresh & Easy is primarily about the food, though that could change. “There are no private label products outside of food right now but that’s not to say that won’t change,” said Uwins.

The in-store signage is also unique and stamps Fresh & Easy as an organic and eco-friendly retailer, a good image for Southern California. Nearly every green, cardboard endcap features a message about its products including “all our bagged coffee is certified organic” and “our desserts contain 0 percent trans fats.” LED lighting is also used in the store, something else pointed out in its signs. The store doesn’t sell cigarettes but do carry a large selection of wine along with liquor and beer.

The checkout system is completely automated with 100 percent assisted self-checkout. Five checkout stands are small and designed for 15 items or less and the rest are a bit larger with scanners and self-pay systems (though there were plenty of employees nearby to help out people not familiar with the concept).

As expected, Tesco had some detractors at its grand openings in the form of labor unions and neighborhood groups. The Carpenters Local 1506 picketed in front of the Los Angeles store and handed out fliers claiming that a group hired by Tesco to help build its stores “does not meet area labor standards, including paying for health care and pension for all its employees on all projects.”

Tesco has a second wave of five openings planned for Las Vegas on Nov. 14 and plans to have stores open in the San Diego market in late November and Phoenix in early December. It expects to have 50 stores operating in California, Nevada and Arizona by next February.

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Costco announces October sales figures

BY Doug Desjardins

ISSAQUAH, Wash. Costco reported a big 9 percent jump in same store sales in October.

Leading the way was a 17 percent increase in sales at its international stores with U.S. sales jumping 7 percent. The increase beat the 5.7 percent average predicted by analysts for the month.

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