The Valley's hotly competitive supermarket industry will heat up even more as the warehouse chain WinCo is preparing to open at least two East Valley stores.
The Idaho-based grocer is moving to begin work at stores in Mesa and Gilbert, but no opening dates have been announced.
WinCo has scouted locations across the Valley since at least 2010. Its debut could shake up the market with a focus on low prices and strong customer service, supermarket industry consultant David J. Livingston said.
"Generally, wherever they go, they do well. They don't over-expand. They're very methodical in how they expand," Livingston said. "They like to go in where there's a lot of business being done by what I call the tired, plain grocery store."
The recession and slow recovery help a chain like WinCo expand because more consumers have become price-conscious, Livingston said. He sees shoppers gravitating toward low-price formats or gourmet operators, with mid-range stores getting squeezed.
However, the economy isn't entirely helpful for WinCo. A company representative didn't return a call this week, but a spokesman told the Tribune in January that WinCo had scaled back expansion plans in Arizona because of the economy.
But the chain is in the final approval stages for a new building in Gilbert, town spokeswoman Beth Lucas said. WinCo plans a store at Pecos Road and Market Street, just west of the Loop 202 Santan Freeway.
WinCo hasn't revealed the opening date but the Gilbert location will be one of its first in the Valley, Lucas said.
WinCo is due to begin work soon at a former Costco at the southeast corner of Power Road and Southern Avenue, said Bill Jabjiniak, Mesa's economic development director.
The chain has looked at other Mesa sites but hasn't settled on anything else yet, Jabjiniak said.
WinCo locations feature a no-frills interior and are larger than most grocery stores at about 90,000 square feet. Customers bag their own groceries to keep costs down. Prices are similar to Walmart groceries, Livingston said.
He expects WinCo wants to take advantage of setbacks with Bashas', the Chandler-based grocer that shuttered more than 30 stores while in bankruptcy reorganization. And with Albertsons having scaled back its presence here, Livingston said stiffer competition could force it to rethink its presence in the Valley.
WinCo has more than 80 stores in six western states. The employee-owned nature of the company results in better customer service to build customer loyalty, Livingston said.
"They don't have a stock price to worry about," Livingston said. "They tend to do what they think is best for the long-term of the company rather than look at short-term manipulations to alter their balance sheet for Wall Street."
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