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Can a Shopping Center be Too Fun for Grocery?

Caroline Wu
Jan 13, 2024
 Can a Shopping Center be Too Fun for Grocery?

Grocery anchors proved to be a saving grace for many a shopping center during COVID. With apparel and dining shut down and only essential retailers allowed to open, many centers suddenly found that having a superstore/mass merchant like Walmart or Target, a warehouse like Costco or Sam’s Club, or a grocery store on the premises helped to steady some of the waves of traffic fluctuations. Whether it was as part of a specific center or more broadly adding grocery-anchored centers to a portfolio, REITs started looking more closely at the role of grocery in their centers. Indeed, we have written about the inclusion of specialty grocery stores and ethnic grocery stores in shopping centers being even rather quotidian these days. We’ve also written about the redevelopment of shopping centers that include food halls as part of their renaissance.  

So it was rather surprising that Bristol Farms’ concept Newfound Market, which opened at the Irvine Spectrum in March 2022, recently announced that it is closing. The initial concept was to be “very much about experience…diving in deep on food and beverage…curated, yet everyday.”  It was to feature seven of Bristol Farms’ own chef-created restaurant brands.

We take a look at some Placer statistics to see what might have accounted for reduced traffic for what sounded like an amazing concept. As a control, we compared the Bristol Farms in Irvine to one in nearby Newport Beach. We see that when Newfound Market first opened, it had nearly twice the traffic of the one in Newport Beach. This could be due to overall excitement about the chef-driven concepts, wanting to check out a new grocery store, or other factors. However, traffic for Newfound Market began dwindling in Fall 2022, and fell even further in Fall 2023, likely leading to its closure.

If we look at variance, we see that during the same time period, traffic grew for Irvine Spectrum Center as a whole (note it was one of our spectacular callouts for holiday shopping 2023 in terms of year-over-year growth), and traffic was fairly steady for the Newport Beach branch of the Bristol Farms.

How much did the number of Newfound Market shoppers change over time?  We compared the Bristol Farms Newfound Market Shopper from Apr.-Dec. 2022 with that of the shopper from Apr.-Dec. 2023. During that time, there were over 150K fewer visits and around 100K fewer visitors. Visit frequency also decreased from 1.54 to 1.4 (below).

There was a slight dip in the average household income of the visitor.

There was a marked decrease in the proportion of Ultra Wealthy Families coming in 2023, and somewhat of a decrease of Wealthy Suburban Families.

Interestingly, the trade area has expanded from 2022 to 2023, as shown by the increase in red dots from further afield.

And indeed, Placer analysis reveals that the trade area increased by 28 square miles. On one hand, this is a plus, showing that there is a magnetic draw to a wider audience. On the other hand, given that most grocery stores live on weekly visits from a much tighter trade area, this could indicate that a trip to Irvine Spectrum and/or the Bristol Farms Newfound Market began to fall under the umbrella of a “destination” visit, rather than a regular “essential” visit. Over time, those locals who associate the Irvine Spectrum more with a Ferris Wheel might not have grocery shopping there as top-of-mind, and those who come from further away have already tried out the food hall.

The average visit frequency to Bristol Farms Newfound market was 1.54 from Apr.-Dec. 2022 and 1.40 from Apr.-Dec. 2023. In contrast, the average visit frequency to the top four most-trafficked Bristol Farms was closer to 3-4 visits, a rate more than double. Most telling is when we look at the bar chart below and see that the number of one-time visitors versus 30+ time visitors at Newfound Market is almost in direct contrast to its four other peers, who have a much higher proportion of their visits in the 10+ range.

This by no means negates the fact that grocery stores and food halls can be wonderful additions to shopping centers. For instance, 99 Ranch opened at Westfield Oakridge around the same time period (March 2022) and to date it has proven to have a steady stream of traffic. Keep in mind that Oakridge is more of your neighborhood mall with typical mall retailers, hence more likely to be part of a weekly or monthly routine.

Comparing year-over-year variance, the 99 Ranch at Oakridge has also overindexed on a percentage basis compared to the overall mall. The grocery store draws from a trade area of 58 square miles, with an average of 2.86 visits.

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Caroline Wu

Director of Research,

Caroline brings expertise in retail, CRE, entertainment, media, CPG, and tourism, and specializes in synthesizing broad datasets into actionable recommendations for growth. She has worked as the US Director of Consumer Insights at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, VP of Retail Insights and Intelligence at Omnicom, and Senior Director at Kantar. Caroline holds an MA in Sociology from Stanford University and a BA in International Relations from Stanford University.

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