After years of waiting for better options and driving miles away to San Ramon or Palo Alto to get their Whole Foods fix, Tri-City residents are finally getting what they've long desired: more specialty grocery stores.
Sunflower Farmers Market, part of a fast-growing chain from Arizona, opened in central Fremont this month at Mowry Avenue and Fremont Boulevard.
And Whole Foods Market, a grocer the city has pursued for years, is scheduled to arrive late next year at Paseo Padre Parkway and Mowry Avenue, less than half a mile from Sunflower.
"We had sort of a hole there, and now it's been filled, not once but twice," City Council member Suzanne Lee Chan said. "Had it not been for these two coming, I would
The reviews have been mostly favorable for the newly opened Sunflower, and competition for grocery dollars in that 2.3-mile perimeter of central Fremont will be high. Not only will it offer specialty stores Trader Joe's, Sunflower and Whole Foods, it also includes Safeway, Raley's, Food Maxx, Smart & Final and a Target that sells groceries.
"Trader Joe's, here (Sunflower) and Whole Foods is a lot of competition," Fremont resident Stacey Choy said as she stood outside Sunflower this week. "But there are loyal shoppers at every supermarket. I see a lot more people shopping at places like this. They end up splurging, spending that extra money, so later
Sunflower, which moved into a spot formerly occupied by Barnes & Noble, has seen a steady stream of shoppers since its grand opening more than two weeks ago. The store offers a mix of natural and organic foods, plus a meat and deli counter that nearby Trader Joe's does not provide.
"I was very impressed," Union City resident Gloria Davila said. "It looks a little classier than Trader Joe's. I like Trader Joe's. I am not putting it down. (Sunflower) just seems very organized, attractive, and they have a really good combination of health products."
At least one Sunflower customer, though, saw room for improvement.
"I was under the impression before it opened that it would be a organic and natural food store," Fremont resident Oliver Meyer said. "While they carry many packaged products that are natural and organic, etc., they have a very small organic produce section."
Meyer also noted a lack of organic meat and fish.
Doug Sanders -- president of Sprouts Farmers Market, which recently merged with Sunflower -- cited the company's transition as a reason. Sunflower will be re-branded as Sprouts in October.
"Sprouts does have a bigger offering of organic meat than Sunflower did," Sanders said. "You'll probably see an expansion in that line as the store gets re-branded into Sprouts. You'll kind of start blending the best of both companies together."
Sanders brought his company to the Tri-City area because he saw opportunities to tap into a market with few specialty grocery stores. The nearest Whole Foods stores are miles away (in San Ramon, Palo Alto, Los Altos and Redwood City) and the Tri-City area -- with a population of more than 321,000 -- has only one Trader Joe's, at the Fremont Hub.
"Our research showed that the market was extremely underserved for natural foods," said Sanders, whose company plans to have 13 stores in Northern California by the end of the year, including seven in the Bay Area.
Sanders doesn't seem to mind that his Fremont store will be just blocks from the popular Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.
"We compete with Whole Foods in every market we're in, so it's nothing unusual for us to be located very close to them," he said, noting that his Phoenix store does well despite being near seven other stores that sell groceries, including Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. "We're more of a value natural foods. We're more of a price point."
Jennifer Marples, a spokeswoman for Whole Foods, said in an email that while her company does not comment on other businesses in an area, "a trend we observe when we move into an area is that rather than take business away from competitors, Whole Foods Market helps to raise the interest in and awareness of natural and organic foods at farmer's markets, co-ops, and other natural and organic supermarkets."
Kelly Kline, Fremont's economic development director, said the days of "one-stop-shop" appear to be over.
"We go to Costco for bulk items, to Trader Joe's for prepared foods, to Safeway for national brands, to Whole Foods for fish, meat, and organics, and now to Sunflower/Sprouts for produce and a nice collection of healthy food lines and vitamins," Kline said in an email. "Most, if not all of these stores do not shy away from competition."
Meyer is just happy to have options.
"I go all over the place" to shop, he said. "I think everybody is trying to maximize what they want at the price they want."